Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Settling the land
To dedicate this lesson
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Why Live in the Land of Israel?

The entire Torah is full of teachings about the value of Eretz Yisrael. One who engages in Torah must view the Land as very precious, and the striving to be in Eretz Israel must fill his entire heart.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Sivan 19 5781
In 1891 (5651), the year that Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was born, there was a great awakening within the Jewish People regarding the Land of Israel. Torah scholars published many letters highlighting their love for the Land and the Torah's praise of it. Among the writings was an approbation by the renowned Ohr Same'ach, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, for the work Shivat Tzion, a collection of such letters. Rav Meir Simcha wrote:


"It is actually totally unnecessary to write of the greatness of the Land of Israel – for what Jew would ever doubt this? Ever since Hashem called upon our founder Avraham, He promised him this beautiful land. Three gifts were given to Israel, our Sages teach (B'rachot 5a): Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come, and all the details of the Torah are in perfect coordination with the Divine promise that we would receive and settle the Land. …


"After Israel committed the grave Sin of the Golden Calf at Horev, G-d was willing to forgive Israel – but when they showed their apathy towards the Land, He wiped out the entire generation of the desert; their speaking against the Land was punished more severely than when they sinned against G-d Himself!


"The Torah that we have received is replete with praise of the Land. Our Sages (Nedarim 22a) equated the greatness of the Book of Joshua with that of the Torah itself, because it is all about the division of Eretz Yisrael... Entire chapters in the Tosefta [an important body of Tannaitic writings], the Medrash Sifrei, and the Talmudim sing the praises of the Land of Israel…"


The entire Torah is full of teachings about the value of Eretz Yisrael. One who engages in Torah must view the Land as very precious, and the striving to be in Eretz Israel must fill his entire heart. When the gates of the Land are open to all Jews, the joy must be tremendous, and our thanks to Hashem must be boundless.


The Sefer Hareidim states:


"Every Jew must love Eretz Yisrael and come to it from all over the world with great passion, just as a child to his mother's bosom – because the original sin that caused our 'weeping for generations' was when we spurned the Land [the Sin of the Spies], as is written, They scorned the beloved land (Tehillim 106,24); and our redemption will come about when we love it, as is written, for Your servants loved [the Land's] stones and dirt and You will arise and have mercy on Zion (Tehillim 102,14-15)."


This means that the only way we will merit to return to the Land is if we long for it. It's true, the Hareidim says, that there are problems here – and we must be happy even with difficulties. The very first time that we came to the Land, following the Exodus from Egypt, Amalek attacked us – "and this is how it is: Eretz Yisrael is acquired through tribulations."


The Hareidim quotes the Ramban who says that living in the Land is one of the 613 Torah commandments, and that every moment that a person is here, he fulfills that mitzvah:


"And it is known that the main reward for the fulfillment of a mitzvah comes for the joy that one feels in doing it. The Torah tells us that we are punished Because [we] did not serve Hashem with happiness (D'varim 28,47)."


Thus, one who lives in Eretz Yisrael must always be happy, for he is constantly and perpetually fulfilling a mitzvah. And if a person lives in the Land and studies Torah as well, this is certainly a tremendous happiness – and therefore Yeshiva students in Eretz Yisrael must be happy all the time!


On the other hand, the Hareidim also says that one must always be "fearful and trembling" when he fulfills a mitzvah. He cites R. Shimon bar Yochai, who says, "Every mitzvah not fulfilled with fear and trembling is not a mitzvah." We similarly read in Avot D'Rabbe Natan, "Be joyful and trembling regarding the mitzvot." We must therefore perform the mitzvot with both fear of G-d and love of G-d. Whoever did not see Rav Tzvi Yehuda on Yom HaAtzma'ut [Israel Independence Day] never saw true joy in his life. When Rav Tzvi Yehuda would take part in the special prayers of the day, his face shined with a special glow; you could see on his face total joy and thanks to G-d for our privilege in meriting to see this day.

This is an important lesson – to know how to thank G-d and rejoice in His goodness.


Trembling Must Not Cancel Out the Mitzvah


Yes, the situation here is intricate and not at all simple. There are hardships of all types, and we must know how to deal with them. We must thank Hashem for the good – and there is so much of it! – even as we pray that those aspects that are not yet satisfactory be improved. The word "haredi," fearful, well describes the hareidi public, for they are fearful of G-d, and of negative influences; they feel that a good word about the State of Israel means praise for secular people and their actions, and that this is liable to lead to a distancing from Torah.

But in truth, they should not be fearing this, as the Netziv of Volozhin, the author of Haamek Davar, wrote in his foreword to L'maan Tzion:


"I would like to explain publicly how beloved is the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel in G-d's eyes: King Cyrus invited Israel to return to the Land, saying, Who amongst you in G-d's nation wishes to ascend, may G-d be with him (Ezra 1,3). Yet most of Israel refused to do so, saying, I have washed my feet, how can I now dirty them? (Song of Songs 5,3). The Medrash explains that they had abandoned the path of idol-worship and feared returning to the Land of Israel where this danger again threatened. To our feeble minds, this seems like a strong argument – yet we see that G-d was very angered by it, as we read in the rest of Shir HaShirim. This shows that we must not make light of the mitzvah of settling the Land simply because we see sinners there – for it is possible to be cautious [against these dangers]."


The Rewards are Great


As stated, even amid the difficulties in Israel, we must thank Hashem for all the plentiful good we have here, even as we work to rectify that which is deficient. We see that whoever works to settle and build up the Land, and whoever fights to protect the Nation of Israel in its Land, has great merits – and it could even be that his reward from G-d is power and authority.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 96a) says that the evil King Nebuchadnezzar became a powerful monarch in the merit of four strides in the Land of Israel that he took in honor of the Master of the Universe. What happened was that without his knowledge, a letter was written in his name to Judah's King Hezekiah, and it began with the words, "Peace unto King Hezekiah, peace unto the city of Jerusalem, peace unto the Great G-d." When Nebuchadnezzar heard that G-d was addressed only at the end, after the mortal King Hezekiah, he asked that it be changed.


However, he was told that the letter had already been sent, and so he set out to retrieve the letter before it could reach its destination. The angel Gabriel stepped in to stop him after just four steps – but in reward for these four steps, he was granted tremendous power and authority – which, as we know, he abused to destroy G-d's Holy Temple. 


Our Sages teach that when a person does an act of goodness, even one that seems small, it is actually a great deed on behalf of G-d's glory – and his reward is the opportunity to do even greater things. But he can use this power for bad as well, as we frequently see happening today. Many people who displayed great self-sacrifice for Israel on the battlefield, were rewarded by Hashem with positions of influence – but did not always use it for good things.


When we pray in the Amidah for the Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of Jerusalem, and the restoration of the Beit HaMikdash, we must know that these things will take place in any event. What we are praying for is that they should happen quickly and easily. The more Torah we add, the quicker we will reach the desired reality. Unquestionably, those who study and teach Torah, and act in accordance with Torah, are those who set the pace of the Redemption. The Zohar emphasizes often that the Final Redemption will come in the merit of Torah. We need more Torah, and especially the Torah that recognizes the special nature of Israel, that encourages learning and the performance of mitzvot in the name of the entire Nation – even those who are spiritually distant. The value of such Torah is of a totally different league. Scholars who recognize the special value of Eretz Yisrael, and who bring the sanctity of the Land into their Torah – this Torah study is very special. We who learn here – this is our job. We recognize the value of the State of Israel and of the Land of Israel, and the Torah we learn here is on a high level and advances us towards our Redemption - may it occur speedily and soon, amen.

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