The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel (Part 1)
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

The commandment, or mitzvah, to settle the Land of Israel is
obligatory upon both the individual Jew and the Jewish nation as a
whole. The mitzvah requires that the nation conquer and settle all of
the Land of Israel and that each individual Jew dwell in the Land.
Regarding the nation’s responsibility to take control of Israel and
settle it, Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, the Ramban, writes (in his
commentary on Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvoth): “We are commanded to
inherit the land that the almighty God gave to our forefathers
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not to leave it in the hands of other
nations or in desolation, as it says, ‘Inherit the land and live in
it, since it is to you that I am giving the land to
occupy…'” (Numbers 33:53).

If we examine the Ramban’s words carefully we will discover that there
are two parts to the mitzvah of settling the Land. The first part
involves the Jewish people ruling exclusively over the Land of Israel,
or Eretz Yisrael, thus leaving no room for foreign governing in the
Land. Even when this is accomplished, however, the mitzvah is still
not considered complete. The second part of the mitzvah requires the
settling of every part of the Land, including the most desolate areas.
The mitzvah obligates us not only to dwell in developed cities or
towns, but to make the wasteland bloom as well. Only when the Land is
under Jewish rule and every part of it is settled, cultivated and
flourishing, will the commandment have been completely fulfilled.

The Ramban emphasizes that this commandment is applicable not only to
the period of time during which the Jews made their exodus from Egypt
and subsequently conquered Israel, but for all generations. In all
generations we are obligated to rule over the Land and to settle it.
Unfortunately, for much of our long history we have been incapable of
fulfilling this commandment, for we, the Jewish People, have been
confined to exile in both body and soul. Yet in recent times, through
the goodness of God, the end of the exile has begun to reveal itself –
our situation has changed and we are now once again able to fulfill
this mitzvah.

The Individual’s Part in the Complete Mitzvah

There are many levels involved in the individual’s part of the mitzvah
of settling the Land of Israel. Those who dwell in Israel are partners
in this mitzvah, for their presence strengthens the Jewish control of
the Land. Those who live in areas that are more desolate, such as the
desert, or in Judea and Samaria, fulfill the mitzvah on an even higher
level. Their presence in these parts of the Land contributes doubly to
the mitzvah, for they are not only strengthening the rule over the
areas in which other nations are attempting to wrest away from the
Jews, but they are also helping to ensure that all of the Land is
cultivated and settled. Those who live in other places in Israel that
are more isolated from Jewish presence and are surrounded by enemies,
are fulfilling the mitzvah to an even greater extent. The wise Sages
have said that the Land of Israel is only acquired through pain and
suffering; the greater the suffering, the greater the reward.

The commandment to settle the Land of Israel is unique in that, unlike
most other mitzvot, its fulfillment doesn’t involve the performance of
any specific act, such as laying tefillin, giving tzeddakah or
praying. Each Jew who lives in Israel is performing the mitzvah of
settling the Land just by his dwelling in it. It follows, that for
those who merit residing in the towns of Judea and Samaria, mundane
daily acts, such as breathing, eating and sleeping, become mitzvot in
themselves.

For those who live outside of Israel but financially support its
settlement, their partnership is limited as they are not fulfilling
the commandment with their physical presence. And those who do live in
Israel and also help to support its settlement towns are partners in
the settling of the Land’s holy places, which of course, raises the
level of greatness for this mitzvah.

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