Settling the Land
Since the majority of the Torah portion ‘Massey’ deals with the mitzvoth of settling the Land of Israel, I will once again discuss this mitzvah, which the Sages said is equal to all the other mitzvoth (Tosephta, Avodah Zara 4:3, Sifrei, Re’eh 53).
On the Torah portion “Va Yetze” I wrote that, in large, the Heavenly revelations to our forefathers concerned God’s promise to give us the Holy Land. I explained that it is an added mitzvah to settle Judea and Samaria specifically, as Yaakov was promised and commanded (Genesis 28:14): “You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south” – in other words, the settlement of the Land should spread from the center of the country, from the place where Yaakov stood – in the area of Jerusalem and Bet El, Judea and Samaria – to all directions. And as long as there remains a need to settle the center of the country, it gets top priority. I also wrote that the promise of the Land is almost always attached to the blessing of fertility, as Yaakov was promised “I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out….”(ibid). God also said to our forefather Avraham (Genesis 13:15-17): “For all the land that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; if a man will be able to count [all] the grains of dust in the world, then your offspring also will be countable”. Yaakov was also told (Genesis 35:11-12): “Be fruitful and increase…I will grant you the land that I gave to Avraham and Yitzchak. I will also give the land to your descendants who will follow you.”
Furthermore, I mentioned that this blessing exists even today, as is unmistakably obvious from the families choosing to live in Judea and Samaria, who have more children than similar families who remained in the ‘shefela’ (greater Tel Aviv area). In response to, this I received a sharp letter:
“I read your column from the Torah portion of “Va Yetze”, and I was very distressed. Rabbi, it bothers me that you refer to the mitzvah of settling the Land only in connection to Judea and Samaria. There is no source to base this opinion upon. The Land of Israel includes other places, and it’s also important to live there. The city where I live (in the greater Tel Aviv area) is also within the boundaries of the Promised Land, and we fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land no less than anyone else. The verse “You shall spread out” relates not only to the settlements. True, the settlements are very important, and they safeguard Jewish control over Judea and Samaria, but let’s not forget the importance of other places, and the need to connect with the rest of the nation. We are members of a Torah-based group who have set a goal to spread Judaism throughout the city. Rabbi, you wrote that families in Judea and Samariahave more children than those living in the ‘shefela’. In my opinion, that’s exactly why we should live here! The families in Judea and Samaria have more children because that’s the type of people they are. I haven’t heard anywhere that God blessed Judea and Samaria with such a blessing. If similar types of families were to live in the big cities, I have no doubt that others living there would be positively influenced, and have a least two more children, each.
Additionally, living here has a constant influence on our surroundings. Every holiday has an impact on the neighborhood – we light Chanukah candles for all the residents, blow the shofar for those interested to hear, hand-out apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, and deliver food packages on Purim. This is how we connect with our neighbors and residents (even with people on the bus). We have received many positive responses from our neighbors. They say things like “We’re glad that you’re here”, and “It’s good to have a little Judaism in the building”, and this strengthens us in our important mission. Speaking as a woman who grew-up in a religious neighborhood, it’s very difficult for me to live in a city in the ‘shefela’ – the street environment, society, the general atmosphere, and even the weather. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a real sacrifice to live here. For sure it would be easier and more pleasant to live on a settlement with normal neighbors – with no cigarettes, and other craziness’s of the city. I think we need to strengthen the settlers in the cities, and not weaken them by saying that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is only in Judea andSamaria.
The only way to guarantee that the Land of Israel remains whole is when the entire Jewish nation is undivided and connected to its values, and not just a certain group of Jews, aloof and isolated, in Judea and Samaria. Rabbi, I feel that you encourage people to live specifically in the settlements, and forget the importance of living with the rest of the nation. Just like the settlement of Homesh in Samaria guards the city of Hadera, so too, is the opposite true. For that reason, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is equal no matter where one lives.”
The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is explained in this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 33:43-44): “Occupy the land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the land to occupy. And you shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance…” The Ramban spelled-out this mitzvah: “That we were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov: and not to abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate.” We see, therefore, there are two sides to the general mitzvah of settling the Land. First, the Land must be under Jewish sovereignty and not under foreign rule. Secondly, the Land should not remain desolate. Hence, in relation to both aspects of the mitzvah, presently, the most important place to settle is Judea and Samaria. On the one hand, due to the lurking threat of handing these sacred areas over to non-Jews, and on the other hand, because they are relatively barren of Jewish settlement.
Moreover, the areas of Judea and Samaria are considered the center of the country. This is where our forefathers, kings, and prophets, who merited the revelation of Divine Presence more than others, lived. By virtue of this, Judea and Samaria are holier. Additionally, the settling of Judea and Samaria includes the very saving of lives, for the settlers there are physically preventing – with their own bodies – the establishment of a terrorist state adjacent to major Jewish population centers.
Beyond the Heavenly blessing guaranteed to all those engaged in the mitzvah of settling the Land, the idealism which envelops all of the settlers’ actions, strengthens and fortifies their families. And then, of course, there’s another very practical reason for this blessing – the price of housing. Real estate prices are set according to the rules of supply and demand, and fitted to match the average income. Generally, people with average incomes living in major cities can buy middle-sized apartments with three rooms, which is suitable for the majority of Jewish families in Israel who have between two and three children. Someone who wants to raise a large family needs a larger apartment; however, making an average salary, he can’t afford it. This is the main reason why religious families living in the greater Tel Aviv area have fewer children. Purchasing an apartment with four rooms means taking out another housing loan and paying-back an additional 2,000 shekels per month for 25 years – not to mention the extra costs of education, which are also more expensive there. If one were to sell his small apartment in the Tel Aviv area, he could buy an apartment twice as large in Judea or Samaria, in the Galilee or the Negev, and have money left-over to cover his additional traveling expenses to get to work.
Today, encouraging people to live in the greater Tel Aviv area means one of two things: either they will have a smaller family, or they’ll have to live a stressful life — four children in a room sleeping on bunk-beds, the parents sleeping in the living-room, and in the morning, having to fold-up the beds in order to sit around the dining-room table.
Common Trend amongst Religious Youth
There’s a common trend amongst national, religious youth who grew-up in well-established families: they believe it’s enough for them to really want to unite with the rest of the nation by living in the major cities, and that the rabbi’s should encourage them. When this happens, simply by their mere goodwill, they’ll all be able to buy apartments in the cities, unite with the nation, and raise families with lots of kids. Some of the youth are courageous enough to set goals of bringing all the non-religious back to Torah and mitzvoth. Others, in contrast, feel that’s too arrogant a goal, and are content with the challenge of simply uniting with the nation – which, in itself, is intended to bring the Redemption.
In reality, the majority of those who can live in the major cities today are either wealthy, or satisfied with having a small family. Thus, we find the creation of communities within the cities lacking a very essential component: people who earn a below-average salary, teachers, and “b’nei Torah” (learned people).
About six months ago, I was a guest for Shabbat in the city of Be’er sheva, where I met wonderful communities. Sitting side-by-side in one synagogue were Torah scholars and scientists, wealthy people and poor, distinguished lawyers and teachers, doctors and artisans, blue-collar workers and Israel Prize winners. I was very excited to see the integration and interaction amongst them, and I have my doubts which sector of the community benefits more from such wonderful integration.
This reality is made possible as a result of living in the out-lying areas, where housing is cheaper, and competitiveness is less noticeable.
Let’s hope that the government copes with the housing difficulties by strengthening the out-lying areas, and not by subsidizing housing in the major cities.
Teachers from the Suburbs
More than once, I’ve heard people who live in the greater Tel Aviv area point out, in total amazement, an interesting phenomenon: a lot of the teachers in the central cities happen to live in Judea and Samaria! Indeed, very strange. It never crossed their minds that a teacher earning an average salary who wants to raise a large family but does not have parents who can buy or leave them a large apartment, isn’t capable of living in the city, and that the only solution left is to live in Samaria. This is their good-luck — in the merit of the settlements in Samaria, the cities in the center of the country have teachers.
Strengthen the Emissaries
Still, we must strengthen and encourage the Torah scholars and their wives, who have accepted upon themselves the mission to live in the cities, to teach Torah day and night, and to open their homes to guests, bringing them closer to the ways of the Torah. It is a great mitzvah for the entire community to back them, allowing them to live in the neighborhoods where they are active, and fulfill their sacred mission to the best of their ability.
Incidentally, one need not defame our brothers, residents of the greater Tel Aviv area, by saying that it requires ‘self-sacrifice’ to live with them. Maybe because of her financial situation, the woman who wrote the letter lives in a lower-class neighborhood. However, in the majority of neighborhoods, the atmosphere is pleasant, and the people are hard-working, intelligent, interesting, and courteous – simply, they live secular lives, and rent is expensive.
Seemingly, one could accuse the settlers of not having the proper ‘kavana’ (intention) of fulfilling the mitzvah to settle the Land ofIsrael, but rather, are looking for a cheap place to live. However, we have learned that a person, who, in addition to having the intention to fulfill a mitzvah, also thinks of his personal gratification, is considered as being engaged in a mitzvah. Therefore, scribes who write Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, even though they make a living from their work, are considered as fulfilling the needs of a mitzvah. And if their main intention is to fulfill the mitzvah, they are even exempt from fulfilling other mitzvoth as long as there is a need for their work (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 38:8, Magen Avraham, ibid).
In general, it’s fitting that we fulfill all of the mitzvoth happily. There are certain mitzvoth in which enjoyment is essential, such as’oneg Shabbat’ (spiritual and physical pleasure on the Sabbath), mitzvoth between a person and his fellow man, and also the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, about which the Torah testifies that it is a land flowing with milk and honey.