22. The Blessing of the People and Inheriting Eretz Yisrael

Great is the mitzva to procreate, for through it comes the fulfillment of God’s blessing to the people of Israel, and through it the people of Israel inherit the Holy Land. God said to our patriarch Avraham:

Raise your eyes and look out from where you now are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted. (Bereishit 13:14-16)

God also told Avraham after the binding of his son Yitzḥak:

I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. (ibid., 22:17)

Similarly, our patriarch Yitzḥak was told:

I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven, and give to your descendants all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring. (ibid., 26:4)

Likewise, God told our patriarch Yaakov in Beit El (before he left for Ḥaran):

The ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. (ibid., 28:13-14)

Upon Yaakov’s return from Ḥaran, God said to him:

I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, yea an assembly of nations, shall descend from you. Kings shall issue from your loins. The land that I assigned to Avraham and Yitzḥak I assign to you; and to your offspring to come will I assign the land. (ibid., 35:11-12)

Similarly, God promised Israel that if they follow in His ways they will merit an abundance of blessing, including: “I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you, and I will maintain My covenant with you” (Vayikra 26:9).

When the Jewish people were poised to enter Eretz Yisrael, it was not part of the divine plan that they inherit the land on the east bank of the Jordan River. It was only following the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad that permission for this was granted. It seems reasonable to ask, if the land on the east side of the Jordan is also part of the Eretz Yisrael, why did they not originally intend to settle it? The answer is that since the Israelites did not sufficiently procreate during their forty years of wandering in the desert, they did not have enough people to populate the east bank of the Jordan adequately. Therefore, God’s plan was that they would first populate the heartland of Israel, on the west bank of the Jordan. Once the population increased sufficiently, they would settle the east bank as well. God describes this process similarly:

I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals would be too many for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land. I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out before you. (Shemot 23:29-31)

The price for not having enough Israelites to settle the entire land was that their enemies remained, and so they experienced what the verse warned of:

But if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live. (Bamidbar 33:55)

Thus, when Moshe addressed Israel before his death and instructed them to conquer Eretz Yisrael, he bestowed upon them a blessing of increase:

Start out and make your way to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arava, the hill country, the Shefela, the Negev, the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates…. Go, enter the land…. The Lord your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars of the sky. May the Lord, the God of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold, and bless you as He promised you [for thus you will be able to inherit fully the entire land]. (Devarim 1:7-11)

The delay of the proper fulfillment of the mitzva of procreation was one of the reasons that more than 300 years passed from Israel’s entry into the land until the establishment of the Kingdom of David and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.

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