A mitzvah you could do in your sleep

The mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, dwelling in the Land of Israel, takes a definite commitment to begin with. But having made the commitment, it is a mitzvah which lasts your entire life.

Daniel Pinner, | updated: 07:27

Judaism Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

The majority of Parashat Shelach Lecha is narrative: the episode of Moshe despatching the twelve spies on their reconnaissance mission to spy out the Land of Israel, their betrayal of their mission, the resultant demoralization of the nation, and the disastrous consequences. This narrative spans 78 verses out of 119 for the entire parashah.

The mitzvah-count of Mahara”m Hagiz (Rabbi Moshe ben Shlomo ibn Haviv, Salonika and Jerusalem, 1654-1696) in Minyan ha-Mitzvot (parashah-by-parashah enumeration of the mitzvot) lists just three mitzvot in Parashat Shelach Lecha, two positive and one negative:

  • .To separate part of the dough (challah) when baking and to donate it to the Kohen (Numbers 15:17-21);

  • To tie tzitzit on the corners of a four-cornered garment (ibid. vs. 37-40);
  • Not to be led astray by evil thoughts or to be seduced by what your eyes see (ibid. v. 39)

Actually, Parashat Shelach Lecha contains several other mitzvot (primarily sacrifices), but the others all appear in other parashot as well, so Mahara”m Hagiz counts them elsewhere.

And the opening narrative of Parashat Shelach Lecha – the narrative for which this entire Parashah is named – implies another mitzvah: the mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, the commandment to settle in the Land of Israel.

The entire purpose of leaving Egypt was to come to Israel. Not to wander indefinitely through the desert, not to cross oceans and to build magnificent Synagogues and impressive Yeshivot in Sura, Pumbedita, Slonim, Berlin, and New York, but to build our national life in the Land of Israel.

Jewish history began on the day that G-d told Abraham our father, “Get yourself out of your country and your birthplace and your father’s house, to the Land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Jewish history begins with the injunction to make Aliyah – to ascend to the Land of Israel.

The Exodus began with G-d promising Moshe: “I will descend to save [the Jewish nation] from the hand of Egypt, and to bring it up from this land to a good and spacious Land, to a Land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivvite and the Jebusite” (Exodus 3:8).

And G-d sent Moshe on his mission with the charge, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as G-d Almighty, but I did not make Myself known to them by My Name Hashem; and I also established My Covenant with them, to give them the Land of Canaan, the Land of their dwelling, in which they dwelt” (Exodus 6:3-4).

What did He mean, “I did not make Myself known to them by My Name Hashem”? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob certainly knew the Name Hashem!

As both Rashi and Rashbam both explain [1], through G-d’s promise of the Land they experienced the Name אֵל שַׁדָּי, G-d Almighty, the name which denotes power. But because He had not yet fulfilled His promise, they did not experience His Name Hashem, the Name which denotes both compassion and the personal, intimate connexion between G-d and Israel.

Only when He would fulfil His promise, give us the Land of Israel, would we experience His Name Hashem. Only in the Land of Israel can we experience G-d’s compassion, only in the Land of Israel can we have that intimate and personal and immediate connexion with Him.

This is why Pesach, the eternal memorial of the Exodus from Egypt, can be properly celebrated only in Israel: “It will be, when you come to the Land which Hashem will give you – as He has spoken – that you will keep this service” (Exodus 12:25).

Not in the Sinai Desert, not in Babylon, not in Spain or Yemen or Poland or England or America, but specifically in “the Land which Hashem will give you”.

And commensurate with this, G-d Himself told us that “I Hashem am your G-d Who took you out from the land of Egypt to give you the Land of Canaan, to be your G-d”  (Leviticus 25:38).

The Talmud extrapolates from this:

“A Jew should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city whose majority are idolaters, and not live outside of Israel, even in a city whose majority are Jews; because anyone who dwells in the Land of Israel is as one who has a G-d, and anyone who dwells outside of the Land is as one who has no G-d, as it says ‘to give you the Land of Canaan, to be your G-d’. What – anyone who does not live in Israel has no G-d?! This tells you that anyone who dwells outside of Israel is akin to an idolater!” (Ketuvot 110b).

And lest anyone think erroneously that this is merely a homiletic concept with no practical application, the Rambam cites this, word-for-word, as practical halakhah (Laws of Kings 5:12).

Note the precise wording here: לְעוֹלָם יַדּוּר אָדָם בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, “a Jew [2] must always live in the Land of Israel”: Always – not only after Mashiach comes, not only when there is a Torah-government ruling the Land, not only when the economy is booming, but לְעוֹלָם, always.

And a Jew who lives outside of Israel is akin to an idolater. Or, as Rabbi Yishmael taught, “Jews outside of the Land of Israel worship idolatry in purity” (Avodah Zarah 8a).

Now the spies whom Moshe despatched to spy out the Land of Israel certainly knew all this:

“They were all men – they were leaders of the Children of Israel” (Numbers 13:3). “They were all sharp-witted men” (Targum Yonatan ad loc.), and “whenever the Tanach uses the word אֲנָשִׁים [men] it indicates important men, and at the time they were all worthy” (Rashi ad loc.).

“They were mighty men” (S’forno ad loc.), otherwise Moshe wouldn’t have chosen them. The Ba’al ha-Turim notes that the three words שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים (“send forth for yourself men”), with which God’s charge to Moshe begins, end with the letters חָכָם (“wise”): “Ensure that they are wise and righteous”.

These commentators base their comments on the Midrash: “Whenever it says אֲנָשִׁים, they are righteous men… You call these men fools? – They were called fools solely because they slandered the Land of Israel… They were righteous both according to Israel and according to Moshe” (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:5).

So how could leaders of Israel, leaders whom Moshe Rabbeinu (“our master”) himself trusted, commit such a heinous sin?

There are several different answers:

– That they had witnessed the overwhelming military might of the Canaanites, and believed that the generation was not on a sufficiently high spiritual level to merit Divine intervention;

– That in the desert they were the leaders of the nation, and their fear of losing that status in the Land of Israel caused them (perhaps subconsciously) to sabotage the entry into the Land;

– That they realized that entering and possessing the Land would inevitably involve warfare, that people would therefore die, and that פִּקּוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ (saving lives) overrides all the mitzvot – including the mitzvah of living in Israel;

– That they saw how content and protected the nation was in the desert, with all their needs provided for them – shelter, water, food, no responsibilities other than Torah – and they feared the moral descent that the nation would suffer as soon as they had to live ordinary lives, work for food, run an economy, and so forth.

Actually, of course, anyone who wants to understand why ten of the spies were opposed to the Jewish nation entering their Land to take possession of it could easily ask any of today’s great Jewish leaders in the USA, Britain, France, or any other country why they don’t lead their congregations in Aliyah.


Now there are some who argue that mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, settling the Land of Israel, is a מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית and not חִיּוּבִית; that is to say, it is not actually an obligation, even though it is a laudable act.
The mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, settling the Land of Israel, is so great that it even overrides Shabbat in one specific respect: if a Jew buys a house in Israel, he can tell a non-Jew to write the contract on his behalf on Shabbat (Bava Kamma 80b, cited as practical halachah by the Rambam, Laws of Shabbat 6:11).

Now there are some who argue that mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, settling the Land of Israel, is a מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית and not חִיּוּבִית; that is to say, it is not actually an obligation, even though it is a laudable act.

Let us define the terms חִיּוּבִית and מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית:

A מִצְוָה חִיּוּבִית is an obligation. It is something which a Jew is commanded to do, and if he omits it, he has sinned by omitting it: saying the Shema morning and evening, for example, or making Kiddush on Shabbat, or putting on Tefillin on weekdays.

A מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית, by contrast, is not an obligation. The typical example is wearing tzitzit. A Jew has no obligation to wear tzitzit: if he wears a four-cornered garment then the garment must have tzitzit attached, and if he does so he thereby fulfils the mitzvah, but if he does not wear a four-cornered garment, and therefore does not wear tzitzit, he has not committed any sin. He has merely not fulfilled this particular mitzvah.

The Rambam (Laws of Kings 5:12, cited above), the Ramban (commentary to Numbers 33:53, also Glosses to the Rambam’s Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Mitzvah #4), the Chazon Ish (Collection of Epistles, Volume 1, #175), and most other halakhic authorities, consider settling the Land of Israel to be a מִצְוָה חִיּוּבִית, an obligation: like praying, like making Kiddush on Shabbat, a Jew who doesn’t do it has thereby sinned.

Rashi, by contrast, seems to consider it a מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית, a laudable act though not an obligation; so a Jew who lives in Israel is fulfilling a mitzvah, a Jew residing elsewhere is not thereby sinning [3].

An almost-contemporary posek (halakhic arbiter) agrees with this position:

“The simple understanding is that [the mitzvah to dwell in Israel] is not, in this time, an obligation, because if it were, it would be forbidden to live outside of Israel because one would then be violating a positive mitzvah...but the only prohibition mentioned is that [a Jew] who already dwells in the Land of Israel is forbidden to leave in order to live permanently outside of Israel... What this means is that only those who live in the Land of Israel are forbidden to leave it. So it is not obligatory [for a Jew] to live in Israel, but when he lives there he fulfils a mitzvah” (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Igrot Moshe, Even ha-Ezer, Volume 1, Chapter 102, near the end).

Now Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) was indisputably one of the greatest Rabbis of his generation; nevertheless, his opinion is a minority opinion. The majority of Rishonim [4] agree that the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel is a מִצְוָה חִיּוּבִית, an obligation, and any Jew who is able to and does not do so is thereby violating a Torah-obligation.

(For close on 2,000 years, Jews justifiably lived all over the world: with Israel under foreign occupation, Roman, Muslim, Christian, Mongol, and others, for the overwhelming majority violently hostile to Jews and Judaism, with the Land so poor that no one could rise above the barest subsistence farming, with famine, persecution, violence, and war constant threats, life in Israel was fraught with danger. The Jewish communities which endured in Israel throughout those long centuries showed unimaginable fortitude, courage, and perseverance.)

It is no idle coincidence that the typical example of מִצְוָה קִיּוּמִית, a laudable act which is not an obligation, is the mitzvah of tzitzit: Parashat Shelach Lecha, whose opening narrative implies the mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, the commandment to settle in the Land of Israel, concludes with the mitzvah of tzitzit.

There is indeed a connexion between the two (which we analysed in depth several years ago: /Articles/Article.aspx/11784).

Let us take the minority opinion, that dwelling in the Land of Israel is not an obligation; that is to say, in the same category as wearing tzitzit.

How would we relate to a Jew – what would we think of a Jew – who never wears tzitzit, who indeed refuses ideologically to wear tzitzit? Would we regard him as a veritable tzaddik, because after all he is committing no sin? Or would we regard him as a Jew whose understanding of Torah and commitment to Torah are deeply flawed?

Donning tzitzit when getting dressed in the morning requires a deliberate decision. But having donned the tzitzit and made the Berachah, the mitzvah lasts the entire day. Without any further effort, without even conscious thought, the mitzvah is continuous.

Even if you take a nap, the mitzvah of tzitzit continues even while you sleep. There are few mitzvot indeed which you can do literally in your sleep – but the mitzvah of tzitzit is one of them.

The mitzvah of יִשּׁוּב אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, dwelling in the Land of Israel, takes a definite commitment to begin with. But having made the commitment, it is a mitzvah which lasts your entire life.

Without any further effort, without even conscious thought, the mitzvah is continuous. Awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious, the Jew living in the Land of Israel is constantly worshipping G-d.

It is, indeed, a mitzvah which you can literally do in your sleep.

Endnotes

[1] It is not surprising that Rashbam (Rabbi Shmu’el ben Meir, c1080-c.1160) agrees with Rashi and echoes his explanations: he was a grandson and close student of Rashi.

[2] Hebrew אָדָם literally means “person”. However in the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam frequently uses אָדָם to mean “a Jew”. He obviously does not mean that everyone in the world must live in Israel: this obligation devolves solely upon Jews.

[3] “You will inherit the Land and you dwell in it, because to you have I given the Land to inherit it” (Numbers 33:53), on which Rashi comments: “You will inherit it from its [former] inhabitants, and then ‘you will dwell in it’ – you will be able to endure in it; and if not, you will not be able to endure in it”. According to the Ohr ha-Chayim, “Rashi interprets that the commandment is ‘You will inherit the Land’; but ‘you will dwell in it’ is a promise”. That is to say, “you will dwell in it” is not an actual obligation.

[4] The Rishonim are the Halachic authorities after the period of the Geonim and until the close of the Shulchan Aruch; that is to say, approximately the early 11th- to late 15th centuries.




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