Judea and Samaria or the Negev
Question: The mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel relates to all of the land. With all due respect, Rabbi, why do you specifically encourage settling Judea and Samaria?
Answer: Indeed, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel exists in all of the borders of the land. This mitzvah is so great that the Sages permitted the purchase of a house from a non-Jew even on the Sabbath. This ‘heter’ (permission) is valid even if the purchase is made in Syria, as the Sages said (Tractate Gitin 8a):”One who purchases a field in Syria is similar to one who makes a purchase in the suburbs of Jerusalem.” There is no other mitzvah which the Sages permitted transgressing the prohibition of ‘shvut’ (rabbinical enactment) other than settling the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, it is important to know that there are differing levels of fulfilling the mitzvah, and the virtue of settling Judea and Samaria is on a higher level due to the fact that they are the heart and center of the land. It’s not by chance that the main dwelling place of our forefather’s, and the awesome, prophetic events took place in Judea and Samaria.
Similarly, we have learned that when there was a famine in the land, and our forefather Isaac was forced to leave the center of the country (Judea). God said to him: “Remain undisturbed in the land” – meaning that although the land of Philistine is less sacred, nevertheless, it is still considered part of the Land of Israel. And as Rashi wrote (Genesis 26:12): “Isaac farmed in the area – although it was not as important as the Land of Israel itself.”
Additionally, we are commanded that the land be under our sovereignty and not abandoned to another nation, therefore it is a greater mitzvah to settle unpopulated areas, so they remain under our control, and not be given to another nation, God forbid.
The Land of Israel in this Week’s Torah Portion
“There was a famine in the land,” and our forefather Isaac had already contemplated going down to Egypt till it was over. “God appeared to [Isaac] and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Remain undisturbed in the land that I shall designate to you. Remain an immigrant in this land. I will be with you and bless you, since it will be to you and your offspring that I will give all these lands. I will thus keep the oath that I made to your father Abraham” (Genesis 26:2-3). Although according to the letter of the law, Isaac could have gone down to Egypt, he was commanded not to, for he was considered an ‘olah temima’ (unblemished offering), and it wasn’t fitting for him to leave the Land of Israel (Bereshit Rabbah 64:3).
In the merit of steadfastly holding on to the land despite all the difficulties, comes the merit of being fruitful and multiplying, as the Torah further states: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky,” and this consequently leads to the merit of settling all the wide expanses of the land, as it written: “And grant them all these lands.” Out of this, blessing is brought to the entire world, as the verse continues: “All the nations on the earth shall be blessed through your descendants.”
Similarly in our times, those who are engaged in the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel merit raising large families. However, like all heavenly blessings, in order to receive it, a small effort must be made. There are those who, in spite of the gates of blessing being open before them, refuse to accept it.
Settling the Land
The Sages said: “What is the meaning of ‘schon b’aretz’ (dwell in the land)? Make a ‘schuna’ (neighborhood) in the land. Sow and plant trees” (P’sikta 26:2). This is exactly what Isaac did: “That year, he reaped a hundred times [as much as he sowed], for God had blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Afterwards, he re-dug the wells that his father had previously dug and had been plugged-up by the Philistines. And even though the Philistines also quarreled with him, he did not despair from settling the land, and continued to dig wells and strengthen his grasp on the land: “He then moved away from there and dug another well. This time it was not disputed, so he named it ‘Rechovot’ (wide spaces). Now God will grant us wide open spaces,” he said. “We can be fruitful in the land.” Indeed, in the merit of strengthening himself in the mitzvah of settling the land, “God appeared to him that night and said, “I am God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and grant you very many descendants because of My servant Abraham.” As a result of this, Isaac increases his effort to fulfill the mitzvah, and although he already possesses one well, he continues to search for more water and establish more neighborhoods, until his servants successfully dig an additional well: “[Isaac] named the well Shibah. The city is therefore called Beer-sheba to this very day” (Genesis 26).
Torah Study or Profession
A ‘Talmud Torah’ teacher asked me: Should we encourage all students to remain in yeshiva and study Torah all their lives, this being the loftiest goal, or should we compromise with reality and tell the students that all professions are acceptable from the outset?
My answer to him was: How can one learn the verses of the Torah and tell his students that it is proper for every Jew to learn Torah his entire life? How can he explain to them what is written about our forefather Isaac sowing, plowing, and planting? How will they interpret the verse: “He [Isaac] then continued to prosper until he became extremely wealthy. He had flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and a large retinue of slaves… he re-dug the wells…” (Genesis 26:13-18)? Or what is written about our forefather Abraham, that he “was very rich, with livestock, silver and gold” (Genesis 13:2). “[Abraham] planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba” (Genesis 21:33)? How will they explain the actions of our forefather Jacob, who diligently guarded Laban’s sheep for twenty years – “By day I was consumed by the scorching heat, and at night by the frost, when sleep was snatched from my eyes,” so that not one sheep would abort, nor one lamb be devoured, and that they always have food and water. If there is no value for all this work, why does the Torah speak about it?!
Rather, students should be taught to cleave to Torah and mitzvoth and beyond the basic study shared by all and the obligation to set specific times to learn Torah, each person should be engaged in ‘tikun olam’ (rectifying the world) in the field which is most appropriate for him. If we do not educate in this manner, we will be forced to distort and twist verses of the Torah and the teachings of the Sages.