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Weren't the Jews in the wilderness told to conquer Eretz Yisroel?


Dear Rabbi,

In this weeks Parsha, “Parshas Shlach" it is written that a righteous Jew may live in Eretz Yisroel. Is he permitted to defend it against those who wish to physically destroy it or must he rely on others?

Yosef Meir

Dear Yosef Meir,

Not only were the Jews in our Parsha permitted to live in Eretz Yisroel, they were commanded to do so. It was because they did not trust in Hashem and were afraid to carry out the conquest that they were punished with forty years in the wilderness. At the end of the forty years they were commanded again to enter the land and conquer it.

There is a dispute between the Rishonim as to whether the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel is one of the 613 mitzvos or was just said for that generation. The Ramban holds that it is one of the 613 and it applies in all generations. The Rambam does not count it as a mitzvah, but all agree that there are great spiritual benefits to living in Eretz Yisroel.

Nowadays, during Exile, even according to the Ramban there is no obligation on all Jews to go and live in Eretz Yisroel, because if they were to do so it would be violating the Three Oaths. The Oaths are:

1) The Jewish people may not go up en masse to take over Eretz Yisroel.
2) They may not fight with the nations of the world.
3) They may not attempt to force an end to the exile and bring the redemption on their own. (Kesubos 111a.)

Individual Jews may live in Eretz Yisroel, but not as part of any organized effort to control the land. When the Ramban says the mitzvah applies in all generations, he means that one who lives there fulfills this mitzvah, not that there is an obligation to go and live there. (See Igros Moshe Even Hoezer 1:102.)

Now we come to your question: it is forbidden to fight against gentiles who wish to control Eretz Yisroel. It was forbidden for the Jews to take it away from the gentiles in the first place. Our refusal to fight in the Israeli army is not because we want to rely on others, but because we object on principle to any Jewish control over the land, even if all the Jews were religiously observant.

It is true that the gentiles who wish to control Eretz Yisroel might pose a physical threat to the Jewish population. The solution is for us to find safer places to live, not to remain there and fight them, which is a serious violation of Jewish law.