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HaAretz Asher Areka

The next excerpt from Rav Shnayor Burton's sefer discusses whether the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael is still in effect during an exilic era.

The Mitzvah of Residing in Eretz Yisrael during the Exilic Era

An exhaustive study of the mitzvah to reside in Eretz Yisrael requires us to first study deeply where the mitzvah fits into the wider framework of the subject of Eretz Yisrael in the Torah in general – meaning in the promise of the land to the nation of Israel, in the decree of exile from it, and in the notion of the land and its virtues. This study will allow us to answer the following questions: Is there a mitzvah to reside in the land even in the Exilic Era? Does the decree of exile restrain from a return to Zion? And are the benefits that were said about living in the land valid even in the Exilic Era? These questions and the like will be treated of in this section.

Let us begin with the words of Ramban, the first among those who speak in favor of the mitzvah of residing in Eretz Yisrael, who also dealt with the question of the mitzvah during exilic times. After he demonstrated that residing in Eretz Yisrael is one of the 613 mitzvahs, he concluded:

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.

Read simply, Ramban means to say that in fact the mitzvah is in force even during the in era of exile, and in the same way that it is in effect during an era of redemption. But it seems that Ramban’s intention is that in fact the mitzvah is different during the era of exile, in that it is incumbent on the individual and only on the individual. During the era of exile, every individual is obligated by it, while during an era of redemption the obligation is incumbent on the entire community. This is what emerges from the words of Rashbash in explanation of the opinion of his ancestor, Ramban:

There is no doubt that residing in Eretz Yisrael is a great mitzvah at all times, whether the Temple stands or not, and my master and ancestor the Ramban counted it as one of the positive commandments… and that is also the opinion of my master, my father the Rashbatz… However, this mitzvah is not a general mitzvah for all of Israel during this exile, but is rather impossible, generally, as they said in the Gemara Kesubos that it is included in the oaths that the Holy One, blessed be He, adjured Israel not to hasten the end of times and not to ascend as a wall… but it is a mitzvah incumbent on each individual to ascend and reside there.

During a period of exile, this is not a general mitzvah for all of Israel, but it is in effect only in a limited way. The limitation can be understood in two ways: Either the mitzvah itself is still completely in effect, but due to the danger it is impossible to fulfill it on the public level, and the community in general is considered powerless; or that the reality that it is impossible to capture Eretz Yisrael changes the mitzvah itself and restricts it. Why would the reality change the mitzvah? Is another mitzvah that is impossible to fulfill – say, for example, that there wouldn’t be any more esrogs in the world – is the mitzvah itself restricted?! The reason is that exile isn’t a random occurrence, a technical failure; rather, it is built into the very same Torah that commands about the mitzvah of residing in Eretz Yisrael. The same Torah that commands to reside in the land also threatens that if we sin we will quickly be lost from it: implying that the mitzvah is subject to merit and is only in force to the extent that we merit it. During a period of exile, when the nation is unable to capture and take possession of the land, the mitzvah also restricts itself to the measure that we merit it in practice, i.e., to residence of individuals.

I am unable to decide between the two possible interpretations of Ramban’s intention. Either way, the mitzvah is in force during the period of exile but is effective in a limited way. This is clear and agreed upon.

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