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Dwelling in the Land of Israel


Rabbi David Samson

11 Elul 5763
Your answer about the Sin of the Spies bothered me. If it is such a clear mitzvah to dwell in the Land of Israel, why do so many religious Jews live in America? I’ve asked around and was told that the obligation to live in Israel will only apply when the Mashiach comes and brings us there. What is your response?
The very special relationship between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel was made clear with G-d’s very first words to Abraham: “Get yourself forth to the Land that I will show you.”[1] The Ramban writes that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel is one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.[2] He bases this on the language of the Biblical verse, “And you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the Land and dwell in it.”[3] We are enjoined with two tasks: first to conquer the Land, and secondly to dwell in it. The Ramban states that this mitzvah applies in every generation. Furthermore, all of the early and later Torah authorities (Rishonim and Achronim) who formulate Halacha agree on this matter.[4] In his sweeping Halachic compilation, the Mishna Torah,[5] the Rambam quotes the Gemara: “In all times, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where most of the inhabitants are idol worshippers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city where most of the inhabitants are Jews.”[6] Our Sages stated that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is equal to all of the commandments of the Torah combined.[7] These weeks, in the Parsha readings in the Book of Deuteronomy, we are being treated to an explanation of the Torah by Moses himself, as it says, “Moses began to explain this Torah, saying, The L-rd our G-d spoke to us in Horev, saying, You have dwelt long enough in this mountain….”[8] The time has come to journey on into Israel, Moses teaches. The Torah is to be kept in Eretz Yisrael, not in the wilderness.[9] Again and again, Moses emphasizes this fundamental principle upon which all of the Torah rests: “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the L-rd my G-d commanded me, that you should perform them in the Land whither you go to possess.”[10] “And the L-rd commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you may perform them in the Land which you go over to possess.”[11] “But as for thee, stand here by Me, and I will speak to thee all of the commandments and statutes and judgments which thou shall teach them, that they may do them in the Land which I gave them to possess.”[12] “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which theL-rd thy G-d commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the Land into which you go to possess.”[13] “All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the Land which the L-rd swore to your fathers.”[14] The commandments were given to be performed specifically in the Land of Israel, as the Ramban states: “The essence of all of the commandments is that they be performed in the Land of G-d.”[15] Understanding the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah and G-d’s plans for the Jewish People, we can appreciate the enormity of the Sin of the Spies for not wanting to live in Israel. The Zohar teaches that the Spies, who were the princes of Israel, were worried about their honor. They feared that upon entering the Land, new leaders would be chosen, and they would lose their positions of authority and prestige.[16] As was highlighted in last week’s answer by the words of the Gaon of Vilna, this failure to put Eretz Yisrael in the forefront of Jewish life continues tragically until today.[17] Regarding, your question regarding Mashiach, a Jew is called upon to fulfill the commandments whether Mashiach has arrived or not. As the Rambam writes: “The obligation of the commandments is not dependent on the coming of Mashiach. Rather we are to busy ourselves with Torah and its precepts, and to strive to fulfill everything we can… However, if a man remains in a place where he sees that the Torah is waning, and where the Jewish People will be lost with the passage of time, and where he cannot stay true to his faith, and say. ‘I will stay here until Mashiach comes and survive where I am,’ this is nothing but an evil heart and a great loss, and a sickness of reasoning and spirit.”[18] Today, thank G-d, the Land of Israel is once again the thriving heart of the Jewish People. Jerusalem is once again the Torah center of the world. While there are many great challenges and problems in returning an exiled people to its ancestral homeland, Jewish life in Israel continues to grow in a miraculous fashion. So if you want to fulfill the mitzvah of waiting for Mashiach, the best place to do it is Israel. May the words of the Prophet soon be fulfilled: “The L-rd G-d who gathers the outcasts of Israel says, ‘Yet I will gather others to him, besides those of him who are already gathered.’”[19] 1. Genesis, 12:2. 2. Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment #4. 3. Numbers, 33:53. 4. Pitchei T’shuva, Even HaEzer, Section 75, Sub-section 6. 5. Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:12. 6. Ketubot 110B. 7. Sifre, Ekev, 10:1. 8. Deut, 1:6. 9. Ibid, 1:7. 10. Deut, 4:5. 11. Ibid, 4:14. 12. Ibid, 5:27. 13. Ibid, 6:1. 14. Ibid, 8:1. 15. Ramban on the Torah, Leviticus, 18:25. 16. Zohar on Numbers, 13:3. Also Mesillat Yesharim, On Cleanliness. 17. Likutei HaGra, at the end of Safra D’Tziniuta. 18. Rambam, Igeret Teiman. See, Kuzari, 2:24. 19. Isaiah, 55:8.
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