The Returning Exiles to Israel
Since there are many million more Jews in the world, how will there be room for them when the Messiah arrives? Will they all come right away? Where will they stay when they first arrive?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
It’s an interesting issue. Of course we do not know in detail what the world will be like after the Messiah’s arrival. It’s possible the world will be quite miraculous and all such questions will be meaningless. Even so, there are a number of relevant observations we can make today.
At the time of the Exodus, the Children of Israel were a nation of several million, spread throughout the Land of Goshen. Yet when it was time to depart, they gathered together in Ramses and then traveled to Sukkot at near-miraculous speeds. (See Rashi to Exodus 12:34 & 19:4, based on Mechilta 2 and 14.) The Torah later describes their departure as having been “on eagles’ wings” (Exodus 19:4). This phrase has become metaphorical for the prophesied return of the Jews from their exile to the far corners of the earth, which too will be at a miraculous pace. See likewise Isaiah 40:31 which, while discussing the future redemption, states that those who place their hope in God will grow wings like eagles and have renewed strength.
Such prophecy would have been wholly inexplicable to past generations: how does one travel on the wing of eagles? Yet this is yet another example of prophecy which earlier generations might have scoffed at yet has become routine today with the air travel of our times. In fact, when the nascent State of Israel airlifted tens of thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel in 1949-1950, the enterprise was dubbed “Operation On Wings of Eagles” (“mivtza al kanfei nesharim” – often nicknamed in English “Operation Magic Carpet”).
How long will it take for the nation to be settled? Here too there are no explicit sources. The final chapters of Ezekiel (47-48) describe in detail the future boundaries of the Land of Israel and its division according to tribes. (According to some, converts will also receive an inheritance (based on 47:22).) In all probability this will take several years to accomplish. The Talmud has a tradition that in Joshua’s time, it took a full seven years to conquer the land and another seven to divide it among the tribes and their families (see e.g. Talmud Zevachim 118b). The people required temporary housing during the interim. Likewise, the early State of Israel was known for housing its many new immigrants in “ma’abarot” – absorption camps, for years until sufficient proper housing could be constructed.
In terms of space, as prophesied in Ezekiel, Israel will extend to the original borders promised in Numbers 34 and somewhat beyond, much larger than it is today. There is also a tradition that we will inherit not only the land of seven nations as promised many times in the Torah (e.g. Deut. 7:1), but the lands of all the ten nations originally promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21. (See also Deuteronomy 19:8-9 regarding the obligation to designate three more cities of refuge when the land is extended.) See this past response regarding this.
Lastly, God gave a special promise to the Land of Israel that it would always have room for every Jew who wants to dwell in it. The Talmud states that Israel is referred to as "the desirable land" ("eretz ha'zvi;" Daniel 11:16,41) – which can also be translated "land of the deer" – because just as a deer's skin stretches to larger than its actual size to accommodate a deer, so too the Land of Israel: when we are there it is spacious, and when we are absent it contracts (Talmud Gittin 57a).