The Mitzvah of Living in Eretz Yisrael, Part 1

Is there a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael? This question has long been disputed
by the greatest halachic authorities.

The Ramban says that it is a mitzvah to conquer and settle Eretz
Yisrael, and it applies in all generations. The Sefer HaCharedim, similarly, counts
it as a mitzvah d’oraisa that applies at all times.

On the other hand, Tosafos in Kesubos (110b) cites the opinion
of Rabbi Chaim Cohen that because travel to Israel was very difficult and dangerous-those
who did so were prey to illness, piracy and shipwreck-the mitzvah does not apply.
Beyond that, there are many mitzvos hataluios b’aretz that are difficult
to keep, And therefore nullify the mitzvah to live in Israel.

Today, there are few pirates, it’s not so difficult to get here,
and the mitzvos hataluios b'aretz are getting easier and easier to keep.
Beyond that, there are rishonim, notably the Maharit, who maintain that the opinion
attributed to Rav Chaim Cohen was mistakenly inserted in the Tosafos by a student.
The Maharit says that he never heard of such a thing—that because a mitzvah is
difficult to keep, therefore it doesn’t apply. He says that the opinion of Rav Chaim
Cohen never existed. Others, however, uphold the validity of the Rav Chaim Cohen
opinion.

The Rambam doesn’t mention this mitzvah specifically, and there
is a great deal of discussion about his omission. Some say he left it out because
living here is more than a single, specific mitzvah; it is the foundation of all
mitzvos. All mitzvos depend on Eretz Yisrael. You can’t observe Taryag mitzvos without
being here.

However, it’s very difficult to say such a thing because the
Rambam includes the mitzvah of emunah in Taryag, and certainly emunah is a basis
for all mitzvos. If the Rambam counts that, and certainly yishuv ha’aretz
is no more of a foundation concept than emunah, it should also be counted.
There are those, therefore, that say that the Rambam’s opinion is that there is
no mitzvah from the Torah today to settle Eretz Yisrael. It existed in the time
of Yehoshua, and ceased when we went into golus, and will come back when
Moshiach will come. There are those who maintain, however, the Rambam would agree
that settling Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah of rabbinical origin.

The Chazon Ish, the Gerrer Rebbe, Avnei Nezer and the Pischei
Tshuvah in Shulchan Aruch agree with the Ramban and the Chareidim that there is
an obligatory mitzvah from the Torah today. Theirs is the majority view of the latter-day
poskim.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is a mitzvah today, but only
of a voluntary, not obligatory nature. He compared yishuv ha’aretz to
tzitzis
, which is also a voluntary mitzvah. (One doesn’t have to wear a four-cornered
garment, but if one chooses to, he needs tzitzis.) But how would we look
at a person who doesn’t wear tzitzis because it’s only a voluntary mitzvah?
Obviously, such a person is not a yirei shamayim. He’s not a person who’s
looking for opportunities to do mitzvos. The gemora says that in a time of anger
one is punished for avoiding a voluntary mitzvah.

But even if there is a doubt about the mitzvah does that mean
it should be dismissed? How much money is spent, how much time is spent on acquiring
a kosher mezuzah, written with every hiddur, in careful fulfillment of all
the shitos? In normal everyday mitzvos, we take care to be mehadrin min
hamehadrin
, to be yotzei all the shitos, to take all the halachic
opinions into consideration. Yet, we don’t find the same attitude when it comes
to yishuv ha’aretz. There are people who build their sukkos using only wooden
pegs, just to fulfill the shita of the Chazon Ish, which nobody else holds
like. The same Chazon Ish says it’s a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael.

There are, of course, factors that may exempt a person from
yishuv ha’aretz. One factor is parnassah. Will you be in a situation
of financial crunch, in which you will not be able to survive? Secondly, will you
be able to survive religiously? Will your Torah stature be enhanced or diminished
by living in Eretz Yisrael? Thirdly, safety. Are you placing yourself in danger?

Before continuing, it is important to note that these criteria
are relevant only to those living outside the Land. Once you’re living here, you
can never leave permanently, even for parnassah, Torah study, shidduchim,
or other valid reasons. The heteirim are at most temporary. One must always
have in mind to return.

To be continued…