The Merit of Living in the Land of Israel

When Yaakov heard that his brother, Esav was coming to meet him accompanied by 400 men, Yaakov was frightened and distressed (Vayishlach 32:7-8).


What was Yaakov so worried about. After all, didn’t God tell him that He would protect him?


The Vilna Gaon explains the the mitzvoth of Brit Milah (circumcision) and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (settling the Land of Israel) were given to Avraham and passed on to the generations that came after him. As it says in Breisheet Raba: Yaakov said: All of these years, Esav has been living in the Land of Israel (while I haven’t been) so maybe he will defeat me because of the power of his observance of the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.


Rabbi Shmuel Mohlibar points out the famous midrash that Rashi brings down on the words in 32:5, “im Lavan garti”, “I lived with Lavan”- the gimatria, numerical value of garti is 613 (the amount of mitzvoth in the Torah), as if to say: “I lived with the wicked Lavan and yet I kept the mitzvoth and have not learned from his wicked deeds”. If Yaakov kept so many mitzvoth, why is he worried about Esav who only kept one mitzvah? The mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is so powerful that (even when observed by someone like Esav) it can equal all of the other mitzvoth put together. How much more so does God love when a Jewish person (who may not fully observe all of the other mitzvoth) lives in the Land of Israel. As it says in Yalkut Shimoni, Eicha: God said: “How I wish that the Jewish people would be in the land of Israel, even if they make it impure”.


There are many Israelis today who call themselves “chiloni”, “secular”. However, the term secular Israeli is really an oxymoron. If someone is living in the Land of Israel, they are observing the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yirael which may be equal to all of the other mitzvoth combined.