“Said the Almighty: a small assembly in the Land of Israel is dearer to Me than a full Sanhedrin outside the Land” (Pal. Talmud, Sanhedrin 6:5).
The answer to this complicated question has given rise to lots of conflicting opinions.
After World War II, the Holocaust, and the creation of the new state of Israel, the return of the Jews to the Promised Land was primarily motivated by the need for a safe haven. Since those terrible times have passed, and now that constitutionally enshrined human rights, freedom of religion, tolerance, liberty and protection under the law are the norm in Western democratic societies, Jews feel comfortable and secure in the West, with most having no intention of returning to the Promised Land.
Many Jews do not even realize that they dwell in Western countries because of forced exile from the Israel (“by the sword”) of their forefathers under the Romans in 70 and 135 ACE. They do not want to accept the notion that they are living in exile.
Thus, R. Margolin, Director of the European Jewish Association, has said that far better than emigration to Israel would be the preservation and protection of Jewish life in the many countries Jews call home.
“The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe” (Washington Report, May, 2015, pp 48-49). Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut hopes that the future of French Jews lies in France. Yonathan Arli, Vice President of CRIF, says that he believes Jews should remain in France, which is their home. “We have had a Jewish community living here for more than a thousand years,” he said.
The classical Zionist’ sayings “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalms 37:5) and “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1) are empty sounding for those Jews who call the countries of exile their home. It is a matter of geography, they explain. The prayer “Next year in Jerusalem” is no longer obligatory. We can pray and worship God in any city, obey Jewish holidays and laws, and perform mitzvahs regardless of whether we live in Israel or abroad.
It seems they have forgotten that living in Israel is a mitzvah itself commanded by God. Our great sage Nahmanides taught that Jews of every generation have to conquer and settle in the land of Israel. A Jew must never forget that the place where he truly belongs is Israel.
Here is an illustration of this point: “In all times, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where most of the residents are idol worshippers, rather than outside the land, even in a city where most of the residents are Jews” (Talmud, Ketubot 110b; also Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 5:12).
The holiness of the land of Israel is greater than that of any other land: “You shall possess and dwell therein,” said the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:31). God is the first Zionist.
Our Sages stated that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is equal to all of the commandments of the Torah combined (Sifre Ekev, 10:1). In another place it says, “Jews who dwell outside the Land of Israel are idol worshippers in purity” (Talmud, Avoda Zara 8).
The Scripture says that the Jewish people have to return to the Promised Land first before the coming of the Messiah; then the exodus of the Ten Tribes led by the Messiah will follow: “Also, O Judah, I hath set a harvest for thee, when I return the captivity of My people” (Hosea 6:11).
The Prophet Isaiah says the same: “The Lord God which gathered the outcasts of Israel, yet will I gather others to him, before those that are gathered unto him” (56:8). If the Jewish people are not living in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem before the revealing of the Messiah, God’s plan for future redemption can never be fulfilled.
God wants all His people to return to the Holy Land. We have no doubt that “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plan of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11).