THE MITZVAH OF LIVING IN ISRAEL -HARAV ELIEZER MELAMED

The Sages stated that a Jew who dwells in the Land of Israel is similar to a person who has a God, and he who lives in the Diaspora resembles someone who does not have God and it is as if he worships idols. This is the case because a Jew who lives in Israel is a partner in the revelation of God's word in the world, whereas when a Jew lives outside the Holy Land, he does not fulfill his life mission.

THE MITZVAH OF LIVING IN ISRAEL -HARAV ELIEZER MELAMED

[NOTE: The following is excerpted from the book “HaAm and HaAretz.” The original Hebrew version written by HaRav Eliezer Melamed, Rabbi of the Har Bracha community and head of the HaBracha Yeshiva, is a part of the multi-volume “Peninei Halacha” series. The English adaption and translation by Tzvi Fishman is currently undergoing editing and proofreading. Any mistakes in the text whether halachic or grammatical are attributable to Tzvi Fishman and not to HaRav Melamed or the staff of the “Peninei Halacha” series.]

 

THE MITZVAH OF YISHUV HAARETZ

The mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz (settling the Land of Israel) is one of the main mitzvot on the way to the realization of the great vision of Am Yisrael – to become a light unto the nations. That is why our Sages said: “Settling the Land of Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Tosefta Avodah Zara 4:3; Sifri, Re’eh 53).

From a halakhic point of view as well, it possesses a special status, since it is the only mitzvah for which we are commanded to sacrifice our lives within the framework of service in the army (Minchat Chinuch 425; Mishpat Kohen 143). And its status is so great, to the point where when either a husband or wife wishes to immigrate to Israel, the other party must comply, and if he or she does not agree – immigrating to Israel justifies a divorce, and the party that refused to ascend to Israel has to bear all the costs of the dissolution of the marriage (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 75:4).

Moreover, in order to buy even one small room in the Land of Israel, our Sages permitted a person to violate the prohibition of shvut on Shabbat, something they did not permit for all the other mitzvot (Shulch Aruch, Orach Chaim, 306:11).

Definition of the Mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz

The mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is a mitzvah imposed on Clal Yisrael (all of Israel) – namely, to conquer the Land, and settle it. As Ramban wrote (Supplement to Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4): “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaacov; and to not abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate.”

In other words, there are two sides to the mitzvah:

1) that the Land be under the sovereignty of Israel, and not under foreign rule, and

2) to settle the entire Land in practice, in such a way that it will not remain desolate, but will give its blessing in the most optimal way, in urban and rural settlement.

Participation of the Individual in the Mitzvah

From the general mitzvah, continues the mitzvah for each Jew to participate, according to his ability, in settling the land. As our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “A person should always reside in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly populated by gentiles, and he should not reside outside of Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly populated by Jews. The reason is that anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who does not have a God,” and “is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship.”

Every Jew who lives in Israel is a participant in the mitzvah, for by means of his residing in Israel, the nation of Israel’s hold on their Land is strengthened. And those who live in relatively desolate places, such as the Golan and the Arava, have a greater share in the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, because through residing there, the Land is settled and is not left desolate. Likewise, those who settle in areas where there are residents who threaten Israeli sovereignty, such as in the Galilee and the Negev, have a greater share in the mitzvah.

And those who settle in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria fulfill an even greater mitzvah, since the sovereignty in these areas requires even more strengthening, settling there bolsters Israel’s security, and on top of that, these are the more sacred areas.

There is another scale: the more a Jew helps the development of the State of Israel, the more he fulfills the mitzvah.

The State of Israel

The Ramban emphasized that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz applies to all times, i.e., that in all generations Israel is commanded to inherit the Land, and settle it (Supplement to Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4). In the last generations, God began to give rise to our redemption, and on the 5th of Iyar 1948, at the time of the proclamation of the State, the People of Israel, after two thousand years of exile, merited to return and fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, since at the time of the proclamation of the State, Israeli sovereignty was applied to parts of the Land of Israel, and thus, as a nation, we returned once again to fulfill the mitzvah.

Even before the establishment of the State every Jew who lived in the Land fulfilled an individual mitzvah of living in the Land, thereby bringing closer the establishment of the State – nevertheless, the primary mitzvah had still not been fulfilled – that the Land be in the possession of the People of Israel, and not in the hands of another nation.

The Israel Defense Forces

The reason we could not fulfill the mitzvah before that, is that we were in a state of exile, physically and mentally, and we lacked an army and weapons that would allow us to conquer our Land, and maintain rule over it. Thus, the establishment of Israel’s military force before the establishment of the State, and its strengthening and formation in the establishment of the IDF, allow us to fulfill the mitzvah. Consequently, the IDF plays a crucial part of fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, in addition to the mitzvah of saving Israel from its enemies.

Conquering the Land and “Pikuach Nefesh”

We have a general rule: ‘You shall live by them (the words of the Torah) and not die by them’ (Yoma 85B). The Torah was given to Am Yisrael in order that the Jews live by it, not die by it. According to this rule, the well-known halachah was established that ‘pikuach nefesh nullifies the Shabbat.’ That is to say, Shabbat is desecrated in order to save a life. For instance, although driving a car is forbidden on Shabbat, it is permitted, and even a mitzvah, to drive a dangerously-ill person to the hospital for emergency treatment. Furthermore, not only is the Shabbat desecrated for pikuach nefesh, so are all of the mitzvot. Therefore, if non-Jews were to order a Jew, under the threat of death, to do something that involved transgressing a commandment from the Torah, he should do it and not put his life in danger, except for three major transgressions: idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and murder. If someone said to him, “Kill your friend, or we’ll kill you,” he should be ready to be killed, rather than kill someone else. Also, if they told him to worship a certain idol, or else they would kill him, he must be ready to give up his life and not sin. This rule also applies to illicit sexual relations. For all the other mitzvot, however, one should not sacrifice his life (Sanhedrin 74A).

All this concerns commandments incumbent upon the individual. However, pikuach nefesh does not apply to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, which is a general mitzvah of Clal Yisrael. From the mere fact that the Torah commanded us to conquer the Land, we must be ready to endanger our lives, for there is no war without casualties, and the Torah does not expect us to rely on miracles. Rather, the mitzvah of conquering and settling the Land, which is incumbent on the Nation, requires complete miserut nefesh and self-sacrifice (Minchat Chinuch 425, 604; Mishpat Kohen 143; Igrot Ra’ayah, Sect. 3, 944). This was the case in the days of Yehoshua and David, as well as during the establishment of the Second Temple; and later, at the time of the Maccabees and the Hashmonite Kingdom.

The rule of “and you shall live by them” applies even to general mitzvot. However, with regard to the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, since the commandment pertains to the general populace, likewise, the assessment of the country’s security situation is cast upon the nation, and not just individual soldiers. Therefore, in a case where military defeat is highly likely, and, God forbid, we are likely to lose parts of the Land that we already possess, thereby threatening the life of the entire Nation, in such a situation, there is no mitzvah to go to war to conquer the Land. However, when there is a good possibility that we will be victorious, even though it is clear that a number of us will lose our lives, we are commanded to fight for the Land, and at the very least, to defend the Land already in our possession.

I must mention here, that any nation that is not willing to fight with a spirit of self-sacrifice for its country exposes its sons and daughters to dangers from neighboring enemies. For any nation which cannot mobilize its sons to fight for its homeland, will, in the long run, be conquered. Therefore, the mitzvah to fight for the Land of Israel with a readiness for self-sacrifice corresponds to the universal understanding of war, where soldiers are called upon to fight for their countries, even though many may die. Consequently, one who fights for the defense of Israel’s borders fulfills two holy commandments – settling the Land, and defending the Jewish People from its enemies.”

Danger of Living in Judea and Samaria

The fact of the matter is that there is no noteworthy danger living in Judea and Samaria which should be considered an obstacle to living there, since danger is not determined according to the number of times incidents are cited in the news, but rather according to statistics. In actuality, the danger of road accidents is greater than the danger of terrorist attacks, even within Judea and Samaria.

Not only is this the reality, but regarding Israel in general, life expectancy in Israel one of the highest in the world, both because of the excellent health system and because of the feeling of value people have in their lives.

Furthermore, research revealed that the life expectancy in Judea and Samaria is higher than in the rest of the country. In other words, despite any additional risk living in Judea and Samaria may have, the advantages in other areas contribute to a higher life expectancy.

Danger in the Diaspora On the other hand, in the Diaspora there is a spiritual danger, and the people who move to Eretz Yisrael undergo a spiritual ascension, for the oleh and for all of his offspring.  This is so significant that the Sages stated that a Jew who dwells in the Land of Israel is similar to a person who has a God, and he who lives in the Diaspora resembles someone who does not have God and it is as if he worships idols. This is the case because a Jew who lives in Israel is a partner in the revelation of God’s word in the world, whereas when a Jew lives outside the Holy Land, he does not fulfill his life mission.

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