Israel Independence Day

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

When the State of Israel was established, on the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the Jewish people were privileged once again to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (Settling the Land of Israel). Even before the declaration of statehood, every Jew who lived in the Land fulfilled this mitzvah. The Sages even said, “A person should always dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city inhabited mostly by heathens, and he should not dwell outside the Land, even in a city inhabited mostly by Jews, for anyone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who dwells outside the Land is like one who has no God”(Ketuvot 110b). Nonetheless, the mitzvah is mainly incumbent upon Klal Yisrael (the Jewish Collective) – to take control of the Land. The mitzvah to dwell in the Land, which applies to every individual Jew, is an offshoot of the general mitzvah that is incumbent upon Klal Yisrael.

This is the meaning of the verse “You shall possess the Land and dwell in it, for to you have I given the Land to possess it” (BeMidbar 33:53). “You shall possess” denotes conquest and sovereignty, while “You shall dwell” implies settling the Land so that it not be desolate. Similarly, the Torah states, “You shall possess it and you shall dwell therein” (Devarim 11:31). Accordingly, the Ramban defines the mitzvah as follows: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land that God, may He be blessed, gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov; and we must not leave it in the hands of any other nation or [let it remain] desolate” (Addendum to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Commandment 4).

This mitzvah is incumbent upon the Jewish people in every generation. For a long time, however, we lacked the means by which to fulfill it. We were forced [to neglect it], because we did not have an army or weapons with which to conquer and settle the Land. A few generations ago, God showed kindness to His nation and a spirit of nationalism began to stir, causing Jews to go forth and gather in the Land. They planted trees, developed the country’s economy, established an organized defense force, and struggled against the foreign power that controlled the Land, so that when the British Mandate expired, our representatives were able to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. On that day, the Jewish people began fulfilling the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz. Granted, we are not yet in control of the entire Land, and we are partially dependent on the nations of the world, but we are actually fulfilling, once again, the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz.

We find in halachah, as well that Jewish sovereignty over the Land is significant, for the laws of mourning over Eretz Yisrael’s destruction depend on sovereignty. Our Sages prescribed that one who sees the cities of Judea in ruins should say, “Your holy cities have become a wilderness” (Yeshayah 64:9) and tear his garments. The poskim explain that the definition of “in ruins” depends on who is in control. If Gentiles rule the Land, its cities are considered ruined, even if most of the inhabitants are Jewish, and one must tear his garment upon seeing them. But if the Jews are in control, the cities are not considered ruined, even if Gentiles constitute the majority, and no tearing is required (Beit Yosef and Bach O.C. 561; M.A. 1 and M.B. 2).

Additionally, Chazal lavish praise upon the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz, going so far as to say that it is equal to all themitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Re’eh 53).

The Beginning of Redemption and Sanctifying God’s Name

The establishment of the State removed the disgrace of exile from the Jewish people. Generation after generation, we wandered in exile, suffering dreadful humiliation, pillage, and bloodshed. We were an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we were regarded as sheep led to the slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. Strangers said to us, “There is no more hope or expectation for you.” That situation was a terrible Chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name), because HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s name is associated with us, and when we are degraded, His name is desecrated among the nations (see Yechezkel 36).

The prophets of Israel prophesied, in God’s name, that the exile will eventually end: “I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own soil” (Yechezkel 36:24). “They will build houses and inhabit them; they will plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof” (Yeshayah 65:21). “You will yet plant vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and enjoy the fruit” (Yirmiyah 31:4). “The desolate Land will be tilled, instead of having been desolate in the eyes of all passersby. They will say, ‘This Land [which was] desolate has become like the Garden of Eden and the cities [which were] ruined, desolate, and destroyed have been fortified and inhabited’” (Yechezkel36:34-35). “I will return the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the destroyed cities and inhabit [them]; they will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruits. I will plant them upon their Land and they will never again be uprooted from their Land that I have given them, says the Lord, your God” (Amos 9:14-15).

However, after so many years passed without God’s word coming to fruition, HaShem’s name became increasingly desecrated in the world, and the enemies of Israel decided that there is no chance that the Jews will ever return to their Land. Even the Sages spoke exaggeratingly about the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles, to the point that they said, “The ingathering of the exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesachim 88a). And behold, the miracle occurred! HaShem fulfilled His promise, causing an enormous and awesome Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name), which gained even more strength during the Six Day War, when we liberated Jerusalem and the holy cities in Judea and Samaria.

This process – the ingathering of the exiles and the blooming of the wasteland – which gained tremendous momentum when the State was established, is the beginning of the redemption, as Rabbi Abba says (Sanhedrin 98a), “There is no clearer sign of the End of Days than this [verse]: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come’ (Yechezkel 36:8).” Rashi comments, “When Eretz Yisrael gives forth its fruit in abundance, the End will be near, and there is no clearer sign of the End of Days.”

True, many things still need fixing – unfortunately, we have not been privileged to repent completely, and many Jews have yet to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael – but our Sages have taught that Redemption can come in one of two ways: if we achieve complete repentance, God will hasten the Redemption, and if not, it will come “in its time,” through natural processes (Sanhedrin98a). That is, when the predetermined time for redemption arrives – even if Israel fails to repent – natural processes, loaded with complications and severe hardships will begin to unfold, causing the Jewish people to return to their Land and rebuild it. We will proceed from stage to stage in this manner, until the ultimate Redemption materializes. These hardships, which stimulate the redemptive process, are called the birth pangs of Mashiach. The more we strengthen ourselves in the areas of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael and penitence, the sweeter and more pleasant these birth pangs will become (based on the Gra in Kol HaTor). Concerning this type of Redemption, Chazal say, “Such is the Redemption of Israel: at first little by little, but as it progresses it grows greater and greater” (Yerushalmi, Berachot 1:1).

Explicit verses in the Torah and the Prophets indicate that the order of Redemption is as follows: First, there will be a small degree of repentance and the Jewish people will gather in their Land, which will begin to yield its fruit. Afterwards, HaShem will bestow upon us a spirit from on high, until we return to Him completely.

Salvation of Israel

On Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day), the Jewish people were delivered from bondage to freedom – from subjugation to the kingdoms of the world, with all that that entails, to political independence. This also brought about an actual salvation from death to life. Until then, we were unable to defend ourselves against our enemies who pursued us. From that day on, thanks to God’s kindness, we defend ourselves and win our battles. True, all the enemies who rise up to destroy us have yet to be eliminated, but after the establishment of the State we formed an army, thank God, and we have the strength to fight back and even win. And even though more than 20,000 holy souls have been killed in wars and terror attacks since the State came into being over sixty years ago, just a few years beforehand, during the horrific Holocaust, more than six million holy Jews were killed in the span of five years – more than three hundred times the amount. This is the difference between having the ability to fight back and lacking that ability.

That day brought about a salvation for Diaspora Jews, as well. They now have a country that is always willing to absorb them, one that even works on their behalf in the international arena. Before the State was established, almost no one paid attention to the Jews’ complaints against the murderous, anti-Semitic persecutions that raged in many countries. After Israel gained independence, however, even the most evil regimes were forced to take into consideration Israel’s actions on behalf of the Jews living in their midst. Even Communist Russia had to relent and allow the Jews to leave from behind the Iron Curtain, something that was unfathomable before the State was born.

The establishment of the State also brought spiritual salvation to the Jews. The Jewish nation underwent a profound spiritual crisis in the modern era. The opportunity to integrate into the civil and national frameworks of the developed nations, which the Jews now enjoyed, generated a strong desire to assimilate. This is not the place to elaborate on the reasons for this crisis; our master, Rabbi Kook zt”l deals with the issue at length, discussing its various facets. Practically speaking, a dangerous process of assimilation and the abandonment of religion developed in all countries that embraced modernization. This process threatened the very existence of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Assimilation began approximately two hundred years ago in Western Europe, spreading gradually to Eastern Europe and the capitals of the more developed Arab countries. Most youth in the greater Jewish community of America marry out of the faith, and even those who marry Jews beget very few offspring. Under these circumstances, Diaspora Jewry is fading away. Only in the State of Israel is the Jewish population growing; and intermarriage is relatively rare. Moreover, the percentage of Jews connected to Torah and mitzvot in Israel is higher than that of any other Jewish community in the world. This spiritual salvation came about in the merit of the establishment of the State, which enabled the ingathering of the exiles and diminished the temptation of assimilation.

Thus, Yom HaAtzma’ut is invested with three sanctities: the mitzvah of settling the Land, the beginning of Redemption which created a Kiddush HaShem in the eyes of the nations, and the various salvations that the holy Jewish people enjoyed.

Thoughts on Pesach

The Haggadah

Teaching the Children

There is a positive Torah commandment to relate the story of the Exodus on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan. It is praiseworthy to relate, and elucidate at length, the great kindness Hashem showed us by saving us from the Egyptians and taking revenge upon them for us; to explain the significance of the signs and wonders that Hashem performed  at that time for our sake; to discuss the laws of Pesach;, and to express our gratification to Hahem for all that He did for us. The essence of themitzvah is to relate these matters to our children, as it is written, “You shall tell your son on this day, saying, ‘It is because of this that Hashem did for me when I went out of Egypt’” (Shemot, 13:8). Even a person who does not have children is commanded by the Torah to recall the Exodus on Pesach night, as it is written, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, from the house of bondage, for it was by strength of hand that the Lord took you out from there” (ibid. 3).

Nonetheless, according to the Torah,  the essence of the mitzvah is to relate the story of the Exodus  to the children, and this is stated in many verses. As such, this mitzvah is different from all other mitzvot, for though we are commanded to educate our children in the performance of all other precepts (likeobserving Shabbat, to eating kosher, the recital of blessings, and prayer) our duty to instruct them is  rabbinic in origin. Only regarding two mitzvot are we commanded by the Torah to educate our children: the mitzvah to relate the story of the Exodus, and the mitzvah of Torah study. This is because these commandments are so fundamental, they build the character of the Jewish child. Through the story of the Exodus, children come to recognize the greatness of the Creator Who watches over His creatures, and they learn that Hashem chose us from among all the other peoples to be His special Nation. And through Torah study, children learn to live in a manner that gives expression to the unique relationship between Israel and our Father in Heaven

It is interesting that the obligation to study Torah also begins with children, as the verse states, “You shall teach them to your children, to talk of them” (Devarim 11:19). Chazal explain that he who is obligated to teach his son Torah must himself study Torah (Kiddushin 29b). From this we can learn that the fundamental goal of the Torah is to positively influence others  and add life to the world, not just to elevate the individual Jew. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes in this commandment the obligation to teach the children, for the essential goal of the Torah is to influence  the entire people of Israel in every generation. Obviously, it follows that every individual is commanded to study Torah according to his ability. What is more, when a person studies in order to teach others, his study is more thorough and meaningful. Therefore, the primary emphasis of the mitzvah to relate the story of the Exodus is to pass the tradition on to the children, and it obviously follows that the father too is commanded to study about the Exodus for himself. In fact, parents themselves learn the Haggadah better when they know they have to teach it to their children.

The Central Message of the Haggadah

In order to fully understand the aim of the Haggadah and the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we must reflect upon the question of the wise son and the answer he receives, for he is the ideal son, and we pray that all of our sons develop and advance to become wise like he is.

The wise son asks in a detailed manner, as it says, “When your son asks you in the future, saying, ‘What are the testimonies and decrees and ordinances that the Lord, our God, has commanded you?’ ” (Devarim, 6:20). At first the answer deals with the Exodus from Egypt, and then the explanation broadens to include the overall purpose of the Jewish People: to go to the Land of Israel, to cling to HaShem and fulfill all of His mitzvot, and to merit His Divine favor, as it is written, “You shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. The Lord brought great and terrible miracles upon Egypt and upon Pharaoh and his entire household before our very eyes. He brought us out of there in order to bring us to the Land he promised to our fathers, and give it to us. The Lord commanded us to keep all of these laws,  to fear the Lord our God, for our good always,  that He might preserve us alive as we are today. And it shall be considered our virtue to keep and safeguard all these commandments, before the Lord our God, as He commanded us” (Devarim, 6:21-25). We see, then, that the aim of Leyl HaSeder is to implant in the hearts of our children the desire to belong to the Nation of Israel, to build the Promised Land, to cling to Hashem, and to perform all of His mitzvot. This great teaching is done through the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

In order to help us tell the story of the Exodus to the wise son without leaving out any of its essential components, the Men of the Great Assembly, who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple period, instituted the text of the Haggadah. Over the generations, the great TanaimAmoraim, and Geonim, also added passages containing important fundamentals relating to themitzvot of the Haggadah. Finally, about eight- hundred years ago, an agreed upon version was accepted by the congregations of Israel, based on the Haggadah of Rav Amram Gaon.

The text of the Haggadah, then, is the comprehensive story, and whoever recites it covers all essential aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. Nonetheless, the more one explains the Haggadah and expands upon it with illuminating ideas, stories, and laws related to Pesach and the Exodus, the more praiseworthy he is.

Loving the Land

The Torah teaches us to appreciate the “good Land” and to thank God for its bounties, as it says:

“For the Lord your God brings you into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barely, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and honey; a Land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness; you shall not lack anything in it; a Land the stones of which are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. When you have eaten and are satisfied, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good Land which He has given you” (Devarim, 8:7-10).

Quite often, we don’t pay attention to the simple meaning of these verses from the Torah. Their basic lesson is to love the Land of Israel, and to thank Hashem for giving it to us.

The Talmud relates that when Rabbi Abba would reach the border of Eretz Yisrael, he would kiss its stones, due to his tremendous love for the Land (Ketubot 112A and B). Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda, in his great love for the Land, would roll around in its dust to fulfill the verse: “You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for it is time to favor her; for the set time is come. For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Tehillim, 102:14-15).

Accordingly, the Rambam writes: “The great Torah scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and embrace her stones, and roll in her dust, as the verse says, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10).

One could ask: Why did the Rambam relate these stories in the Mishna Torah, his opus of halachah? What law do we learn from the fact that the great Torah scholars of Israel kissed the dust of the Land and hugged its very stones? Seemingly, the proper place for such stories would be in a book on agaddah or mussar, and not halachah. Rather, we learn something very important from this halachah – we have to love the Land of Israel. It is not enough to live in Israel and understand its great worth; we must also enthusiastically cherish our good and Holy Land.

Praising the Land and the Prohibition of Speaking Against It

The sin of the Spies stemmed from their lack of love for the Land, as it is written, “They despised the cherished Land; they did not believe His word” (Tehillim, 106:24). Consequently, they spoke disparagingly about her, as it says, “And they spread an evil report of the Land which they had spied on for the Children of Israel, saying, The Land which we have gone to spy it out is a Land that eats up its inhabitants” (Bamidbar, 13:32).

Here we see how Eretz Yisrael is distinguished from all other lands. For the prohibition of lashon hara, speaking with an evil tongue, applies solely to people, in order not to cause them grief. There is no prohibition to speak lashon hara about trees or rocks, for they feel no sorrow. However, concerning Eretz Yisrael, it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about it, for one who speaks negatively about it denies the Torah, which praises the Land. He also prevents the revelation of the Name of God in the world, which is revealed only through the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land. The punishment for speaking against the Land is particularly severe. Even the Jews who received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, who were called “the generation of knowledge,” were harshly punished for speaking lashon hara and despising the Land. Death was decreed upon their generation, and the entry of the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel was delayed forty years.

Thus, it is told in the Talmud about the great Amoraim who would make every effort to prevent the Land of Israel from being seen in a negative light (See Ketubot 112A). If Rabbi Chanina, while walking in Eretz Yisrael, saw a stumbling block in the road, he would remove it. Rashi explains that he would clear roadways and repair obstructions because of his love for the Land. He would always seek out things that needed to be corrected, so that no one would speak badly about her roads.

Similarly, when they were conducting a Torah class outside, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would be careful to seat their students in the most comfortable place. In the morning, when it was a little cool, they would seat them in the sun. Towards the afternoon, when the sun became hot, they would seat them in the shade – so that no one would complain about Eretz Yisrael or about its climate.

Today, it is contingent upon us to rectify the sin of the Spies by praising the Land of Israel, and by thanking God for the wonderful present which He bequeathed to our fathers and to us. This is particularly applicable in our generation when millions of Jews, through the kindness of God, have merited immigrating to Israel, building families, and settling the Land – something which was denied to generations of righteous and holy Jews in the past. Therefore, we are obligated to constantly praise Eretz Yisrael, to cherish her landscapes, to beautify her open stretches with trees and flowers, to rebuild her highways, and to construct attractive and comfortable homes. We must also constantly repeat the words of Yehoshua and Calev, who stood up against all the evildoers and said, “The Land is very, very good” (Bamidbar 14:7), thus countering and rectifying the deep blemishes left by the sin of the Spies. Consequently, more Jews will be inspired to make aliyah, and fewer will leave her borders, thinking to find a better life elsewhere.

We will finish this topic with the words of our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Igrot Riyah, Letter 96): “The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite – to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope that after all our praises, we merit to express even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the Land of delight,” to the splendor of her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, and to the Divine Inspiration which hovers upon her.”

The Holy Jews who Sacrificed Their Lives for Israel

With All Your Soul

The appalling murder in Itamar shocked everyone – all of the settlers, and every Jew without exception, because it wasn’t the Fogel family alone who they wanted to murder, but rather, each and every one of us. In the neighboring communities, which are situated on the frontlines of Jewish settlement, many residents are picturing in their minds what if it had been them, how they would react, and if, God forbid…what will happen to…, and the children and parents are finding it hard to sleep at night.

Nevertheless, we must not be weakened. The fears and worries must be elevated to the mitzvoth of ‘kiddush Hashem’, or sanctifying God’s name, and we must remind ourselves of what we are strict to say everyday, both morning and evening, in the reading of the ‘Sh’ma’ : “And you shall love Adonoy your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your possessions.”

In the Mishna (Berachot 9:5), the Sages said: “With all your soul – even if He takes your soul”. This is what every Jew must think of when reading the ‘Sh’ma’ – if it was required, he would be ready to die for ‘kiddush Hashem’.

It is brought down in the name of Rebbe Elimelech from Lizhensk: “…a person who lies on his bed and can’t fall asleep, should contemplate the positive commandment of ‘I must be sanctified among the Israelites’. He should imagine to himself as if an awesome and great fire is burning in front of him, rising all the way to the heavens, and for ‘kiddush Hashem’, may His Name be blessed, he shatters his natural inclination and throws himself into the fire. God includes a good thought to the actual fulfilling of the mitzvah, and thus, he is not just idly lying around in bed, but rather fulfilling a positive commandment from the Torah. One should also contemplate this thought in the first verse of ‘Sh’ma’ and the first blessing of the ‘Shmoneh Esrai’… (Tzetl Koton 1-2).

Connecting to Eternity

This awesome mitzvah is what connects every Jew to eternity. It detaches him from the temporariness and pettiness of life, and connects him to the world of truth and good, to the vision of the redemption. This is also the idea of the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel in our times, which is the only positive commandment in the Torah that obligates the Jewish nation to endanger their lives in order to conquer the Land and settle it. True, there are three severe mitzvoth – idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and murder – for which a Jew is obligated to give-up his life, for if he is threatened: “Either you transgress one of them, or you will be killed – he must sacrifice his life”. However, there is no mitzvah to purposely enter such a situation which would obligate one to sacrifice his life in order not to transgress one of these three mitzvoth. On the other hand, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is the only mitzvah that obligates the Jewish nation to enter, on its own initiative, a life-threatening situation, in order to conquer and settle the Land (Minchat Chinuch 425; Mishpat Kohen, pg.327).

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land

There is no mitzvah comparable to that of settling the Land of Israel, through which even the seemingly insignificant actions that one does during the course of the day, receive profound and divine meaning. A person can breathe, eat, sleep, or walk – and in his mere presence in a location whose settlement requires strengthening – he fulfills a mitzvah. And the more one strives to improve the quality of his life, both spiritually and physically, the greater the mitzvah becomes, for through the revelation of divine values within everyday, happy living, the entire world sings the praise of the living God. It turns out that one’s house, job, family, social life – are all partners in the revelation of the word of God in this world. This is the great message to the world emanating from the Land of Israel, that there is no schism between the heavens and the earth, and precisely within everyday life, it is possible to reveal the word of God, bring redemption, and improve the entire world. “For from Zion will go forth the Torah and the word of Adonoy from Jerusalem.”

Facing the Evil

We do not strive for private vengeance; rather, we seek national vengeance, with the I.D.F. and all the official government agencies leading the way. We have not returned to our land in order to banish the Arabs from their houses. However, after having risen up to destroy us, we demand that anyone who wanted to kill us, be killed; and anyone who wanted to expel us from the land, be expelled. With the rest of the Arabs, we will live in peace.

Security Concerns and Internal Criticism

Together with the readiness to sacrifice one’s life, security requirements must be taken care of as best as possible. It would be desirable that the person who fills the position of Minister of Defense would be someone who understands why the Jewish nation is in its land. Instead, Mr. Netanyahu appointed Ehud Barak, with all the familiar problems of this man. The I.D.F. soldiers carry out their tasks with self-sacrifice; they know who the enemy is, but their hands are tied by the Minister and the senior commanders, who have forgotten the goals for which they were appointed.

The judicial system must also be criticized, for just as every other negative event that takes place in the country, here too, they play a part. The electronic security system of the settlement of Itamar remains on a low level because the legal advisors decided that the route of the security fence, which was paved in coordination with the I.D.F., does not justify seizing land. The land in question is unclaimed. Thus, the settlement of Itamar is left with minimal means of defense – way less than the accepted level of security in the area. I was told that Talia Sasson, while working in the State Attorney’s office, was the one who made the decision. Today, she is a candidate for the Knesset from the radical left-wing Meretz Party.

The Question of Security and Settling the Land

We stand on two foundations: on the principle of the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel, and on the principle of security – that if, God forbid, we retreat from Judea and Samaria, the danger to the State of Israel will be greatly increased. From the outset, we should settle the land in order to make the desolate areas blossom and to inhabit the land. When we don’t merit doing so – tragedies occur, and for security reasons, we are forced to come to Israel and settle the Land.

The Spies in the desert were afraid to enter the Land of Israel because of security reasons, and only after God decreed that they were to die in the desert, did they attempt to ascend, but it was too late. The entire generation died in the desert, and their children entered the Land to settle it.

Had we merited, we would have ascended to the Land of Israel in order to care for its soil, to build the destroyed cities and blossom the desolate hills, as was the call of the Vilna Gaon, and after him, Rabbi Kalisher, Rabbi Gutmacher, and Rabbi Alkaly. However, we didn’t merit this; the majority of Jews were afraid to ascend to Israel, refraining from moving because of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving one’s life from danger). Our tragedies then grew in the Diaspora, and we were required to ascend because of security reasons. The first Jews were able to overcome the fear of the pogroms, and only after the Holocaust did the last ones escape to Israel. There were rabbis who said that even if one Jew had to be killed in order to build the Holy Temple, it would be better not to build it at all. As a result of this, they also feared the Arabs, and thus believed it was better to stay in the exile. Then the Holocaust occurred.

The liberation of Judea and Samaria during the Six Day War also occurred due to security reasons. After the war, the government of Israel wanted to retreat in order to achieve some type of peace agreement, but due to security reasons, it wasn’t possible. Had we merited settling Judea and Samaria because of the mitzvah – our present security problems would be immeasurably less significant.

To My Brothers, the Settlers

I woke-up before sunrise, and went to my study to write this article. In the middle, I stopped to pray ‘shacharit’ (Morning Prayer) in the early 5:40 A.M. ‘minyan’, and observed the people who rise early in the morning to pray: engineers, a banker, an architect, handymen, and academic researchers – white and blue-collar workers as one. Afterwards, the 6:00 ‘minyan’ arrived, and following them, others. In the meantime, the women arise, waking-up their children, preparing them for kindergarten and school. The majority of the mothers will then leave for work. Parents begin to bring their little ones to the day care centers and kindergartens, and the school children gather at the bus stops. Chaim Fogel, the grandfather of the Fogel family murdered in Itamar, has a share in all of this; for many years he accompanied the development of the community ‘Har Bracha’ in his work for the ‘Amana’ settlement movement.

I thought to myself: Dear settlers, who can convey to you just how significant your trivial actions really are! In your daily routines, you are building the Land and rectifying the Sin of the Spies. You are fully aware that those who choose to live here accept upon themselves additional dangers, and nevertheless, you continue to live here, establishing families and working to improve the world.

And if we have slightly forgotten the enormity of the mitzvah, we must constantly remember the slaughter of the five members of the Fogel family. Perhaps in the merit of our genuine acceptance that, for the sake of defending the nation and the Land we must be ready to offer sacrifices, God will have mercy on us, and we will merit dwelling in the Land of Israel securely, without having to die for it.

Isn’t it Dangerous to be a Settler?

Quite often people ask: Isn’t it dangerous to live in Judea and Samaria? Indeed, it is; there is an additional danger living in a settlement, and this is precisely the reason why we are here. Nevertheless, in the merit of the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel on its highest level, the chances of increasing and elevating one’s life is also greater. The fact is that if we compare the families of the settlers to those of people with similar qualities who live within the ‘Green Line’, the settler families are much bigger. Self-sacrifice for the settling of the Land strengthens one’s life. Usually, in this world, this is manifested by an increase in the number of children and grandchildren, in Torah and mitzvoth, and spiritual creativeness. Sometimes, it is revealed in the world of truth – as immeasurably sacred people, with no creature being able to stand in their company. One thing depends on another.

People die from accidents and illnesses, finding various ways to destroy their lives. Many of them can’t find love, and don’t raise families. Global suffering is great. Someone who flees the nation’s mission because of the dangers it entails, usually finds himself faced with other bigger and more difficult dangers or risks. Fortunate is the person whose suffering has value, for through these trials and tribulations, he is purified and refined, and his life flows in its proper path.

In not too many years, with God’s help, the remaining children of Rabbi Udi and Ruth Fogel, may God avenge their blood, will stand under the wedding ‘chuppah’, will have son’s and daughter’s, grandson’s and granddaughter’s, great grandson’s and great granddaughter’s, multiple as the stars in heaven.

An Independent I.D.F. Rabbinate Can Also Conduct Conversions

Conversions in the I.D.F.

In principle, the idea of allowing conversions in the army is extremely appropriate; however, the problem is the source of authority of the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. The first stipulation of a rabbi’s authority is – he must be independent, his halachic decisions must be made entirely according to their own merits and not swayed by external considerations and pressures. As regards to the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., who is selected by non-religious people such as the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff, who would fire him if he decided to act in contradiction to their beliefs — his authority is questionable.

Indeed, every rabbi and judge is part of society and is influenced by the mood and pressures of the general public, but they are not entirely dependent on them. However, when it is almost certain that the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. will be thrown out of the army if he dares to make a decision which contradicts the beliefs of his non-religious superior officers, his authority is questionable.

The way to improve this situation is to change the system of choosing the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi. In the meantime, only after an issue arises where the position of the Chief Rabbi contradicts that of the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff – and in spite of the pressures, he does not change his mind and nevertheless remains in his job, will we know that, indeed, his decisions are made independently. Without this, his authority as a ‘posek’ (Jewish law adjudicator) is questionable. He still has a very important job as the administrator of religious issues in the army, but not as a ‘posek’.

From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Exodus

Throughout all of the Torah portions in the Book of Genesis, I quoted at length many verses dealing with the Land of Israel. For a short while, it seemed to me that perhaps I was exaggerating. However, from reader’s responses, I realized that for many of them, this was an eye-opener. One Haredi Jew wrote me: “For tens of years I have learned the Book of Genesis, and I never paid attention to the fact that almost all of God’s revelations to the forefather’s deal with the promise of the Land of Israel.” Another person wrote that for the past few weeks, whenever he gives rides to Haredi hitchhikers, he asks them: “What did God say to Avraham aveinu” or “What did God say to Yitzchak aveinu” – as per that week’s Torah portion. In his great sorrow, many of them couldn’t answer, as if for them, all of the verses dealing with the Land of Israel in the Torah have been deleted. Those who are already familiar with the holiness of the Land of Israel were happy to read about it over and over again, as is befitting for such a blessed matter.

Rashi has already taught us in his first commentary to the Torah that the entire idea of the Book of Genesis comes to teach that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish nation. He did this by bringing the words of Rebbe Yitzchak from the Midrash, who asked why the Torah started with Creation and the accounts of the forefather’s instead of opening with an explanation of the mitzvoth. He replied: “He has declared to his people the power of his works, that He may give them the heritage of the nations”, for if the nations say to Israel ‘You are thieves! You conquered the land of the seven nations!’ They say to them: The entire world belongs to God. He created it and gave it to whoever He decided. [At first], He decided to give it to them, [now] He has decided to take it from them and give it to us.”

Faith Revealed in the Land of Israel

Delving deeper, it becomes clear that all our wars over the Land of Israel, since days of old and until today, rotate on this axis – the revelation of Heavenly faith within physical reality. This was the reason we went down to exile, and this is the reason we are returning today to the land of our forefather’s.

Answer to a Breslov Chasid

Accordingly, my answer to a Breslov Chasid, who with characteristic enthusiasm, wrote me: “Why does the honorable Rabbi speak about the Land of Israel? The main thing is to speak about faith in God,” not understanding that this is exactly what the Land of Israel is all about – to reveal faith within the world. Even Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan wrote about this in a number of their writings. All the talk about faith without its implementation in the Land of Israel is similar to castles in the sky; like the high of a drug addict, who, after the drug which thrilled him wears off, falls into a deep depression. Indeed, the great Breslov Chassidim were always strongly connected to the Land of Israel and its settlement.

Encouragement for the Settler’s

However, the thing that most encourages me is the reaction of the settler’s, who tell me just how heartening my words are, reinforcing them in mitzvoth, in the absorption of more families, and in building more houses. One woman wrote me: “I want to thank you, Rabbi, for the words of support which you customarily write in your column ‘Revivim’ concerning the importance of settling the land. As a victim of the building freeze, your words were of great encouragement, and helped me to accept the pains of the freeze lovingly. Presently, thank God, I am privileged to see my house being built. Thank you and all the best!”

The Good Land

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.

The Land of Israel's Place in the Torah

Now and then, people question the importance of the Land of Israel, as if to imply that the settlers are overly occupied with this mitzvah and exaggerate its importance. True, indeed, one must be careful that the pursuit of a specific mitzvah does not result in the weakening of other mitzvoth. At the same time, it is imperative to know that the significance of the Land of Israel is one of the foundations of the Torah. Anyone who learns Torah truthfully can plainly see this. Nevertheless, since even after all that has been written in the Torah there are still skeptics, I thought to myself that this year I would dedicate a portion of my weekly column to bring to attention the centrality of the Land of Israel.

Behold, in this week’s Torah portion, our forefather Abraham is commanded “Go away from your land” to the Land of Israel. He arrives at Elon Moreh, or Schem, in the heart of Samaria, and God appears to him, saying: “I will give this land to your offspring” (Genesis 12:7). The meaning is all of the Land of Israel, but the main emphasis is on the place where he is standing – in Samaria, which together with the lands of Judah and Benjamin, comprise the heart of the land. The Sages add (as Rashi comments), when Abraham was in Schem, God showed him “Mount Gerizim (Har Bracha) and Mount Eval, where Israel received the oath of the Torah.”

Due to a famine in the land, Abraham was forced to descend to Egypt, and when he returned to the area of Beit El, God once again appears to him, saying: “Raise your eyes, and, from the place where you are now [standing], look to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west. 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”(Genesis 13:14-17). From this we learn that in the merit of inheriting the land, we also merit the increase of our offspring. We also learned that, specifically from the place where he was standing, from Beit El in the mountains of Benjamin, our forefather Abraham was commanded to view the breadth of the entire land, and to know that all of it is designated to his offspring. Accordingly, the command continues: “Rise, walk the land, through its length and breadth, for I will give it [al] to you.” Abraham then goes to the area of Hebron.

Once again, at the “Pact between Halves” (‘brit bein ha’betarim’), God repeats to Abraham: “I am God who took you out of Ur Casdim to give you this land as a possession.” Concerned, Abraham asks: “How can I really know that it will be mine?” (Genesis 15:7-8).

Once more, later in the Torah portion, we learn that even the mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision), is bound and interconnected with the Land of Israel, for through the brit (covenant) we inherit the land, as is written: “To you and your offspring I will give the land where you are now living as a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan shall be [your] eternal heritage, and I will be a God to [your descendants]” (Genesis 17:8).

And here, today, we have merited returning and settling in the land of our forefathers, in the holy places where the Heavenly promises were spoken. The more Jews who ascend the mountains to settle them, the more we will merit the realization of God’s promise. The mouths of our enemies will be stifled, and we will merit dwelling securely in our land.