The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel
Settling the Land: Planting Trees and Economic Development
We have learned that the commandment 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
saying “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 land of Israel fulfills one’s aspect of
this mitzvah, which obligates the Jewish nation to cultivate every
part of the land and not to leave it desolate. There is no commandment
to plant fruit trees outside of Israel, and usually one only does so
for the purpose of providing a livelihood. Those living in the land of
Israel, however, have the commandment of planting fruit trees
regardless of their profession.
The wise Sages expanded on this concept in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba
25:3): “It is said that one should go after God. Is it possible for
flesh and blood to go after God? It is also said that one should
cleave to God. Is it possible for flesh and blood to cleave to God?
Rather one should go in His ways, and cleave to His character traits.
And just as God, at the beginning of creation, first planted and
tended to the Garden of Eden, so too should the Jewish nation upon
entering the land, as it is written: ‘You should come to the land and
plant.'” We learn from this that one who plants a tree in the land of
Israel is cleaving to God’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 the Jewish nation
eats these fruits many other commandments are performed, such as
‘trumah’, ‘maasorot’ and ‘orlah’.
The Chatam Sofer writes (in his commentary on Tractate Sukkah 36) that
working the land of Israel in order to harvest its holy fruit fulfills
the commandment of settling the land and the mitzvah commanding the
Jewish nation to harvest the grains of the land. Boaz, who was
considered a great man of his generation, did not deem it a ‘bitul
Torah’ (a waste of time) to spend the 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 tefillin, 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 who assists in the
economic development of Israel may be considered a partner in the
mitzvah of settling the land. The land of Israel is holy in both its
physical and spiritual attributes and those who assist in its
development are partners in its holy building.