The Power of Mitzvot in Israel
I am in Israel at the moment, where I have been attending various programs. I heard a class on the topic of mitzvot which said that the Torah commands are only for the land of Israel, and doing them outside of Israel is only for practice.
If it was just me that was confused about this, I would have written it off to my ignorance, but I would say almost all were not comfortable with this. Could you please comment?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
I would assume that the lecture you heard was based upon a famous section from the Hebrew Bible commentary of Nachmanides (13th century Spain). In his commentary to Leviticus 18:25, he writes the following, based on Deut. 11:17, that even though God may exile us from the Land, we should continue to perform the mitzvot in order that, when we return, they should not be new (unfamiliar)... For this reason our Sages said that living in Israel is compared to the fulfillment of all the mitzvot."
It is important to understand the words of Nachmanides, both to understand better the importance of Israel as well as a deeper appreciation of mitzvot.
Through the performance of a mitzvah we become partners to the Almighty in the ongoing creation and perfection of the world, the true meaning of "tikkun olam." Tikkun olam is not a mitzvah on its own right, rather something which we accomplish when we fulfill a mitzvah.
This is based upon the actual meaning of the word mitzvah, which reveals two aspects to its fulfillment. The simple meaning of the word is "commandment," we fulfill a mitzvah because we are commanded to do so.
The second meaning is "partnership" based upon the root "tzavta," which is a connection or group. Every mitzvah we perform as partners with God.
The foundation of this partnership is our creation in the "Image of God." Implicit in that creation is God's empowering us with the ability to powerfully affect the universe. The world is God's "hardware,” the Torah is the "software," and when He gave us the Torah he handed us the "mouse,” the control panel.
There is no difference between Israel and the Diaspora as far as the first aspect of mitzvot, their being commandments. The second aspect, however, the extent that our mitzvot affect the universe is different when we are distant from the Throne of Heaven, or if we are at the very Gates of Heaven, in Israel. A chief executive has a far greater impact when in the central office than when he checks in from a remote site.
We are fully obligated in mitzvot while in Diaspora, but there's an aspect of mitzvot that God tells us to keep them so that when they will have there fullest impact, when Messiah comes and we return to the Land we will be fully observant and not start from scratch. I have learned from our generation's leading sages that Nachmanides is not referring to the Israel of today, rather to the full return to Israel with the Temple and the Shechinah, Divine Presence of God, when we will return to our past spiritual glory, may it be speedily in our days!