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The Mitzva of Settling the Land of Israel (Yishuv HaAretz), in Our Day


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

Sivan 5775
In our Parasha we read about the sin of the Spies – the Meraglim. It is thus appropriate to dwell upon the Mitzva of settling the Land of Israel, in our time. Though there is a great deal to say on this topic, we will deal with only a few points.
Is this mitzvah applicable today ?
It is well known that the Rambam omitted this mitzvah in his Sefer HaMitzvot. The Megillat Esther on the fourth positive mitzvah , comments that he did this because, after the Temple’s destruction & our subsequent dispersion in the Galut, the mitzvah is not applicable today.(The Megillat Esther is a famous commentary on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot)
Furthermore, in Ketubot 110 b, the Gemara relates that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s student, Rabbi Zeira wanted to go up to Israel. Rabbi Yehudah was not in favor of it. He said that anyone doing this, transgresses a positive commandment. He quoted the prophecy of Jeremiah:
בבלה יובאו ושמה יהיו עד יום פקדי אתם נאם ה’ " (ירמיהו כז, כב).
They shall be brought to Babylon and there they shall be until the day I remember them, said HaShem………….
Extrapolating from this, it would appear that not only is Aliyah not a mitzvah today, but it’s actually forbidden !
Ramban’s approach & the Sifri’s explanation
The Ramban rejects the non-applicability of Yishuv HaAretz, today & maintains that it always applies. He relies on the Sifri in Parashat Re’eh 80:
Rabbis Yehudah Ben Beteira, Matya Ben Cheresh & Chananyah left Israel for Paltiya. The land of Israel came to their minds. They raised their eyes & tears flowed. They rent their garments & read the following pasuk :"וירשתם אותה וישבתם בה ושמרתם לעשות את כל החקים האלה"
You will inherit it, & you will inhabit it & you will carefully perform all these Chukim. They then commented that Yeshivat HaAretz is equal to all the mitzvoth in the Torah.
From the reaction of these Tannaim, we see how upset they were in not fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. We also notice that it applies during the Galut. The Megillat Esther maintains that this Sifri, on the contrary, fits well with his explanation. The Chachamim were so upset because today there is no mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael & no possibility of performing it. Had there been such a possibility, they would simply have returned to Eretz Yisrael & not cried & rent their clothing. The Pe’at Hashulchan (בית ישראל א, ס"ק יד)& the Avnei Nezer (יו"ד תנד)disprove the Megillat Esther entirely. The Sifri in question states explicitly that in the wake of their tears, these Tannaim, returned to Eretz Yisrael. So immediately they remembered this mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, they returned from whence they came.
The Rambam’s Approach
In a number of halachot, the Rambam shows that Yishuv HaAretz applies today. For example, (Laws of Slaves 8, 9) if a slave wants to go up to Israel, his master is forced to go with him. This din, says the Rambam, applies always – even in our day when Israel is in the hands of non Jews. The Vilna Gaon (יו"ד רסז, ס"ק קסא) points out that Reb Chaim, in Tosfot(כתובות קי: ד"ה הוא), holds that today the mitzvah doesn’t apply. There is the famous statement "לעולם ידור אדם בארץ ישראל… ואל ידור בחוץ לארץ… שכל היוצא לחוצה לארץ כאילו עובד עבודה זרה"‏ (מלכים ה, יב).
A person should always live in Eretz Yisrael & not outside it. Where a person leaves Eretz Yisrael, it is as if he worships idolatry.
Based on this, the Pe’at Shulchan & Avnei Nezer dismiss the Megillat Esther’s views. So why then doesn’t the Rambam count Yishuv HaAretz as a mitzvah? The Avnei Nezer (ibid) says the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is included in "החרם תחרימם", You shall utterly destroy…. (Deut 20, 17) where we have to expel the seven nations occupying Israel.
Rav Kook (הובא בשו"ת ציץ אליעזר ז, מח פרק יב)& Rav Teichtal (אם הבנים שמחה, עמ’ קסט), explain the reason behind the Rambam’s omitting Yishuv HaAretz. It is because the Rambam doesn’t count generic or undiversified mitzvot ( מצוות כלליות). Thus the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz is a generic one. It subsumes many mitzvoth. Or to quote the Ramban (דברים ד, ה): "שעיקר המצוות כולן בארץ"– all those mitzvoth dependent on the Land of Israel are subsumed in the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz.
In actuality the Chazon Ish (אגרות א, קעה), wrote that the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz was decided upon and established by the Rambam & the Ramban & the rest of the Poskim. It is also well known how much the Chafetz Chaim wanted to go up to Israel.
Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s view
How do we explain Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s view in Gemara Ketubot? Pe’at Hashulchan (ibid) simply says that the Halacha isn’t like Rabbi Yehudah because many Amoraim went up to Israel, thus showing they disagreed with him. The Avnei Nezer’s view (ibid), though, is more to the point. He says that although HaShem told Bnei Yisrael via Jeremiah : They shall be brought to Babylon and there they shall be until the day I remember them,
יום פקדי what does the day I remember them mean?
Is it only a miraculous occurrence ? It would appear that when the "natural order" of things permits establishing a state, there is no day greater than this – where HaShem remembers us. As the Avnei Nezer says " If (such) authority is given – this is what is meant by remembering."
In conclusion
My Rav & teacher Rav Lichtenstein, הכ"מ, loved the Land of Israel. He was once saddened by the fact that today, those born in Israel don’t feel its holiness nor do they love the Land as those from outside Israel. He pointed to a Gemara in Ketubot 75a that one born in Israel is greater than one born outside Israel. But if the latter comes to live in Israel, his spiritual stature is greater than both together. The Rav explained that one born outside Israel who comes to live in Israel, understands & feels the yearning, the longing for, and dreaming about the Land of Israel.
Every time the Rav returned to Israel from an overseas trip, for the last quarter of an hour of the flight he would say Tehillim, because he was about to enter into the holiness of the Land of Israel. This I heard from the Rav’s son, Rav Meir.
So we have to rejoice afresh each day that we are in Eretz Yisrael, that we merit to connect to its huge holiness & that we merit to be here for the beginning of the process of redemption.

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