Why should we specifically settle Israel?

In Parshat Masei (Bamidbar33:53) we are commanded: “Drive out the inhabitants of the land and settle in it, because I have given this land to you to possess.”

Ramban (Nachmanides) believes that it is a positive commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel and inherit it. Why? Because God gave it to them and they should not reject the inheritance of God. Thus if the thought occurs to them to go and conquer the land of Shinar or the land of Assyria or any other country and to settle therein, they are thereby transgressing the commandment of God.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that Ramban’s reasoning does not mention that the obligation to settle the Land is because it is a good land, better than the desolate lands of the other nations. Rather, because the Land was given to the Jewish people “and they should not reject the inheritance of God.”

Nehama Leibowitz adds: If you check Sefer Breisheet, you will not find the good properties of the Land or the concept of “a land flowing with milk and honey” mentioned at all to our forefathers. Avraham was not brought to the land to “eat from the fruits and be satisfied from all of the goodness.” Rather, all three of our forefathers encountered a famine during the time that they lived in the Land. The Patriarch’s loyalty to the Land was tested. Avraham left the Land during the famine but learned his lesson when he went down to Egypt and immediately came back. Yitzchak was not allowed to leave, even when there was a famine. The reason: “For unto you, and unto your seed, I will give all these lands.”

Nehama Leibowitz continues, God determines the boundaries of the nations. God allotted Israel its place in the world just the same as He did for the other nations. However, the Jewish people are aware that God granted the Land to them. This is not a matter of history but involves a religious mission, a moral obligation, the responsibility to observe a particular way of life in the Land.

Israel was the Land given to the Jewish people and we are therefore commanded to settle it. Everything else- the delicious fruits, the beautiful scenery etc. is a bonus. This is our gift from God. As the popular song by Ehud Manor goes, “Ein li eretz acheret”, I have no other land, even if my earth is burning.” As we have been watching the fields next to the Gaza strip set on fire by kites from Gaza, that song resonates with us now more than ever. May we see the end to the fires and return to the days when kites were used for fun and not for war.