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Peninei Halakha > Zemanim > 4 - Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, Yom HaZikaron > 1 – The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

1 – The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

When the State of Israel was established, on the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the Jewish people as a whole were privileged to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (settling the Land of Israel). Even before the declaration of statehood, every Jew who lived in the Land fulfilled this mitzvah. The Sages even said, “A person should always dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city inhabited mostly by heathens, and he should not dwell outside the Land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews, for anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God” (Ketuvot 110b). Nonetheless, the mitzvah is mainly incumbent upon Klal Yisrael (the entire Jewish community) – to take control of the Land. The mitzvah to dwell in the Land, which applies to every individual Jew, is an offshoot of the general mitzvah that is incumbent upon Klal Yisrael as a whole.

This is the meaning of the verse “You shall possess the Land and dwell in it, for to you have I given the Land to possess it”(Bamidbar, 33:53). “You shall possess” denotes conquest and sovereignty, while “you shall dwell” implies settling the Land so that it not remain desolate. Similarly, the Torah states, “You shall possess it and you shall dwell therein”(Devarim, 11:31). Accordingly, the Ramban defines the mitzvah as follows: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land that God, may He be blessed, gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; and we must not leave it in the hands of any other nation or let it remain desolate” (Addendum to Rambam’sSefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4).

This mitzvah is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation. For a long time, however, we lacked the means by which to fulfill it. We were forced to neglect it, because we did not have an army or weapons with which to conquer and settle the Land. A few generations ago, God showed kindness to His nation and a spirit of nationalism began to stir, causing Jews to go forth and gather in the Land. They planted trees, developed the country’s economy, established an organized defense force, and struggled against the foreign power that controlled the Land, so that when the British Mandate expired, the Jews in Israel were able to declare the establishment of Medinat Yisrael. On that day, the Jewish people began fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. Granted, we are not yet in control of the entire Land, and we are partially dependent on the nations of the world, but we are actually fulfilling, once again, the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz.

We find in halachah, as well, that Jewish sovereignty over the Land is a significant factor], for the laws of mourning over Eretz Yisrael’s destruction depend on sovereignty. Our Sages prescribed that one who sees the cities of Judea in ruins should say, “Your holy cities have become a wilderness”(Yeshayah 64:9), and tear his garments. The poskim explain that the definition of “in ruins” depends on who is in control. If Gentiles rule the Land, its cities are considered ruined, even if most of the inhabitants are Jewish, and one must tear his garment upon seeing them. But if the Jews are in control, the cities are not considered ruined, even if Gentiles constitute the majority, and no tearing is required (Beit Yosef and BachO.C. 561; Magen Avraham 1, and Mishna Berura 2).

In addition, Chazal lavished praise upon the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, going so far as to say that it is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Re’eh 53)1.

[1] The Ramban lays down the foundations of the mitzvah of settling the Land in his Addendum to Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4, and our master and teacher, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook zt”l, expands upon them in his work L’Netivot Yisrael (Vol. 1, LeTokef Kedushato Shel Yom HaAtzmaut, Beit El Publications, pp. 246-50, see also pp. 160-62; Vol. 2, Mizmor Yud Tet shel Medinat Yisrael, pp. 357-68). The mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz applies in every generation, as the Ramban (loc. cit.) and Rivash (387) write. Therefore, the halachah that a husband and wife can force each other to make aliyah (Ketuvot 110b) is applicable at all times, as the Shulchan Aruch determines (Even HaEzer 75:3-5). This is also the consensus of the Rishonim and Acharonim, as the Pitchei Teshuvah cites there (6). True, Tosafot in Ketuvot (110b) quote Rabbeinu Chayim’s opinion that the mitzvah “does not apply today,” but the greatest Rishonim and Acharonim disregard this opinion, claiming that a mistaken student authored it (Maharit, Yoreh Deah 28; many of the greatest Acharonim agree; see also Gilyon Maharsha, Ketuvot 110b; Responsa Chatam Sofer, Y.D. 234). The fact that the mitzvah is mainly fulfilled by way of Jewish sovereignty is elucidated in Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 66, Avnei Neizer, Y.D. 455, and elsewhere.

Chazal comment on several other mitzvot that they are equal to all the rest (circumcision – Nedarim 32a; charity – Bava Batra 9a; tzitzitShevuot 29a; tefillinMenachot 43b; ShabbatYerushalmi Nedarim 3:9; Torah study – Peah 1:1; acts of kindness – ibid.). Nonetheless, from a halachic standpoint, Yishuv HaAretz takes precedence over them all, for it is the only one that overrides a rabbinic injunction relating to the Sabbath (a “shevut”). If someone needs to violate a shevut in order to perform a brit milah (circumcision) on Shabbat, we postpone the brit instead of violating the shevut. For the sake of Yishuv HaAretz, however, the Rabbis allow one to purchase a home in Eretz Yisrael on the Sabbath, if necessary, even if this entails violating the shevut of amirah le’nachri (telling a non-Jew to do work for you on Shabbat), as the Talmud states in Gittin 8b and Bava Kama 80b (with Tosafot). We are not talking about the redemption of the entire Land, just the purchase of one house, and it still overrides a shevut! Furthermore, in order to make a protective “fence” around the Sabbath, our Sages abrogate the biblical commandments of shofar and lulav, when Rosh HaShanah and the first day of Sukkot coincide with Shabbat. When it comes to Yishuv HaAretz, however, the Sages revoke their words and permit the violation of a shevut, which is a serious offense, as it is supported by a scriptural text (and the Smag apparently considers it a biblical prohibition).

We are commanded to sacrifice our lives for the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. After all, the Torah commands us to take possession of the Land, i.e. to conquer it; and soldiers are called upon to endanger their lives in war. See Minchat Chinuch 425.

The reason the Rambam does not include this mitzvah in his count of the 613 is that it is beyond the regular “value” of mitzvot; therefore, it is not included in their detailed enumeration. This coincides with the rules the Rambam lays down at the beginning of Sefer HaMitzvot, stating it is inappropriate to reckon commandments that encompass the entire Torah, as he writes in Mitzvah #153 [that settling the Land of Israel is all-inclusive]. Besides which, it is implausible to say that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is only rabbinically ordained today [and that that is why the Rambam leaves it out of the count]. After all, Chazal’s statement that settling the Land is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah was made after the destruction of the Second Temple. Now, it is unlikely that they would say such a thing about a rabbinic mitzvah. Moreover, it is improbable that the Rabbis would dismantle a family (see above regarding divorce), and allow one to violate a shevut, merely for the sake of a rabbinic mitzvah (see Rabbi Zisberg’s Nachalat Ya’akov, Vol. 1, pp. 201-249).

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