The Jewish people's connection with its land cannot be compared to that of other peoples' with theirs. No other people has a prior title deed or promise regarding their country. Theirs is a purely earthly link, one characterized by neither spiritual nor sacred ties. Their relationship to their homeland is governed by the fact that their ancestors happened to settle there. Whenever a people or family moved from one country to another, they soon became completely divorced from their original homeland. But this is not the case with the Jewish people, whose title deed to their land is the Bible.
The sanctity of Eretz Yisrael is eternal, and for this reason the Patriarchs longed to dwell in it even before it was conquered by the Children of Israel. Abraham only left it in time of famine; Isaac never departed therefrom; and Jacob daily regretted that he had been forced to go down to Egypt. Joseph adjured his descendants to carry his bones to the Holy Land. And how intensely did Moses entreat the Almighty to allow him to enter the Promised Land!
After the destruction of the first Temple, the Children of Israel were exiled to Babylon where they sat down and took a solemn oath, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not..." (Psalm 137:5). The intensity of the love of our Sages for Eretz Israel may be gleaned from the following examples:
Rabbi Zeira longed so much for Eretz Israel that he fasted 100 fasts in order to forget the Jewish teaching that he had learned in Babylon so that he could make a fresh start learning from Rabbi Yohanan, the Sage of the Holy Land. When he managed to escape the vigilance of his Diaspora teacher, who tried to stop him leaving for the Holy Land, he was so eager to cross the river that he could not wait for a ferry but traversed it on a piece of driftwood.
In 1837, when Mohammed Ali gave permission for the Jews to rebuild the synagogue of R. Judah He-hassid, all the Sages of Jerusalem personally engaged in the work, mixing the cement, hewing the stones and putting them in place, kissing each one before placing it
in position. They rebuilt its ruins to the accompaniment of Psalms and Hallel .
Never did the Jewish people allow Eretz Israel to become completely depopulated of representatives of the nation. In olden times, immigrants to the Holy Land risked their lives in settling in one of the four holy cities of Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron. They came in frail sailing boats that hugged the coasts, the journey usually taking about 12 months. They sailed from coastal town to coastal town and at each one had to wait for another boat to take them a further stage of the journey to the Holy Land.
What is lacking today? That intense longing which burned in the hearts of the faithful in the Diaspora in ages past. Had the journey or the entry into Eretz Israel been so easy one hundred years ago, or had the Jewish people today been activated by that same longing for the Holy Land as inspired their predecessors - Eretz Israel would be today for the most part inhabited by observant Jews, its government completely dominated by those aware of the religious foundations of our title to the homeland. There would be no debasement of Jewish values, no irreligious education of the youth.
Every observant Jew, and in particular, every rabbi, should learn a lesson from the history of the waves of immigration to Israel and their spirit of self-sacrifice in rescuing the sanctity of the land from its desecrators. The ancient glory of the Jewish people in the Holy Land will thus once more shine forth and day by day, we shall draw nearer to the perfect redemption and our long awaited destiny.