Shabbat Parashat Shoftim| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Mitzva to Live in Eretz Yisrael– Part VII - The Rambam’s Opinion (II) (condensed from Eretz Hemdah I, 1: 4,5
[Last week, we began dealing with the possible reasons that the Rambam does not list the mitzva to inhabit Eretz Yisrael in the 613 mitzvot. The Megillat Esther claims that the Rambam felt that the mitzva does not exist in the period of exile. The Avnei Nezer writes that the Rambam considered it a mitzva from the Torah but felt that it was included in the mitzva to eliminate the Seven Nations from the Land. The P’at Hashulchan posits that the mitzva to live in the Land is only rabbinic. We began to explain that the mitzva of conquest of the Land, which the Ramban proved was from the Torah, applied only during the period of Bnei Yisrael’s first entry into Eretz Yisrael. This idea is based on a Yerushalmi that points out that at the time of Yehoshua, the Laws of the Land awaited conquest, whereas at the time of Ezra, they began immediately. We continue from that point.]
The reason that the land-based mitzvot beganbeforethe conquest of Eretz Yisrael, as they returned from Bavel, is that their right to inhabit the Land was recognized by the Persians, who controlled it. Similarly, there was no mitzva of conquest at all under those circumstances. The Ramban brings proofs as to the Torah-level mitzva of conquest from David. That, though, is a proof only regarding the First Commonwealth. Even at the time of the Hasmoneans, when Bnei Yisrael apparently had the military power to conquer the Land, they still left over certain areas and did not bestow them with the halachic status of Eretz Yisrael. This is because there was no mitzva of conquest at that time, and taking possession by inhabitation was not possible in areas occupied by non-Jews.
The pasuk upon which the Yerushalmi is based, is most simply interpreted in regard to the third entry into Eretz Yisrael. Even though the gemara applies it to the Second Commonwealth, it is logical that it should apply to the third as well. Indeed, according to the Rambam, it follows that the coming of Mashiach should be preceded by the recognition of the world of Bnei Yisrael’s right to settle the Land. After all, there is a “catch 22.” We cannot take the Land by force until Mashiach comes [see previous weeks]. Yet, the Rambam (Melachim 11:4) says that we will not know who is Mashiach until a member of the House of David rises up as a king and forces all Jews to keep the Torah. But how can there be a Jewish king with authority over the nation if the Jews are not gathered in Eretz Yisrael and led by a Jewish government? In fact, the Rambam does not mention ingathering the exiles as one of the tests of Mashiach. Rather, the nations of the world will give permission to Bnei Yisrael to set up a kingdom of some sort in Eretz Yisrael, Jews will gather there, and Mashiach will emerge from within that infrastructure.
According to this, it follows that the mitzva to capture Eretz Yisrael applied only during the First Commonwealth, and since the mitzva ended permanently, the Rambam did not count it. The mitzva to live in the Land could be, as the P’at Hashulchan claimed, rabbinic. However, in order to complete our understanding of the Rambam’s opinion on the mitzva to live in Eretz Yisrael, we have to ascertain his approach to understanding the machloket between Rav Yehuda and Rav Zeira and whom the Rambam accepts as halacha. [Just as an introduction for next week] the gemara in Ketubot (110b) tells of Rav Zeira, who was avoiding Rav Yehuda. R. Zeira did so because he wanted to move from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael, in contradiction of the latter’s view that whoever leaves Bavel to move to Eretz Yisrael violates the instructions of the prophet, “to Bavel they will be brought and there they will be until the day I redeem them” (Yirmiya 27:22).
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