Pesachim 87b: We Want Converts

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

We generally tend to view exile from the land of Israel as punishment for our sins, an apparent truism reinforced during the Yom Tov mussaf that begins, "because of our sins, we were exiled from the land".

Yet, like all tenets of Judaism, there is much more complexity involved; one cannot simply equate exile with sin and call the discussion over. "Rabbi Elazar said: The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said, 'And I will sow her unto Me in the land' (Hosea 2:25); surely, a man sows a se'ah in order to harvest many kor[1]" (Pesachim 87b). This statement not only presents a different perspective on the condition of exile, it also offers a much different view on proselytization than that to which we are accustomed.  

Exile is—at least, according to Rabbi Elazar—a necessary component of the mission of the Jewish people. It affords us the opportunity to be a light unto the nations and to inspire others to join the Jewish people. Such a mission requires that Jewish people be everywhere, demonstrating the beauty and richness of a Jewish life. Exile is not to be viewed as a punishment, but an opportunity to strengthen the Jewish people.

During Talmudic times and until very recently, one had to be on the ground to influence others. While the benefit of 'foot soldiers' is undeniable, with the advent of modern technology, one can work from almost anywhere. Jews can live in Israel and exert great influence in all corners of the globe. Most significantly, we can build a state that serves as a model for others to emulate. We thus need fewer Jews in the Diaspora, and more working to help shape the direction of the State of Israel.  

Another Talmudic passage just a few lines later adds another dimension to the benefit of having Jews living the world over. "Rav Osiah said: What is the meaning of the verse 'even the righteous acts of His rulers in Israel'? (Shoftim 5:11). The Holy One, blessed be He, showed righteousness [mercy] unto Israel by scattering them among the nations[2]”.

As Rashi explains, if Jews live the world over, it will help ensure that if—G-d forbid—Jews in one area of the world are destroyed, there will be remnants elsewhere[3]. With weapons of mass destruction proliferating, this would seem to be an even more crucial argument today.

As modern warfare has evolved, victory is determined not only on the battlefield, but in the political and diplomatic halls of power. And here, too, it is essential to have Jews who will exert influence through the political process in capitals throughout the world.

While Israel is the home of the Jewish people, not all can live there. There is much to be done, both physically and spiritually, around the globe that requires a worldwide Jewish presence. Wherever a Jew may choose to reside, he must ask himself, "How can I best serve the Jewish people?"



[1] The area of a kor is thirty times larger than that of a se'ah.

[2] The text uses the word pizrono, leading Rav Osiah to connect it to the word lefazer, to spread.

[3] It is not love of Zionism that has led Islamists to encourage all Jews to move to Israel.