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Ha'Aretz Asher Areka: Part 4

The next excerpt from Rav Shnayor Burton's sefer discusses the question of whether statements in the Torah that do not explicitly command us can still obligate us to take action and the ramification this has for the discussion whether or not living in Eretz Yisrael is obligatory.

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Everything learned from the Torah is a mitzvah, for the Torah teaches us the good and right in the eyes of Hashem. One who internalizes the lesson of the Torah properly will know what is good for man in life. And when he then acts in accord with his understanding of the Torah, his action is considered a mitzvah. Fulfilling the lessons of the Torah through action is the essence of a mitzvah, whether it is written as a commandment or not.


But in this very matter – in the nature of the lesson – there is an important difference between an expression of command and an expression that doesn’t command. When the Torah commands “do this” and “don’t do this,” the lesson is that it is good and right and proper for a person to act according to the command even if he doesn’t understand the reason at all. That is the meaning of a clear command: Obey! It is quite easy to understand the simple idea being taught in an explicit command: that it is good for a person to act consistent with this law, whether he understands the reason for it or not; one who accepts this simple idea, as is expected from him, will fulfill the mitzvah. That is the intention of the Torah in its explicit commands.


An idea taught without a command is different. Since the matter wasn’t written in an absolute and final manner, extracting the idea that would bring to action on its basis depends on the personal understanding of the student. A sage who merited understanding the intention of the Torah will act in accord with its lesson – since he has merited to know what is good – and with that, he will fulfill a mitzvah, while someone else, who lacks a full understanding of the intention of the Torah, is unable to act in accordance with it.


There is no difference between an expression of command and an expression which is not a command except for fulfilling it without understanding. But regarding the obligation to act in accord with the Torah – they are exactly the same. For the obligation is incumbent on each individual to fulfill according to the degree of his understanding, and the Torah is fulfilled by each individual according to the subtlety of his understanding of it, to the degree that he toiled to understand the Torah, which is itself a mitzvah. By fulfilling the mitzvah of studying in order to act, the Torah knowledge of the student along with his mitzvah fulfillment are enriched.


Let’s return to the question of Eretz Yisrael. Does the significance of Eretz Yisrael and its centrality to the Torah create an obligation? The answer is affirmative, but only when we understand the matter well. If we understand the role of Eretz Yisrael, its place as the “house of our life,” how our redemption from all sin depends on cherishing it, to the same extent we become obligated to act in accordance. For if we don’t act in accordance, we are abandoning the good, and there is no greater sin than that.

This isn’t all. Actually, if we understand the centrality of Eretz Yisrael properly, then we realize that the love and desire toward it anchor the whole Torah and the relationship of the nation of Yisrael to Hashem, its God. [We then understand that Eretz Yisrael] is a central part of the enumerated positive commandments of loving Hashem, fearing Him, cleaving to Him since all these mitzvos can only be done in their most perfect way while dwelling in the Land. The more the wise man understands the general ideas of the Torah, the more he understands the great ramifications and the significance of certain practices and their contribution to achieving the purpose of the Torah.

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