Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Our Sages said:“On the Ninth of Av, it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the Promised Land (as a result of the Sin of the Spies, which took place on that day), the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Beitar was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was ploughed up” (Ta’anit 26b).
Actually, however, their sin was that they looked at the cherished Land with abhorrence. Their basic attitude was that conquering the Land and settling it was a difficult matter – a serious “problem.” It would be better to remain in the desert – to eat bread from the heavens and the quail, and survive miraculously. Therefore, when they saw the giants and fortified cities, they made up their minds that it was impossible to conquer the Land, and "melted the hearts" of the people.
In the end, all of them were punished and delayed for forty years, “until the last of your corpses lie here in the desert”. They chose to protect their physical bodies, rejecting the vision of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and instead, remained dead corpses in the desert.
Jews in the Diaspora and the Question of Eretz Yisrael
In the end, there was the Holocaust, or at best, Communist decrees, and it was no longer possible to immigrate to Israel.
Students of the Vilna Gaon and the Precursor’s of Zion
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution.
We were not worthy of having multitudes of Jews immigrate to the Land of Israel motivated by a desire to fulfill the mitzvah from the Torah and the vision of Redemption, and anti-Semitism greatly increased. And thus the Zionist movement was founded as rescue movement for the persecuted Jewish people.
However, when the Zionist leadership saw that the claim to Eretz Yisrael initiated problems and required struggles with the Arabs and the British, it was decided to solve the “problem” of Eretz Yisrael by conceding the eastern part in exchange for a promise to settle the western side of the Jordan and the transfer of the Arab population to the eastern side.
And wonder of wonders – conceding the eastern side of the Jordan did not solve the problem. The pressures and rioting in opposition to the Jewish settlement increased, and instead of the Arabs moving to the eastern side of the Jordan, masses flocked the western side to enjoy the fruits of Jewish settlement. The problem gradually intensified and the British restricted Jewish immigration and allotted parts of our holy Land to the Arabs – as well as land purchased by Jews.
The Partition Plan
Instead of receiving peace, security and unrestricted immigration to save Jews from the claws of the Nazi’s, the riots continued and the British imposed further obstacles to immigration to Eretz Yisrael.
Either We Build, or Engage in Saving Lives
In recent generations, at least we can take comfort that by the grace of God, with all the troubles and dangers, we are privileged to make some progress in settling the Land – but with great difficulty and agony.
This is the significance of what our Sages said concerning the Redemption:
The Moral Predicament
There are also morally-sensitive Jews who argue “occupation corrupts”. They believe that if not for this messianic affinity to Judea and Samaria all wars would cease, the world would consider us enlightened, and Israel would be the exemplary society they dreamed of establishing. For that to happen, first we need to get rid of the “problem” of the “territories” (a derogatory name for Eretz Yisrael).
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.
The Problem of America and the Entire World
And as long as Jews continue to build in the settlements the international media is forced to cover it, and does not have time to report about the millions of murdered people in Islamic countries, and about the hundreds of millions of starving and sick people in Africa. As long as the settlers keep behaving with horrendous violence by scribbling graffiti against the Arabs, world leaders and the U.N. are unable to find time to solve the problems of international terrorism, nuclear weapons, and global conflicts.
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution.
Through the building of Eretz Yisrael, nations who desire justice and peace could have sent a clear message to all the various terrorists that violence, falsehood and evil do not pay. This is the correct way for the West to put all evil regimes in their place. This is the way to bring peace to the world.
And so, we arrived at this complicated war in the Gaza Strip.
Had we been worthy – we would have engaged in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, building and expanding Gush Katif. We would not have sinned in the Oslo Accords, and not have granted the Arabs any collective rights in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we would have to deal with international pressure and threats from the Arab enemy, but handling such pressure would have been relatively easy. It could even have been a constructive and reinforcing struggle.
The Only Way to Win is Settling the Land
And thus, we will have to go from one military operation to the next, to bend, twist, and confront international pressures – because the Arabs will always have demands, and there will always be more terrorists to violate the peace.
If the enemy knew that as a result of the war the government would decide to build tens of thousands of homes in the settlements of Judea and Samaria, they would realize they have lost.
If they heard that the Israeli government intends to occupy Gaza, to rebuild the destroyed communities, to encourage the emigration of refugees and enemies of Israel, their dream of victory over Israel would fade, international pressure would gradually diminish, and the swamp of terror would eventually dry up.
During the period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, each individual should make an effort to rectify the Sin of the Spies by building the Land. Anyone who can join the settlements in Judea and Samaria is called to do so. Those who cannot move there for family reasons, or because they fill other important functions in education or in the community, are called upon to encourage those who can, to rise up and join the settlements.
Of course, those standing guard over the communities on the Golan Heights and the Negev, the Galilee and the Arava, should remain where they are. This call is directed to the residents of central Israel, who, without losing their jobs, can fulfill the great mitzvah of saving our nation from the existential danger of the establishment of a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.