In Parshah Shoftim, we learn many of the mitzvot that the Jewish people are to observe in establishing a new society in the Land of Israel.
In introducing the mitzvah to appoint a king, the Torah says, “When you will come to the land that Hashem Your G-d gives to you, you shall inherit it and settle it …” (Devarim 17: 14). There are three elements to the commandment of settling the Land of Israel.
• Yeshivat haAretz — Dwelling in the Land of Israel. We are commanded to live in the land that Hashem has given us.
• Yishuv haAretz — Strengthening the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Technically, this aspect of the mitzvah can be done whether or not one is in the Land of Israel.
• Yerushat haAretz — Inheriting the Land of Israel. We are commanded to not only live in Israel, but to rule it. As the Ramban notes, we are forbidden both to leave the land in ruin or to give the land to others. We must be in charge and build it up. This is one of the reasons why the State of Israel has such deep religious significance. After nearly 2,000 years of exile, we are finally able to perform all aspects of this mitzvah.
It is significant to note that in this parshah, the Torah gives clear commandments for how the ideal Jewish society is to look in the Land of Israel. For example, we are to have a king. Yet the King may not be guided by his whims nor absorbed with his self interest. He is commanded to write two Torah scrolls, one which he will see at all times, to remind himself that he is to be a servant of Hashem (17:18-19). He is forbidden to enrich himself by having too much gold or too many horses (17:17-18).
Indeed, his time is to be spent either dealing with the needs of the nation or learning Torah. This is the kingship that we pray thrice daily be restored to us. In addition, we learn at the beginning of the parshah (16:18) that we must have officers and judges in every city that will administer the law. We are to pursue justice (16:20) by making sure that we have just courts of law, and we are to seek out these courts when there are disagreements.
We are to live our lives as individuals and as a nation according to the dictates of the Torah, and thus are to follow the instructions of the rabbinic judges who the Torah empowers to interpret the law (17:11). And, as we learn throughout the Torah, when we observe the mitzvot (both as individuals and as a nation), we are blessed with rewards in this world and the next. This includes living in peace and prosperity in the land that Hashem has given us.
In the Prayer for the State of Israel, we refer to Israel as “the beginning of the first flowering of our redemption.” As we pray for Hashem’s protection and guidance, we recognize that we are the recipients of the incredible gift of Jewish sovereignty in the land He has given us.
We also recognize in this and other prayers that though we have indeed come far, we still have far to travel on the road to our ultimate redemption. We still have not fully achieved, in the words of Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan, “the Land of Israel, for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.”
May we merit to see that dream fulfilled speedily and in our days.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy.