- Peninei Halakha
Chapter 4: Yom Ha-atzma’ut
1. The Mitzva of Settling Eretz Yisrael
When the State of Israel was established, on the fifth of Iyar in 5708 (1948), the Jewish people fulfilled the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel).
When the State of Israel was established, on the fifth of Iyar in 5708 (1948), the Jewish people fulfilled the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). It is true that even prior to the establishment of the state, any Jew who lived in Eretz Yisrael fulfilled this mitzva, and the Sages even said:
One should always dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city inhabited mostly by idolaters, and he should not dwell outside the land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews, for anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the land is like one who has no God. (Ketubot 110b)
However, the primary mitzva is for the Jewish people collectively to have sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. The mitzva for every Jew to dwell in Eretz Yisrael is an offshoot of the collective mitzva that is incumbent upon the Jewish people.
This is the meaning of the verse, “You shall take possession of the Land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess” (Bamidbar 33:53). “You shall take possession” denotes conquest and sovereignty, while “and settle in it” implies inhabiting the land to prevent it from being desolate. Similarly, the Torah states, “you shall possess it and settle in it” (Devarim 11:31). Accordingly, Ramban defines the mitzva as follows: “We were commanded to take possession of the land that God, may He be exalted, gave to our fathers, Avraham, Yitzĥak, and Yaakov; and we must not leave it in the hands of any other nation or let it remain desolate” (Addendum to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Positive Commandment 4).
This mitzva is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation. For a long time, however, we lacked power and were thus forced to neglect this mitzva. We did not have a military or weapons with which to conquer and settle our land. In recent generations, God showed kindness to His people and a national spirit began to stir. Jews went forth and assembled in Eretz Yisrael. They planted trees, developed the country’s economy, organized a defense force, and resisted foreign rule, so that when the British Mandate ended, our public representatives were able to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. On that day, the Jewish people began fulfilling the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael. While it is true that we are not yet in control of the entire Eretz Yisrael, and we are still somewhat dependent on the nations of the world, we are actually fulfilling the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael once again.
We likewise find that the halakhot of mourning over Eretz Yisrael’s destruction depend on Jewish sovereignty over the land. The Sages enacted that one who sees the cities of Judea in ruins should recite, “Your holy cities have become a desert” (Yeshayahu 64:9) and tear his garments. The poskim explain that the definition of “in ruins” depends on who is in control. If non-Jews rule the land, its cities are considered ruined, even if most of the inhabitants are Jews, and one must rend his garment upon seeing them. But if Jews control the cities, they are not considered ruined, even if non-Jews form the majority of their inhabitants, and one does not rend his garments upon seeing them (Beit Yosef and Baĥ oĥ 561; ma ad loc. 1 and mb ad loc. 2).
In addition, the Sages lavish praise upon the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael, going so far as to say that it is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Be-ha’alotekha §80).
 Ramban outlines the foundations of the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael in his addendum to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Positive Commandment 4, and my master and teacher, R. Zvi Yehuda Kook, expands upon these foundations in his work Li-netivot Yisrael (vol. 1, “Le-tokef Kedushato shel Yom Ha-atzma’ut,” pp. 246-250, see also pp. 160-162; vol. 2, “Mizmor Yud-tet shel Medinat Yisrael,” pp. 357-368). The following is a synopsis of his approach. The mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael applies in every generation, as Ramban loc. cit. and Rivash (Responsa Rivash §387) write. Therefore, the halakha that one can compel his or her spouse to move to Eretz Yisrael (Ketubot 110b) applies at all times, as sa eh 75:3-5 determines. This is also the consensus of the Rishonim and Aĥaronim, as Pitĥei Teshuva ad loc. 6 cites. While it is true that Tosafot in Ketubot 110b quote Rabbeinu Ĥayim’s opinion that the mitzva does not apply nowadays, the most prominent Rishonim and Aĥaronim do not even address this opinion; they believed that an errant student authored this statement (Maharit, yd 28; many of the greatest Aĥaronim agree; see also Gilyon Maharsha, Ketubot 110b; Responsa Ĥatam Sofer, yd 234). The fact that the main fulfillment of the mitzva revolves around Jewish sovereignty is elucidated in Yeshu’ot Malko, yd 66, Avnei Nezer, yd 455, and elsewhere.
Even though the Sages comment that several other mitzvot are equal to all the mitzvot (regarding brit mila in Nedarim 32a; tzedaka in Bava Batra 9a; tzitzit in Shevu’ot 29a; tefilin in Menaĥot 43b; Shabbat in y. Nedarim 3:9; Torah study and acts of kindness in m. Pe’ah 1:1), nonetheless, from a halakhic standpoint, settling Eretz Yisrael takes precedence over them all, as it is the only one that overrides a shvut (rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat). If one needs to violate a shvut in order to perform a brit mila on Shabbat, we postpone the brit instead of violating the shvut. For the sake of settling Eretz Yisrael, however, the Sages rule that one may purchase a home in Eretz Yisrael on Shabbat, if necessary, even if this entails violating the shvut of telling a non-Jew to do melakha (prohibited work) on Shabbat, as the Talmud states in Gittin 8b and bk 80b (and Tosafot ad loc.). This ruling does not only apply to the redemption of all of Eretz Yisrael; rather, even the purchase of just one house still overrides a shvut! Furthermore, in order to erect a protective fence around Shabbat, the Sages abrogate the Torah commandments of shofar and lulav when Rosh Ha-shana and the first day of Sukkot coincide with Shabbat. When it comes to settling Eretz Yisrael, however, the Sages suspend their own enactments by permitting one to violate a shvut – a serious rabbinic prohibition – for its sake. (In fact, Smag apparently considers telling a non-Jew to do melakha a Torah prohibition.)
Moreover, we are commanded to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael. We know this because the Torah commands us to take possession of the land—that is, to conquer it—and soldiers inevitably endanger their lives in war. See Minĥat Ĥinukh §425.
The reason Rambam does not include this mitzva in his count of the 613 mitzvot is that it transcends the normal value of mitzvot; it is not listed in the detailed enumeration because, as Rambam writes in his introduction to Sefer Ha-mitzvot and again with respect to Positive Commandment §153, mitzvot that encompass the entire Torah are not listed individually. Besides which, it is implausible to say that the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael is only rabbinically mandated today, since the Sages stated, following the destruction of the Second Temple, that settling the land is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah; it is highly unlikely that they would say such a thing about a rabbinic mitzva. Moreover, it is improbable that the Sages would dismantle a family or allow one to violate a shvut merely for the sake of a rabbinic mitzva (see R. Yaakov Zisberg’s Naĥalat Yaakov, vol. 1, pp. 201-249).