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Ha'Aretz Asher Areka: Part 1

As we presented two weeks ago, we will be featuring a regular column with translated excerpts from the sefer Ha'Aretz Asher Areka by Rav Shnayor Burton.

Below is the translation of the first part of chapter 1.


The Opinion of the Ramban

Residing in Eretz Yisrael is Counted as one of the 613 Mitzvos

The very first question we must ask when determining the correct course of action according to the Torah is: From where do you derive this? Where is the source in the Torah that we should reside in Eretz Yisrael?

Let us begin with the 613 mitzvos. Is residing in Eretz Yisrael a mitzvah in the Torah?

Ramban counted capturing and settling in EY as one of the 613 mitzvos. He says:

That we were commanded to take possession of the land that God, may He be blessed and exalted, gave to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we should not abandon it in the hands of other nations or leave it desolate. This is His saying to them: “And you shall take possession of the land and dwell in it, for to you I have given the land to take hold of it. And you shall settle the land by lot” (Numbers 33:53-54), and a similar idea of this mitzvah was repeated in other places, as His saying “Come and take possession of the land that I have sworn to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 1:8), and He specified it to them as part of this mitzvah, in its boundaries and borders, as it says, “and come to the high country of the Amorite and to all his neighbors, in the Arabah, in the high country, in the lowland, and in the Negev and on the shore of the sea” (ibid., 7) – that they should abandon no place of it. The proof that this is a mitzvah… this is what the sages call a “Milchemes Mitzvah” (Mishnah Sotah, 8:8). Now don’t make the error of thinking that this mitzvah is the mitzvah of battling the seven nations they were commanded to destroy, as it says, “You shall utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 20:17). This is not the case. For we were commanded to kill those nations if they battled us, but if they wished to make peace, we would make peace, and leave them, under certain conditions. But the land – we wouldn’t leave it in their hands or in the hands of another nation in any generation. Likewise, if those nations would have fled from before us, as they said (Devarim Rabbah 5:14): “The Girgashites left and went off, and the Holy One, blessed be He, gave them a land as good as their original land – that is Africa,” we were commanded to enter the land, capture its areas, and settle our tribes therein. Likewise, after we cut off those nations, if our tribes wished to abandon it and capture the land of Shin’ar or Assyria or any other place – they are not allowed to do so, for we were commanded to capture it and settle in it.

From their statement (Sotah 44b) “The wars of Joshua to capture” you will understand that this mitzvah is the capturing. They said likewise in the Sifre (Deuteronomy, sec. 51): “’Every place that your feet tread on shall be yours’ (Deuteronomy 11:24); he told them: ‘Every place you capture outside of these place are yours.’ Or might they be allowed to capture outside of EY before they capture EY? The verse teaches ‘You will dispossess great and mighty nations’ (ibid., 23) and then ‘Every place that’ etc.” And they said (Sifre, ibid.): “If you ask, why did David capture Aram Naharaim and Aram Sobah and the mitzvos are not practiced there? They said, David did unlike the Torah; the Torah says that after you capture EY you may capture from outside EY, and he didn’t do so.” Thus, we were commanded regarding capture in all generations. And I say that the mitzvah which the sages boost, which is residing in EY, to the point that they said in Kesubos (110b) “Anyone who leaves it and resides outside of EY should be in your eyes like an idolater, as it says (1 Samuel 26:19) ‘For they have chased me today from joining Hashem’s inheritance, saying, “Go, serve other gods”,’ and other great aggrandizations that they said about it, are all from this positive commandment that we were commanded to possess the land and reside in it. Consequently, it is a positive commandment that is in force in all generations, and every individual is obligated by it, even during the era of exile, as is known in the Talmud in many places. The Sifre states (Deuteronomy, sec. 80): “Residing in Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to all the mitzvos!”

Ramban’s opinion is clear: It is a biblical positive commandment to capture and reside in Eretz Yisrael, which is why the Torah specified its boundaries and borders, like any other mitzvah-object detailed in the Torah. Even during the exilic era, “every individual is obligated by it.” We will return to clarifying his intention with these words and treat the question of how an exilic era is different from a redemptive era.2 But it is a positive commandment, in force in all generations, and therefore counted as a mitzvah from the 613 mitzvos said to Moses at Sinai.

Ramban repeated this opinion of his in his commentary on the Torah:

“And you shall take possession of the land and dwell in it, for to you I have given the land to take hold of it.” In my opinion, this is a positive commandment. It commands them to settle in the land and take possession of it, for He gave it to them and they shouldn’t reject the inheritance of Hashem. And if it would occur to them to go capture the land of Shin’ar or Assyria or any other place and settle there, they would be transgressing a mitzvah of Hashem. And what our Rabbis have greatly promoted the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, and said that it is forbidden to leave it, and they treat as rebellious a woman who won’t ascend to EY with her husband, and likewise the man, it is here that we were commanded in this mitzvah, for this verse is a positive commandment. This mitzvah is repeated in numerous places – “Come and take possession of the land.” But Rashi explained: “’You shall take possession of the land’ you shall dispossess it of its dwellers, and then ‘you shall dwell in it’ – you will be able to survive in it; but if not, you will not be able to survive in it.” But what we have explained is the correct explanation.

According to Ramban, it is a biblical positive commandment to capture and reside in Eretz Yisrael.


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