Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Mitzva to Live in Eretz Yisrael - Part III - Ramban’s Opinion (III) - From Eretz Hemdah I,1:1
[We began last week to bring Rav Yisraeli’s analysis of the Ramban’s classical position in the Sefer Hamitzvot. We left off with questions about the viability of the mitzva of kibush (usually translated as conquest) during the time of the exile, given that we are forbidden to use force. Secondly, since the mitzva to inhabit the Land is linked to that of kibush¸ we had difficulty understanding how that mitzva could apply in our times.]
It seems that the Ramban does mean that the mitzva of kibush applies fully in all generations, including at times of exile. However, we need to re-interpret what the Ramban means by kibush. It is not limited to conquest by battle or even political dominion over an area in a manner that precludes the authority of others over the Land. Rather, kibush includes controlling a place in regard to the ability to settle it, regardless of dominion. Precedent for this meaning exists in Chazal. The gemara says that many cities had kibush by those who entered after the exodus from Egypt but did not have kibush by those who came from the exile of Bavel (Chagiga 3b). We have discussed elsewhere that those who came from Bavel lacked full political control over Eretz Yisrael, but operated under the auspices of the Persian Empire. Yet, Chazal called Bnei Yisrael’s semi-autonomous state, in which they were able to settle the Land freely, kibush. We demonstrated that according to the Ramban, there is but a single mitzva in this regard, to have Eretz Yisrael in our hands as an inheritance (yerusha). Yet we find the term “yerusha” in reference to our control of the Land in the era of Ezra, despite the lack of Jewish dominion. During the First Temple, when there was no limitation on force, the mitzva was fulfilled through war. However, kibush can and has been fulfilled without force. What the Ramban does require is kinyan, a formal state of ownership. Only in that way can the Land be considered an inheritance, as the Torah requires. If one only rents land, he does not fulfill the mitzva.
Apparently, the Rashbash also understood the Ramban in this light. The Rashbash is bothered by the problem that the oath administered to Bnei Yisrael that they not to come to Eretz Yisrael by force seems to preclude the fulfillment of the mitzva in the time of exile. The Rashbash answers that in the time of exile, there is no public mitzva, but there is a mitzva on every individual Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael. It is unclear how this distinction solves the problem. After all, it is possible for all of Bnei Yisrael to come to Eretz Yisrael peacefully, with the nations’ permission. Furthermore, even if the mitzva is individual, since all have the same obligation, then practically Bnei Yisrael will have to come en masse in order that all will be able to fulfill their mitzva. So how does attributing the mitzva to the individual preclude a massive, forceful aliyah?
The Rashbash might mean as follows. The element of the mitzva that involves conquest is by its nature a public one, as an individual cannot wage war. In contrast, inhabitation is something that is done by individuals, whether they are few or many. The latter mitzva applies at the time of exile, whereas the former does not. However, the Rashbash implies that there is one mitzva that always applies, but it applies differently at different times. Therefore, his distinction is apparently as follows. Kibush at the time of the original entry into the Land was done by war, which is a public matter. Kibush in the time of exile is done by peaceful acquisition, which lends itself to individual initiatives. We see, as posited above, that kibush is possible without force.
In summary, the Ramban says that there is always a single mitzva to take hold of the Land as a national inheritance. At some times, this includes war and settlement. In the times of exile, it is accomplished by peaceful acquisition and settlement.
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