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Beit Midrash The Nation and Land

Part 2

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

Dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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6 - Settling the Land: Planting Trees and Economic Development
We have already learned that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel does not involve only conquering it, but also requires the settling and developing of every part of it. The Ramban stresses this point that "We should not leave the Land under foreign rule or desolate, as it says: you should inherit the land and settle it."
Planting fruit trees in the Israel fulfills one aspect of this mitzvah, which obligates Am Yisrael to cultivate every part of the Land and not to leave it desolate. There is no mitzvah to plant fruit trees outside of Israel and usually one only does so for the purpose of providing a livelihood. Those living in Eretz Yisrael, however, have the mitzvah of planting fruit trees regardless of their profession.

The wise sages expanded on this concept (Vyikra Rabba 25,3), "It is said that one should go after Hashem. Is it possible for flesh and blood to go after Hashem? It is also said that one should cleave to Hashem. Is it possible for flesh and blood to cleave to Hashem? Rather one should go in his ways, and cleave to his character traits. And just as Hashem, at the beginning of creation, first planted and tended to the Garden of Eden, so too should Am Yisrael upon entering the Land, as it is written: 'You should come to the Land and plant.'" We learn from this that one that plants a tree in Eretz Yisrael is cleaving to Hashem's character trait.
There are two advantages to planting trees, one being a future investment. Sometimes people invest their efforts in transient matters, but the Torah guides us to invest our efforts in planting trees in order to root ourselves in the Land through permanent means. The second advantage is that with the abundance of trees the Land bears fruit that has intrinsic holiness and when Am Yisrael eats these fruits many other mitzvot are performed, such as trumah, maasorot and orlah.

The Chatam Sofer writes (in his commentary on mesecht sukkah 36) that working the Land of Israel in order to harvest its holy fruit fulfills the mitzvah of settling the Land and the mitzvah commanding Am Yisrael to harvest the grains of the Land. Boaz, who was considered a great man of his generation, did not deem it bitul Torah to spend night working and harvesting the Land. Just as one who is busy learning Torah still needs to stop in order to perform the mitzvah of laying Tfillin, one should stop his Torah learning for the sake of harvesting the crops. The Chatam Sofer adds another important comment on this subject: It is possible that all the work and skills that enable us to settle the Land are in themselves mitzvot. According to this idea, one that assists in the economic development of Israel may be considered a partner in the mitzvah of settling the Land. Eretz Yisrael is holy in both its physical and spiritual attributes and those who assist in its development are partners in its holy building.

7 - The Individual's Role in the Mitzvah
We have explained the first part of the mitzvah which obligates the Jewish nation to establish rule over the Land of Israel. The second part requires each individual Jew to dwell in the Land. It is a mitzvah for every Jew to live in Israel when the Land is under foreign rule and even when it is under Jewish rule. The Rambam wrote (hilchot Malachim 5,12) "A person should live in Eretz Yisrael forever. He should live in Israel whether it is in a city where the majority of its inhabitants are not Jewish or where the majority of its citizens are Jewish. He should not live outside of Israel, for one who leaves Eretz Yisrael for the galut is as if he is worshipping idols." 1

The Sefrei (Dvarim see 53) recounts the story of a few rabbis who lived in the time period after the destruction of the second Temple and wished to leave Eretz Yisrael. At the time, the Romans were cruelly and viciously ruling the Land and because of the famine and great troubles many people were leaving Israel. The Sefrei narrates the story of Rabbi Yehuda ben Battera, Rabbi Mateya ben Cheresh, Rabbi Chananya ben Achi, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Natan when they left Israel. Upon arriving at the border town of Paltiya they suddenly remembered Eretz Yisrael. They raised their eyes and began to cry and tear their clothes in mourning while reciting the verse that states: "You should inherit the Land and dwell within it and keep it." They agreed that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all other mitzvot and they returned to Israel.

Throughout the generations when Israel was not in Jewish hands Am Yisrael was unable to fulfill the first part of the mitzvah of the nation conquering and ruling the Land. However, any Jew that lived in Eretz Yisrael during these times did, to a certain extent, fulfill this part of the mitzvah of settling the Land. His presence in provided a continuous connection between the Jews who lived outside of Israel and their Land, and also provided a base for future growth of Jewish settlement and eventual control over the Land. If these are one's goals while living in Israel then, just as the Vilna Gaon's students who made aliyah with great sacrifices, one becomes a partner not just in settling the Land on an individual basis, but also in conquering it and acquiring control over it.

8 - Praises for the Land
The Rambam wrote a unique halacha (Melachim 5,10): "Great Rabbis would kiss the ground of Eretz Yisrael, and kiss its stones as well as roll in its dust as it states: because your slaves wanted its stones and begged for its dust." At first glance one would ask how could the Rambam write about such actions and deeds in a book devoted to halacha? Which halacha that we learn from our rabbis would involve kissing the earth and hugging the stones of the Land of Israel? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to write about these actions in books of ethics rather than halacha? Indeed this is a great halacha to learn: It is not enough to live in Eretz Yisrael, one should also love the good and holy Land.

At the end of Ketubot (112,a) it is written that when Rabbi Chanina was traveling in Eretz Yisrael and would see a obstructions in his path he would remove it. Rashi explains that he would do this in the different areas of the city because of his great love for Eretz Yisrael, as he didn't want anyone to think or speak badly about the roads or the places where the obstructions were located.
It is also told that in order to prevent complaints about Israel, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi would be extremely cautious as to where they sat their students. In the cool morning hours they would sit them in the sun and in the warm afternoon hours they would sit them in the shade. Their students were comfortable and, therefore, did not think badly about the Land or its climate.
It is also Am Yisrael's responsibility not only to love the Land, but also to praise it, to enjoy its scenery, to decorate it with flowers and trees, to keep it clean, to fix its highways, and to build comfortable and nice looking homes. As a result, the mitzvah of settling the land will be performed, as more Jews will desire to live in Israel and less will leave it for other countries.
The spies sinned when they spoke badly about Eretz Yisrael, claiming that it is (Bamidbar 13,32) "A land that eats its residents," thereby causing the Jews who were in the desert to despise it. They also sinned by declaring that Am Yisrael did not have enough strength to conquer the Land, thus weakening the hearts of the rest of the nation.

The greatness of Eretz Yisrael is evident in the mere fact that it is a sin to speak lashon harah (speaking badly about another) about the Land. The prohibition of speaking lashon harah is basically limited to people for the prevention of causing them hardships, troubles or bad feelings. There is no concept of speaking lashon harah about physical objects such as rocks. However, lashon harah is considered a sin in regards to the Land of Israel, for it causes a delay in the revelation of Hashem in this world. Hashem only reveals himself by way of the holy Land of Israel. It follows that the punishment for speaking badly about Israel is unusually stringent, to the extent that even a generation that received the Torah at Mount Sinai could not escape the punishment to die in the desert and not enter the Land which they had slandered.
The generations following that of the spies are obligated to rectify the spies' sins, to praise Eretz Yisrael and to thank Hashem for giving us the Land as a precious gift. This especially applies to our generation in which millions of Jews have merited to settle the Land and raise their families in Israel-something even previous generations of righteous people did not merit. Therefore it is doubly important to continuously repeat the words of Yehoshua and Calev (Bmidbar 14,7) "The Land is exceedingly good" and the words of Calev (Bmidbar 13,30) "Let us go up at once; for we are well able to overcome it."

9 - Honoring One's Parents and Dwelling in the Land
What is the law pertaining to a situation when a child wishes to make aliyah (to live in Israel) but his parent's are against him doing so? Does the child have to abide by his parents wishes in an effort to perform the mitzvah of honoring ones father and mother, or does the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel over ride that? First, it is necessary to clarify that there is no mitzvah of honoring one's parents if it does goes against another mitzvah that is derived from the Torah or even one that is derived from the wise rabbis. It is forbidden to transgress a mitzvah from the Torah even if parents tell their child to do so. The child also has the mitzvah of honoring Hashem and fulfilling His Torah (Shulchan Aruch yoreh daya 240,14).

It is clear, therefore, that one is permitted to settle in the Land of Israel even if it is against one's parents' wishes, especially because the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael is considered by the wise sages to be equal to all the mitzvot. (Mahram from Rotenberg, HaMabit, see Petchai Tshuva). This rule also applies to one who wants to live in a settlement town in Judah, Samaria or Gaza for the purpose of strengthening Jewish control over the Land. Although his parents may be worried and demand that he leaves the settlement, he is not required to do so because he is fulfilling the Torah mitzvah of settling the Land.

10 - A Disagreement Between a Couple
When a couple disagrees on where to live it is not acceptable to force one to leave his or her present place of residence because uprooting one who wishes to remain in a familiar place causes hardship. Therefore, the decision rests with the one who wants to stay put. However, if the couple live in a place where the majority of the residents are not Jewish then one has the right to force the other to move to a place where there are more Jews. This ruling is applicable to couples who either in Israel or in another country. If, however, one wants to move to Israel and the other refuses, the law favors the one who wishes to settle the Land. Regardless of whether it is a woman or the man who wishes to move to Israel, the one who wants to remain in a different country must concede. And even if the situation were such that the couple live in a city outside of Israel that has a large Jewish population and the city where they would be moving to in Israel has a small Jewish population, they should still move to Israel regardless of the number of Jews that dwell in the particular area in which they will be settling.

If, G-d forbid, the situation is irreparable where no compromise can be reached and the couple decide to divorce, the husband -if he is the one who refuses to live in Israel- needs to give up the ketubah to his wife. If the wife refuses to settle in the Land of Israel, she subsequently forfeits her ketubah (Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 75,4).
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1. In my humble opinion it seems that one who lives within the borders that were established by those that left Egypt is fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land even if there is no Jewish rule at the time. Am Yisrael sanctified those places by settling in them and was obligated to fulfill all mitzvot that are connected to the Land during the time of the first Temple. However, one that lives in Syria or Iraq, even though he resides within the borders of the Promised Land, does not fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land. If, however, his intention of living in those countries is based on assisting the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over those places, then he is fulfilling the mitzvah. This is not the place to prolong our discussion and it needs to be further examined.

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