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.