Parsha Halacha

Parshat Toldot

“Live in the Land”

The Prohibition of Leaving Israel

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In the Torah portion of Toldot we read that when there was a famine in the land, Yitzchak and his wife went to the land of the Philistines with the intention to travel from there to Egypt.[1] G-d appeared to him and said,[2] “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you. Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you…”

Why Was Yitzchak Commanded Not to Descend to Egypt?

The reason Yitzchak was planning to go to Egypt in the same way his father Avraham had gone to Egypt when a famine struck the land of Israel and become wealthy as a result.[3] The commentaries offer various interpretations as to why G-d instructed Yitzchak not to do the same:

●      A Complete Burnt Offering

Rashi says that Yitzchak was considered an unblemished burnt offering (עוֹלָה תְמִימָה) and, as such, it was inappropriate for him to go to the Diaspora. Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi[4]explains that although a burnt offering may not be removed from the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash, for Yitzchak the entire land of Israel was like the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out[5] that usually only an animal that is already sacrificed may not be removed from the courtyard, but Yitzchak was considered to have already been sacrificed, since when Avraham sacrificed the ram in his stead, he prayed that it should be considered as if Yitzchak had been sacrificed.[6]

●      Go Where I tell you

The Ramban suggests that G-d was instructing Yitzchak to live wherever He would instruct him just as He had commanded Avraham to go to the land that He would show him. At this point, G-d instructed him to go to the land of the Philistines rather than the land of Egypt. The reason for this may be (as the Ramban explains) that all of the wanderings of the patriarchs acted as symbols for the Jewish people and what they would have to go through at a future time. As such, Avraham’s descent to Egypt and return with great wealth portended that the Jewish people would do the same, while Yitzchak’s going to the “land of his father’s dwelling” represented the exile to Babylonia, which was the birthplace of Avraham.[7]

●      The Exile Has Not Begun Yet

According to the Chizkuni, Yitzchak thought that the famine was a sign that the exile to Egypt (which had been foretold in the Brit Bein Habetarim) was supposed to begin. As such, G-d was informing him that it was not necessary to go to Egypt as the time for that exile had not yet arrived.

●      Graze Your Flocks in the Holy Land

The Seforno explains that the main reason Yitzchak was planning to go to Egypt was that he needed abundant pasture for his flock. As such, G-d informed him that this was not necessary as the land of the Philistines (which was part of the Holy Land) would have sufficient pastures and he should therefore not forsake the holy land unnecessarily. Especially, since he only received Divine Blessing in the Holy Land.

●      Stay in the Land of Prophecy

The Kli Yakar explains that G-d was instructing Yitzchak to remain in the land of Israel so that he could experience prophetic visions there, which would not be possible in the Diaspora.[8]

Forbidden to Leave the Land

The Talmud says[9] that generally it is forbidden to leave the land of Israel with only some exceptions (see below). There are different opinions as to the reason for this prohibition.

1)     Mitzvot of the Land

The Rashbam explains that the reason for this is that one should not exempt oneself from the mitzvot that are exclusive to the land of Israel.[10]

2)     Mitzvah to Settle the Land

According to the Ramban,[11] it is a mitzvah to live in Israel and, as such, it is forbidden to leave it. Some say[12] that even those who do not consider it a Torah obligation to live in Israel are of the opinion that it is a Rabbinic obligation.

3)     Be Amongst the Righteous

The Meiri[13] writes that one should live in Israel as that is where the righteous and wise Jews live. In his words, “They said [to live in Israel] because wisdom and fear of G-d is not found for the Jewish people in the Diaspora due to the many troubles and the yoke of the exile that they bear there. These can only be accomplished by great toil and pain from all the troubles… Very few people answer the call of G-d to serve G-d [properly]. On the other hand, in Israel wisdom and fear of G-d are commonplace to the extent that some people comprehend the glory of their Creator and merit to enjoy the ray of the Shechina (Divine presence). It is regarding this that they said,[14] ‘Even a maidservant in Israel will merit the World to Come,’ as the prophet said,[15] ‘Also on the servants… will I (G-d) pour my spirit.’”

4)     Live in a Holy Place

The Maharit[16] explains that one should live in Israel because of the holiness of the land. For this reason, it is preferable to live in Jerusalem if possible as the city of Jerusalem has greater holiness than the rest of Israel.[17]

5)     Keep Jews in the Land

Some say[18] that the obligation to live in Israel stems from the importance of always having Jewish people in the land of Israel so that they can pray for the Jewish people everywhere. Prayers uttered in Israel are more powerful than prayers uttered in the Diaspora.[19]


The Rambam writes[20] that one may leave Israel temporarily for one of the following three reasons.

1)     To study Torah;

2)     To marry; or

3)     To save one’s property from the gentiles or conduct commercial enterprises.

This is based on the ruling of the Talmud[21] that a Kohen may leave Israel (despite the fact that the land of the Diaspora is considered ritually impure) for the above purposes. If even a kohen may leave Israel for these reasons, certainly a non-Kohen may leave for any of these.

Temporary Leave

The Rambam adds that only a temporary departure is permitted for these purposes and “after completing these goals, one should return to Israel.”

This is based on a story in the Talmud[22] that a certain fellow’s brother passed away childless in Bei Chuza’ah (an area in Southeast Babylonia), and he asked Rabbi Chanina if he may leave Israel and go there to marry his sister-in-law (this kind of marriage is called yibum). Rabbi Chanina told him “Your brother married an idolatrous woman and died (he called her idolatrous since she lived in the Diaspora, and the Talmud says[23] that whoever lives outside of Israel is like they are serving idols), thank G-d who killed him(!) and you want to follow him there?”

This seems to contradict the teaching (quoted above) that even a kohen may leave Israel to get married. The Kessef Mishnah explains,[24] however, that one may leave temporarily for the purpose of getting married but not permanently (which was the case with the fellow who wanted to go to Bei Chuza’ah).[25]

Others explain that whereas a Kohen may only leave temporarily for one of the above reasons, a non-Kohen may leave temporarily even for other reasons.[26]

Other Mitzvot

Some say that one may only leave for the three reasons given in the Talmud as they are very important mitzvot.[27]

Other say [28] that on the contrary, these mitzvot are considered “light mitzvot”[29] and that one may certainly leave for other mitzvot which are considered “more important” mitzvot.[30]

Diaspora Jews Returning to the Diaspora

Several commentaries write that the prohibition of leaving Israel only applies to permanent residents of Israel[31] whereas one who is from the Diaspora and only entered Israel on a temporary basis may leave even if the above reasons do not apply.

This is derived from the Talmud[32] which states that when the rabbis of Israel would escort the visiting rabbis of Babylonia, they would take leave of them in Akko so that they would not have to leave the Holy Land. It seems that only the rabbis who actually lived in the Holy land were concerned with leaving it but that the Babylonian rabbis had no such concern.[33]

Leaving Every 30 Days

I heard from Mr. Marty Jacobs (son-in-law of Mr. Yankel Katz, a”h of Chicago) that when he went to Israel in the late 70’s or early 80’s the Rebbe instructed him to step out of Israel once every 30 days which he did by stepping into Lebanon during his stay. This seems to follow the above opinion that the laws of leaving Israel do not apply to “Diaspora Jews” with the addition that, regarding some laws,[34] living in a place for 30 (consecutive) days establishes a person as being a citizen of that place.

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a Shabbat Shalom.

[1] See Exodus 13:17 that the land of the Philistines is in between the land of Egypt and Canaan (of which it is part).

[2] Gen. 26:2-3

[3] Ibid 12:10 and on

[4] Quoted in Yefei Toar

[5] Likutei Sichot vol. 25, sicha 3 (page 131 and on).

[6] Rashi on Gen. 22:13

[7] See Ramban on 26:1 for additional parallels.

[8] See Eshed Hanechalim on Bereishit Rabbah 64:3 that after the akeidah (binding of Yitzchak), the Shechina (Divine presence) would hover over Yitzchak and that he therefore needed to remain in the Holy Land.

[9] Bava Batra 91a

[10] See Tosfot D.H. Hu Omer on Ketubot 110b who cites the opinion of Rabeinu Chaim HaKohen that nowadays there is no longer a mitzvah to dwell in Israel since one cannot properly fulfill the mitzvot of the land. This goes well with the opinion of the Rashbam that the reason to live in Israel is to perform those mitzvot. Hence, if one cannot fulfill those mitzvot, it is no longer obligatory to live there.

[11] On Numbers 33:53

[12] Responsa of Rashbash by Rabbi Shlomo ben Shimon Duran of Algiers (2) quoted in Yalkut Biurim on Bava Batra ibid, based on Rambam Hilchot Melachim 5:9-12. See also Avnei Nezer Y.D. 454:5-7 who writes that even the Rambam holds it is a Torah obligation but that he does not count it as a separate mitzvah as he considers it part of the mitzvah of driving out the (ancient) local inhabitants.

The Mabit (vol. 1:139) writes that the Rambam does not count living in Israel as a mitzvah since it is a general mitzvah that includes many other mitzvot within it.

[13] On Ketubot 111a

[14] Yalkut Shimoni on Nach, Remez 333

[15] Yoel 3:2

[16] Y.D. 22

[17] Avnei Nezer Y.D. 454:33. See Ketubot 110b

[18] Chochmat Adam, Sha’ar Mishpetei Eretz Yisrael, 11:14

[19] See Arakhin 32b that the Torah faults Yehoshua for not praying to nullify the desire to serve idols despite the fact that Moshe did not pray for this since Yehoshua’s prayers would have been more effective as he was in Israel.

[20] Hilchot Melachim 5:9

[21] Avodah Zarah 13a

[22] Ketubot 111a

[23] Ibid 110b

[24] On the Rambam, ibid.

[25] The Maharit explains (cited in Yalkut Biurim on Ketubot ibid) that the one who wanted to go to Bei Chuza’ah was already married and that he was going to marry a second wife. For this, one should not leave Israel.

[26] Maharit, quoted in Responsa Avnei Che”n, vol. 2, 5:3 by Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Zilberstein

[27] Tosfot D.H. VeLisa Isah on Avodah Zarah 13a

[28] She’iltot DeRav Achai Gaon, quoted in ibid

[29] See Ketav Sofer (Y.D. 135) that these are “light mitzvot” in cases where one has the ability to learn from a local Torah teacher or marry a local girl but prefers the teacher (or kallah) that is in the Diapora.

[30] See Peninei Halacha on the Metivta Shas (Ketubot 110b) who discusses leaving Israel for teaching Torah, attending a bar mitzvah, visiting the graves of tzadikim, and visiting one’s parents.

[31] See Maharit Tzahalon, Responsa 85 cited by Rabbi Shmuel Gershon Merl in Zichron Yakov Yishuv Eretz Yisroel, Siman 3, Seif 6.

[32] Gittin 76b see Rashi there

[33] Additional support for this view can be brought from the Magen Avraham (O.C. 248:15, see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 248:13) who suggests that it is a mitzvah to travel to the Holy land even for a short trip (to “walk four amot” there). If it would be forbidden for a visitor to leave Israel, then going there with the intention of leaving would not be considered a mitzvah but the opposite.

[34] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 429:5

May we soon merit to live in the Holy Land on a permanent basis with Moshiach!

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