Dear Jew in the City-
Are all Jews meant to be in Israel right now, or in general before Moshiach comes? And if we are, is that said to make his arrival come faster?
Thanks for your question. For an answer, I’m going to give a qualified “no.”
The concept you’re discussing is called kibbutz galuyos, generally referred to in English as “the ingathering of the exiles.” This is an extremely important concept in Judaism, stretching all the way back to the Jews in the desert.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moshe explains the harsh consequences that the Jews would suffer for disobeying the Torah, including exile in the lands of their oppressors. After detailing the punishments, Moshe tells us:
“It will be, when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have set before you – that you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where Hashem your God has exiled you. You will return to Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You will listen to His voice according to all that I command you and your children this day. Then Hashem your God will return your exiles and He will have mercy upon you. He will gather you from all the nations, where Hashem your God has dispersed you. Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, Hashem your God will gather you from there, and He will take you from there. Hashem your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you will possess it. He will do good for you and make you more numerous than your fathers” (Deut. 30:1-5)
This promise is repeated in various books of the Prophets, including Isaiah (“He will raise a banner to the nations and He will gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered of Judah He will gather from the four corners of the earth” — Is. 11:12), Jeremiah (“…I will return your captivity and gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you… and I will return you to the place from which I exiled you” — Jer. 29:14) and Ezekiel (“…I will gather you from the lands in which you were scattered and I will be sanctified through you before the eyes of the nations. You will know that I am Hashem when I bring you to the land of Israel, to the land that I raised My hand to give to your fathers” — Ez. 20:41-42)
Did you know that the brachos of Shemoneh Esrei have names? Well, they do, and the tenth bracha is called kibbutz galuyos. It reads:
Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise a banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the Earth. Blessed are You, Hashem, the One Who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.
This bracha references the text in Isaiah 11:12 and 27:13, and the Avudraham (14th century, Spain) says that this bracha is a prayer for Hashem to fulfill these prophecies.
The Rambam codifies kibbutz galuyos in his Mishneh Torah. He tells us that, in a future time, the messiah will arise and restore the Davidic dynasty. The messiah will rebuild the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. (Hilchos Melachim 11:1)
It seems from this that the Moshiach will trigger the ingathering of the exiles, not the other way around. Before we go any further, let’s address the question of whether one is expected to move to Israel at all. Basically, it’s a three-way difference of opinion.
The Rambam (Maimonides) doesn’t include an obligation to live in Israel on his list of the 613 mitzvos. According to Rav Yitzchak Leon ben Eliezer ibn Tzur, author of a commentary on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos called “Megillas Esther,” the Rambam maintained that an obligation to live in Israel only applied when the first Temple was standing and the monarchy was in place. (Rabbi Yitzchak Leon should not be confused with Yitzchak de Leon, an earlier authority, nor with the minor league baseball player Isaac de León; the book Megillas Esther should not be confused with the biblical book of Esther, which we read on Purim.)
The Ramban (Nachmanides) disagrees with the Rambam, maintaining that there is in fact a Biblical obligation to live in Israel that applies at all times.
The Baalei Tosafos (Kesubos 110b) cite the opinion of Rabbeinu Chaim that the mitzvah to live in Israel does not apply nowadays. The reason for this is the large number of mitzvos that only apply in Israel, which we are currently unable to observe properly.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Iggros Moshe, EH I, 102) writes that, even according to the Ramban, the obligation to live in Israel is not a mitzvah chiyuvis (an “obligatory” mitzvah) nowadays, but rather a mitzvah kiyumis (an “optional” mitzvah). One must fulfill a mitzvah chiyuvis; for example, one must eat matzah on the first night of Pesach and one must fast on Yom Kippur. A mitzvah kiyumis, however, is optional. One could choose to live in a tent, but if one chooses to live in a house, it requires a mezuzah; one need not wear a four-cornered garment, but if one does so, it requires tzitzis. Similarly, one need not live in Israel but if one chooses to do so, he fulfills a mitzvah. (Though, perhaps surprisingly, he suggests that it might be better for one not to move to Israel if one is unprepared to keep all the mitzvos of the land, as per the opinion of Rabbeinu Chaim cited above.)
It’s also worth noting that when the Jews returned to Israel in the time of Ezra, not everybody chose to go. In fact, there was a serious shortage of Leviim (Ezra chapter 8). Despite being in Biblical times, and for the express purpose of rebuilding the Temple, no one was forced to go.
So now a logical question: If moving to Israel brought the Moshiach (rather than the other way around), wouldn’t the Torah unambiguously require it of us? Or wouldn’t the Sages have imposed a rabbinic obligation to do so? Or at least encouraged us more emphatically to make aliyah? I don’t know your particular religious alignment but keep in mind that Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe all lived in America, as does your shul rabbi. (Readers can substitute Canada, England, South Africa, etc., as appropriate. If you already live in Israel, then this whole Q&A doesn’t really apply to you.)
So, l’fi aniyus da’ati (in my humble opinion), the coming of the Moshiach seems to be the catalyst for the ingathering of the exiles rather than vice versa. However, I went looking for opinions that felt otherwise, to limited success. I found three contemporary authors who expressed this idea, two of whom cited no sources to support the assertion. The third cited the Zohar but the section of Zohar referenced said nothing at all on the subject. (I’m not suggesting that he made it up; more likely the attribution was simply incorrect.)
The one source I found that sort of supports such an assertion is a work called Kol HaTor by Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov, a student of the Vilna Gaon. In it, he says that gathering the exiles is a job for the Moshiach ben Yoseif, a sort of proto-messiah who might precede the arrival of the Moshiach ben David (the “real” messiah). Regardless of whether or not one is required to make aliyah, according to this opinion, kibbutz galuyos does indeed precede Moshiach ben David (if not Moshiach ben Yoseif).
Getting back to Shemoneh Esrei, the Talmud in Megillah 17b tells us that the reason the bracha of kibbutz galuyos comes after birkas hashanim – which is about abundant produce – is because the land of Israel will bloom in anticipation of the Jews’ return as per Ezekiel 36:8, “You mountains of Israel will shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel because they will be coming soon.” In modern times we have seen the land of Israel turned from desert and swamp to a lush land famous for its produce. This was indeed followed by massive waves of immigration.
On Shabbos and holidays, many shuls recite the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, which was composed in 1948 by Rav Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and Rav Ben-Zion Meir Chai Uzziel, the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis of the newly formed State of Israel. In it, we refer to the formation of the State as reishis tz’michas geulaseinu, “the start of the sprouting of our redemption.” Regardless of whether moving to Israel makes Moshiach come faster, having the State of Israel definitely seems to be an important factor in the overall redemptive process.
I can’t tell you that making aliyah is obligatory (I live in New York, so who am I to say? Ask your rabbi), and I can’t tell you that doing so will make Moshiach come faster (I don’t believe it does, but some people appear to feel otherwise). I can tell you this: the Talmud (Pesachim 88a) tells us that the day of the ingathering of the exiles will be as significant as the day on which Heaven and Earth were created. If you’re inclined and able to get a head start on that, it would be a wonderful thing.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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