by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman [see Rabbi Lichtman’s website: https://toratzion.com/]
BESIDES ALL ELSE, IT’S A MITZVAH
For the past 300 (or so) pages, we have discussed many aspects of the special qualities of
Eretz Yisrael. Quoting Scriptures, Midrashim, Gemarot, Rishonim and Acharonim, we have
demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that a Jew’s avodat HaShem is enhanced
immeasurably when he dwells in the Chosen Land. His mitzvot are more meaningful, his
prayers more acceptable, his Torah more lucid, and his overall existence more spiritual. In a
nutshell, his relationship with God is more intimate. We have also discussed the importance
of living in Eretz Yisrael from an historical point of view, focusing on the special (but
challenging) times we are living through.
Nevertheless, there are people out there who have a hard time relating to these kinds of
arguments. To them, if it’s not written in the Shulchan Aruch, if it’s not officially a Divine
(or at least rabbinic) command, it can’t be that important. This week’s discussion is geared to
this category of people.
Commenting on the verse – You shall possess the Land and dwell in it, for to you have I
given the Land to possess it (BeMidbar 33:53), the Ramban writes:
In my opinion, this is a positive commandment, enjoining [the Jewish people] to dwell in
the Land and take possession of it, for He gave it to them, and they shall not despise
HaShem’s inheritance. And if they would consider conquering and settling in the land
of Shinar, Ashur, or any other land, they would transgress HaShem’s commandment.
[We find that] our Rabbis glorify the mitzvah of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael, [stating] that
one is forbidden to leave the Land, and that a man or woman who refuses to immigrate
to Eretz Yisrael with his or her spouse is considered rebellious. [That is, refusing to
make aliyah constitutes grounds for divorce, causing the woman to forfeit her ketuvah
(marriage contract) and obligating the man to pay it.] Here is where we were
commanded [to keep] this mitzvah, for this verse constitutes a positive commandment.
And this mitzvah is repeated in many places, [for example], – Come and possess the
Land (Devarim 1:8).
Rashi, however, explained: “YOU SHALL POSSESS THE LAND – You shall dispossess its
inhabitants. Then, YOU SHALL DWELL IN IT – [meaning], you will be able to survive there.
But if not, you will not be able to survive there.” Our explanation is the correct one.
In his addendum to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Commandment 4), the
Ramban elaborates upon the two aspects of this mitzvah: conquering and settling the Land.
He writes, “We must not leave it in the hands of any other nation, nor [may we let it remain]
desolate.” After bringing many proofs, he sums up as follows: “Thus, it is a positive
commandment for all generations, obligating every one of us, even during the period of
But what about Rashi’s opinion quoted by the Ramban? First of all, let us not forget that
Rashi’s commentary on the Chumash is not a halachic work; its goal is to explain the simple
meaning of the text. In other words, just because Rashi interprets our verse differently than
the Ramban does, that does not mean that he holds there is no mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael
nowadays. All it means is that this verse is not the source of the mitzvah. Maybe he learns it
from somewhere else. After all, he implies many times in his commentary on the Talmud that
there is a mitzvah. For example: “FOR THE SAKE OF YISHUV ERETZ YISRAEL – that is, to expel
idolaters [from the Land] and settle Jews there” (Gittin 8b). “Chutz LaAretz has no merits,
rather, it is sinful to dwell there” (Berachot 57a).
Secondly, the Or HaChayim HaKadosh greatly minimizes the debate between Rashi and
the Ramban on our verse. He writes: “Rashi z”l explained that the mitzvah is ‘You shall
possess’ [i.e., expel the Gentiles from the Land], while ‘You shall dwell in it’ is a [Divine]
promise. However, the Ramban explained that the mitzvah is ‘You shall dwell in it’.” That is,
according to Rashi the complete conquest of the Land is a prerequisite for dwelling there
successfully, while the Ramban holds that they are two separate mitzvot. Both agree,
however, that there is some mitzvah related to settling the Land.
Thirdly, Rashi comments later on in the parashah: “Since many mitzvot apply in the Land
and not in Chutz LaAretz, [the Torah] had to delineate the boundaries of the Land all around”
(34:2). So, even if Rashi holds that there is no explicit commandment to dwell in the Land, it
is obvious that a Jew must live there in order to fulfill all of its special mitzvot (which cannot
be kept anywhere else).
It would be very time- (and space-) consuming to discuss all angles of this topic: Tosafot’s
opinion, the Rambam’s opinion, the argument between the Ramban and the Megillat Esther (a
commentary on Sefer HaMitzvot), R. Moshe Feinstein’s opinion, etc. God willing, we will
touch upon some of these issues in the future. Let me just conclude with the bottom line: The
vast majority of poskim throughout the generations agree with the Ramban that there is a
positive, obligatory, perpetual, biblical commandment to live in God’s Chosen Land. So
what’s your excuse now?
The Lord spoke to Moshe in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan [near] Jericho, saying:
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you cross over the Jordan into the
Land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the Land from before you, and you
shall destroy all their places of worship and destroy all their molten images and demolish all
their high places. You shall possess the Land and dwell in it, for to you have I given the
Land to possess it. You shall divide the Land as an inheritance by lot to your families… But
if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land from before you, those of them whom you
allow to remain shall be [like] pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will
harass you upon the Land in which you dwell (33:50-55).
WHEN YOU CROSS OVER THE JORDAN: But before they crossed over the Jordan into Eretz
Yisrael, they were not commanded to destroy [places of] foreign worship on the
[Eastern] side of the Jordan. For, this commandment is a function of the sanctity of the
Land, and Transjordan was not sanctified until Eretz Yisrael was sanctified. Similarly,
the cities of refuge could not absorb [unintentional murderers] until those of Eretz
Yisrael were also completed, for the cities of refuge are dependent on the sanctity of the
Land – [i.e.] when the Jubilee year is in effect. And the Jubilee is in effect when all the
Jews dwells in their Land… Therefore, [the Israelites] were not commanded to uproot
idolatry from Transjordan until Eretz Yisrael was cleansed [of it first]. (Ha’amek Davar)
THEY WILL HARASS YOU UPON THE LAND: This means that not only will they take hold of the
part of the Land that you did not merit [to acquire], but [they will try to seize] even the
part that you merited [to conquer] and dwell therein. They will harass you upon the
portion in which you dwell, saying, “Get up and leave.” (Or HaChayim HaKadosh)
Command (צו) the Children of Israel and say to them, “When you come into the Land
Canaan (אל הארץ כנען); this is the Land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, the Land of
Canaan according to its borders” (34:2).
“R. Yehudah ben Betaira says, ‘The word צו always implies encouragement, as it says,
Command Yehoshua, and strengthen him and encourage him (Devarim 3:28).’ R.
Shimon ben Yochai says, ‘The word צו always implies financial loss, as it says,
Command the Children of Israel that they shall give to the Levites… (BeMidbar 35:2).
There is one exception (where צו implies encouragement): Command the Children of
Israel… When you come into the Land’ ” (Midrash Rabbah, Naso 7).
This is a lesson regarding those who ascend to Eretz Yisrael. Even though they leave
their businesses and possessions behind, in the final tally they will not incur any
financial loss, for Jewish affluence in the Diaspora dissolves after a few generations.
Therefore, the command [here] is only encouragement – for the immediate future and for
all generations. (Itturei Torah, vol. 5, p. 207, quoting the Chasidic master, R. Shaul
Yedidyah Elazar of Modjitz)
*Everyone makes a fuss about the extra “ה” in the word הארץ. I believe the explanation
is as follows. When the Blessed One spoke of the Land of Canaan that shall fall to you
as an inheritance, with all its boundaries and its apportionment to the Jewish people, He
saw fit to point out that the Children of Israel are not inheriting it as thieves. Rather, You
come into the Land – the well-known Land that was designated for you from the Six
Days of Creation… In the days of Avraham, however, the Canaanites began conquering
it for themselves… Then, HaShem commanded Avram to go to the Land of Canaan, in
order to take hold of it and protest against Canaan’s conquest. Therefore, HaShem told
Moshe [here] to command the Children of Israel to come into “the Land” that was
designated for them, which “Canaan” conquered [unlawfully], like thieves. (Oznayim
*What does “to you” mean? The Land befits you. This can be compared to a king who
had servants and maidservants. He used to marry off his servants to maidservants of a
different family, and his maidservants to servants of a different family. The king
stopped and thought, “The servants are mine and the maidservants are mine. It is
preferable for me to marry my servants to my maidservants; my own to my own.” So
too, the Holy One blessed be He said (as it were): “The Land is Mine, as it says, – The
Land is the Lord’s (Tehillim 24:1) and, – For the Land is Mine (VaYikra 25:23); and the
people of Israel are Mine, as it says, – For the Children of Israel are servants to Me
(ibid. 25:55). It is preferable for Me to give My Land as an inheritance to My servants;
My own to My own.” Therefore it says, This is the Land that shall fall to you as an
inheritance. (BeMidbar Rabbah 23:11)
R. Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal zt”l explains this Midrash beautifully:
Why did Chazal need this parable? They simply should have said, “The word ‘Mine’ is
written about both Eretz Yisrael and the people of Israel etc.” Furthermore, why did the
Midrash cite the verse For the Children of Israel are servants to Me? They should have
cited the verse from the giving of the Torah, – And you shall be to Me… (Shemot 19:6).
Why did they mention the verse that refers to Israel as servants?
It seems that the Midrash was bothered by a question. Why does the verse ascribe the
act of inheriting to the Land, as it says, This is the Land that shall fall to you as an
inheritance? This implies that the Land itself will “fall to you”! It should have said,
“This is the Land that you shall inherit,” for the act of inheriting comes from Israel, not
The Midrash brings its parable to answer this. For let us consider this matter. A king
will certainly not entertain the thought of marrying off his children to servants or
maidservants from the outside. Rather, he will marry them to people similar to them.
However, he will not hesitate to marry off his servants and maidservants to servants and
maidservants from the outside. Eventually, though, he realizes that it is preferable to
marry even his servants and maidservants to his own. This is the meaning of the word
“preferable.” That is, even though this way is good, the other way is slightly better.
Now, we are familiar with Chazal’s statement that when we do the will of the
Omnipresent we are considered His children, and when we fail to do His will (God
forbid) we are considered servants (Bava Batra 10a). This explains everything. When
the people of Israel do the will of the Omnipresent and act properly, thereby becoming
God’s children, there is no doubt that they will receive the Land. For then, the match
(shidduch) is like “grapes of the vine with grapes of the vine” (see Pesachim 49a). But
when they fail to do His will, and are considered merely servants, one might think that
perhaps the Holy One Blessed be He will “marry off” the Land to servants from the
outside, meaning, the nations of the world. Therefore, the Midrash brings its parable to
teach that even when the people of Israel are considered servants, HaShem says, “It is
preferable to ‘marry off’ My Land to My servants.”
Thus, the need for the parable is clear, for it alludes to the fact that even when the
people of Israel fail to do the will of HaShem, He still wants the shidduch between them
and Eretz Yisrael. This also explains why the Midrash specifically cites the verse For
the Children of Israel are servants to Me. It hints to a time when the Jews are
considered servants. The Midrash does not cite the verse from the giving of the Torah
because that refers to a time when they listened to God, as it says, – Now, therefore, if
you will hearken to My voice (Shemot 19:5).
This also explains why the verse says, This is the Land that shall fall to you as an
inheritance, and not “that you shall inherit.” “That you shall inherit” would have
implied that you, by your own virtues, deserve this. Then it makes sense to ascribe the
act of inheriting to Israel. It would have referred specifically to a time when the people
of Israel do the will of HaShem. Therefore, the Torah says, that shall fall to you. This
implies that you will not receive the Land because you acted properly, but because the
Land desires it. The Land says, “It is preferable for me to fall to you than to other
servants.” (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 283-85)
The southern side shall be for you from the Desert of Tzin… The Western border; it shall
be for you the Great Sea… This shall be for you the northern border… The border shall
descend and reach the projection of the Kinneret Sea to the east… This shall be for you the
Land, according to its borders all around (34:3-12).
Behold, we find other borders [elsewhere in the Torah], wider than those mentioned
here. At the end of Parashat Eikev, it says, – Every place whereupon the sole of your
foot will tread shall be yours: from the Desert and the Lebanon, from the river – the
Euphrates River – until the Last Sea shall be your boundary (Devarim 11:24). Similarly,
in the beginning of the Book of Yehoshua, the northern border reaches the Euphrates
River… It also says in Parashat Mishpatim, – I shall set your border from the Red Sea
to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the Desert until the River (Shemot 23:31).
We are forced to say that the borders mentioned here are limited to the present [i.e.,
the Generation of the Wilderness], when their numbers were small and they were unable
to take hold of more [land]. This is the meaning of [the phrase] “that shall fall to you as
an inheritance” (v. 2), that is, now. In Parashat Eikev and Mishpatim, however, [the
Torah] speaks of a time when [the Jews] will increase and they will need to widen their
Throughout this parashah, [the Torah] deliberately repeats the word לכם (“for you”):
The southern side shall be for you, The border shall turn for you, etc., until it concludes
[by saying], This shall be for you the Land. This alludes to the fact that these borders
are only temporary, for they will constantly expand, as occurred at the time of David,
Shlomo, and Herod, whose kingdoms spread to the Euphrates. This will certainly
happen in the future. (Malbim)
The Lord spoke to Moshe saying: These are the names of the men who shall divide the
Land as an inheritance for you… These are the ones whom the Lord commanded to divide
the inheritance to the Children of Israel in the Land of Canaan (34:16-29).
The Lord spoke to Moshe in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, near Jericho, saying:
Command the Children of Israel that they shall give to the Levites, from the inheritance of
their possession, cities in which to dwell… (35:1-8).
The Lord spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When
you cross the Jordan into the Land of Canaan, you shall designate for yourselves cities, cities
of refuge they shall be for you; and a murderer who kills unintentionally shall flee there…
You shall assign three cities on the other side of the Jordan, and you shall assign three cities
in the Land of Canaan… (35:9-15).
R. Yitzchak Abarbanel writes that Moshe was very distressed and troubled over the fact
that after all his efforts to bring the Jews out of Egypt and lead them through the desert
for forty years, he was not privileged to see their joy and bring them into the Land.
Therefore, God came to comfort him and command him all these [mitzvot] that depend
on the Land – conquering it, dispossessing it, and dividing it up. …He said to him,
“Besides seeing the Land with your own eyes, you want five more things: 1) to conquer
it and drive out the seven nations, 2) to establish its borders, 3) to divide it up among the
Tribes, each one receiving its rightful portion, 4) to allocate cities for the Levites, and 5)
to designate cities of refuge.”
Now, it is well known that one person cannot do all of this on his own. Rather, he
must instruct others to act. Then, whatever they accomplish at his command is
considered as if he did it alone. Thus, God told Moshe to instruct [the Jews] concerning
these five things before his death. The first command involved conquering the Land and
expelling the Canaanites from it [see 33:50-56]. The second one specified the
boundaries of the Land [34:1-15]… In the third command, [HaShem told Moshe] to
appoint men to partition the Land [34:16-29]. This way, [Moshe] would feel as if he
divided it up himself, for they were his agents. The fourth and fifth commandments
involved designating Levite cities [35:1-8] and cities of refuge [35:9-15]. All this
placated Moshe, for he saw the Land with his own eyes and appointed messengers to
take care of everything that needed to be done there, making him feel as if he entered the
Land and did everything [on his own]. (The Abarbanel, as summarized by the Malbim)
You shall not pollute the Land in which you are, for blood will pollute the Land, and the
Land will not be atoned for the blood that was spilled in it, except through the blood of the
one who spilled it. You shall not defile the Land in which you dwell, in which I rest, for I, the
Lord, rest among the Children of Israel (35:33-34).
YOU SHALL NOT POLLUTE THE LAND: Since [the Torah] opened by saying, – These shall be
for you a statute of justice for your generations, in all your dwellings (v. 29) – indicating
that these laws apply outside the Land, as well – it went back and ruled more strictly
with regard to the inhabitants of the Land, in deference to the Shechinah that dwells
there, warning us not to pollute or defile the Land… (Ramban)
IN WHICH I REST: Do not cause Me to dwell in its defilement. FOR I, THE LORD, REST AMONG
THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL: [Meaning], even when they are defiled, the Shechinah is in their