Judea and Samaria, or the Negev?
Question: The mitzvah (Biblical commandment) 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 our Sages permitted the purchase of a house from a non-Jew even on the Sabbath. This ‘heter‘ (religious permission) is valid even if the purchase is made in Syria, as our Sages said (Tractate Gittin 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 in which our Sages permitted transgressing the prohibition of ‘shvut‘ (rabbinical enactment) besides settling the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, it is important to know that there are various levels of fulfilling the mitzvah, and the virtue of settling Judea and Samaria is on a higher level owing to its location in the heart and center of the Land of Israel. It is not by coincidence 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 of Israel 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 ended. “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 not 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 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.”
As a result, the entire world receives blessing, as the verse continues: “All the nations on the earth shall be blessed through your descendants.”
Similarly today, those engaged in the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel merit raising large families. However, like all heavenly blessings, in order to obtain it, a small effort must first be made. There are some who, in spite of the gates of blessing being open before them, refuse to accept it.
Settling the Land of Israel
Our Sages said: “What is the meaning of the word ‘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 [more than he had sowed], for God had blessed him” (Genesis 26:12).
Afterwards, Isaac re-dug the wells that his father Abraham had previously dug and had been plugged-up by the Philistines. And although 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 increased his effort to fulfill the mitzvah, and though he had already possessed one well, he continued to search for more water and establish more neighborhoods, until his servants successfully dug an additional well:
“[Isaac] named the well Shibah. The city is therefore called Beer-sheba to this very day” (Genesis 26).
Torah Study or a Profession?
Once, a teacher of Talmud Torah asked me the following question: “Should we encourage all students to remain in yeshiva and study Torah all their lives – the loftiest of goals – or should we compromise with reality and tell the students that all professions are completely acceptable?”
My response was: How can one learn the verses of the Torah and teach his students that it is proper for every Jew to study 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 would always have food and water. If all this work is valueless, why does the Torah speak about it?!
Rather, students should be taught to devote themselves to Torah and mitzvoth, and after learning the required fundamentals of Torah for all Jews, and setting specific times to learn Torah, each person should be engaged in ‘tikkun olam‘ (perfecting the world), in the field most appropriate for himself. If we do not educate in this manner, we will be forced to distort and twist verses of the Torah, and the teachings of our Sages.
This article was translated from Hebrew.