By Rabbi Johnny Solomon

This Shabbat in Israel we read Parshat Massei which contains the instruction to ‘וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וִישַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ כִּי לָכֶם נָתַתִּי אֶת־הָאָרֶץ לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ – take possession of the land and settle in it, for to you have I given the land to possess it’ (Bemidbar 33:53), and according to numerous commentaries – most notably the Ramban (see commentary to Torah; Mitzvat Asseh 4 in his addendum to Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot) – this verse informs us of our biblical duty to live in the land of Israel.

It is noteworthy that Ramban did not merely express these sentiments in words. Instead, at age 72, he translated his words into actions by immigrating to the Land of Israel, and though the land was in a state of ruin, his tremendous efforts led to the rebuilding of the Jewish community in Yerushalayim.

Yet notwithstanding the position of the Ramban, not every halakhic authority takes the same view, with some asserting that residency in the land is a mitzvah for those living there, but not that there is a requirement to move here. Yet, even such a position should not be misconstrued.

Rabbi Doron Perez (‘Leading the Way’ p. 48) records a story of a person who was visiting Israel and who came to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to discuss the halakhic debate concerning the mitzvah of living in Israel. He mentioned his doubts while citing the opinions of those who hold a different view to the Ramban and he said to Rabbi Auerbach that the topic itself seems to be quite complex. Rabbi Auerbach responded to the man, “In truth, it does not really matter what kind of mitzvah it is, because one thing is clear; this is definitely the place that Hashem wants the Jewish people to live.”

What we learn from these two great leaders, the Ramban and R’ Auerbach, is that true leaders translate their words through their actions, and that great leaders are able to identify the core principles of Jewish law despite the complexities surrounding halakhic debates.

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