Before we continue with some thoughts and stories from the Chofetz Chaim about Eretz Yisrael , it is important that we understand that there are two things going on in these stories, that at first may seem to be a contradiction. The first is that the Chofetz Chaim had a tremendous love for Eretz Yisrael and a desire to live there. On the other hand, he clearly despised the spiritual destitution that was to be the legacy of those who wanted to create a ‘new Judaism’ on the foundation of the country of Israel and the language of Hebrew. Thus, he loved Eretz Yisrael, but strongly opposed the separation of the land from the Torah. As we saw previously, he said that the land of Eretz Yisrael is like the body of the Jewish people, and the Torah is like the soul. This recognition of Eretz Yisrael’s greatness also means that there is a great responsibility, as well, for those who live in its holy borders. We must bear all these thoughts in mind as we read the following.
One time, they read him an article from a newspaper, in which one of the ‘maskilim’ expressed his hope that in the end Eretz Yisrael would be an independant country like Bulgaria, which was established on the ruins of Turkey. The Chofetz Chaim burst out crying and said, “Does this matter make sense? We are suffering for one thousand eight hundred years, our blood flows like water, we increase our prayers and supplications for a respite from the difficulties of the exile, and here they satisfy themselves with only a small amount? They have completely forgotten about the roles our prophets set out for us, and the promises of our holy Torah.”
On the Chofetz Chaim’s love for Eretz Yisrael:
The following story reveals how great was the Chofetz Chaim’s longing to go up to live in Eretz Yisrael. In the year 5640 (1880), in the tna’im (prenuptial agreement) with his son-in-law Harav Hagaon R’ Aharon Cohen Zt’l, the Chofetz Chaim accepted responsibility to support him for a number of years, as was the custom then. He explicitly stipulated that his son-in-law would not have the right to prevent him from going up to live in Eretz Yisrael during that time period. Furthermore, in the year 5864 (1894), when he married his second wife, the daughter of Harav hagaon R’ Hillel z’l from the city of Lapi, he stipulated that if he decides to go up to live in Eretz Yisrael, his wife must do so as well. In his final years, in the year 5687 (1927), he had already prepared himself to move to Eretz Yisrael, and he had packed all of his belongings and sent them to Warsaw, when his wife suddenly became ill, and he was forced to push off his passage until she became well. It was ordained from heaven that he was held back, and in the end he was buried in Radin, the city in which he had spread Torah all of his life, and from which his Torah and halachic direction had gone out to all of the Jewish people through his great books – Chofetz Chaim, Mishna Brura on Orach Chaim, Lekutei Halachos on Seder Kodshim, Ahavas Chesed, and more.
One time he told those close to him, while speaking of the greatness of Eretz Yisrael, that if someone would be sitting in a remote place and would say something negative about the king, albeit not in his presence, if the king would find out about it, he would be severely punished. But when someone enters the courtyard of the king and has such audacity right in front of him, this is a sin that can not be atoned for…
See the Ramban (Beraishis 19:5) in regards to the story with Sodom, and these are his words, “And know that the judgment on Sodom was because of the greatness of Eretz Yisrael, since it is included in the inheritance of Hashem, and it can not stand abominations. When it spits out an entire nation [i.e. the seven nations of Canaan] because of their abominations, as a prelude, it spit out this nation [of Sodom] who were evil in their relationship with heaven and with man. This led to a destruction of heaven and earth, to the point where the earth would never be relieved of its desolation there. They had become prideful as a result of the great good they had received [as Sodom was an extremely fertile area, comparable to the Nile area in Egypt], and Hashem saw fit that it should be a sign for the rebellious ones of the Jewish people that would inherit it in the end. This was contained in the warning to them – [if they would veer from the proper path, the land would be destroyed with] sulfur and salt that would consume the land, like the destruction of Sodom and Amorah etc. This is important to understand, for there were other nations who did great evil at that time, and they did not receive such punishment [as the inhabitants of Sodom], because it was the greatness of this land that led to this, for it is the palace of Hashem.”
Who is wise and will understand this, how much it is necessary to be careful in one’s actions of Mitzvos in the Holy Land, the palace of the king. This is what it says in Tehillim (105), “And he gave them of the land of nations [i.e. Eretz Yisrael]… in order that they keep his laws and protect his commands.” The great Torah personages in the Holy land, who protect those who learn Torah and keep the mitzvos with all of their strength, they are the mighty ones who sustain the Yishuv.
One time we heard how the Chofetz Chaim expressed his anguish about the leftists in Eretz Yisrael, “Could it be that something good will come out of the left, that the Divine Presence will rest on their actions?”
The Chofetz Chaim was once shown a newspaper article that had been written by a certain writer. It contained the idea that one could be a good Jew even without the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim then distributed an important piece in which he proved that the continuation of the Jewish people is only dependent upon the Torah and Jewish commitment to it, and not on connection to a country or language. If we do not keep the Torah, the country and language will not save us. Our forefathers lived in the land, and they were exiled because of their sins, as the prophet says (Yechezkel 39), “And the nations knew that the Jewish exile was the result of their sins, for they rebelled against Me, and I hid my face from them and gave them into the hands of their enemies.”
It is a grave mistake that these people make, to think that the Torah and mitzvos are secondary matters and are unconnected to the building of the land. Remember the words of the Torah (Vayikra 18:21), “That the land not vomit you out when you contaminate it, as it vomited out the nations before you.” Eretz Yisrael is the palace of the king, one who sins there sins a great sin, and the danger [that results from sin] is much greater there!
The son of the Chofetz Chaim, Harav R’ Leib zt’l, would tell over that when the British announced the Balfour declaration in regards to Eretz Yisrael, the Chofetz Chaim saw in this a type of אתערותא דלעילא (awakening from above) in regards to the redemption, and he spoke then of the Ohr Hachaim on the verse “וקם שבט בישראל” – “and a rod shall rise in Israel.” [There the Ohr Hachaim speaks about the two possibilities in regards to the redemption. It can come miraculously, if the Jewish people merit it, or it can come in a natural way, if they do not. This part of the passuk refers to the redemption coming in a natural way in the merit of the tzaddikim of the Jewish people, who are referred to as Yisrael.] He said, however, that he was worried that the ‘frei’ would destroy it [as a result of their bad deeds], heaven forbid. He would also say that were many times in the past that had been opportunities lost for the redemption as a result of the destructive deeds of the generation.