Photo Credit: Jewish Press

With this week’s double parsha, we have reached the end of the book of Bamidbar. The Torah here recounts the journeys and the sojourning in the desert for forty years. The Ramban explains that Moshe knew it would be necessary for future generations to hear of the many miracles that Hashem performed for the people while they wandered in the desert.

For those who had reached the fields of Moav on the eastern bank of the Jordan river, this was the only life they had known. The mann had fallen every day, the people were protected from wild animals and from the elements, and they encamped for extended periods of time at different locations chosen by Hashem and identified by the pillars of smoke and of fire. All of this was a testament to Hashem’s love for His people and of the great care He took of us, miraculously, for forty years in the wilderness. Now, at the end of Moshe’s life, Israel is preparing to enter the land they will inherit.


Hashem commands Moshe in the fields of Moav by the banks of the Yarden, across from Yericho, to tell the people of Israel that they are to inherit the land and to settle it. (Bamidbar 33:53). Rashi learns from this and the preceding verse that there is a duty incumbent upon Israel to dispossess the inhabitants of the land when they enter it. According to Rashi, it is the will of Hashem that the nations residing in the land of Israel when the people of Israel cross the river be banished and eradicated. They are corrupt and a corrupting influence with their idolatry and perverse morals. They are literally taking up the space that must be distributed between the tribes. According to this view, the essence of the command to inherit and settle the land is to remove the foreign nations and appropriate the land they had settled. Once this work has been done, then it will be possible for Israel to come into her own inheritance.

But the Ramban understands from this verse that there is a Biblical commandment to settle in the land and to inhabit it. He concurs with Rashi that there is a mitzvah to remove the prior inhabitants in order to achieve this. However, according to the Ramban there is a commandment incumbent upon every Jewish person to settle the land and to inhabit it. He counts this as one of the 613 mitzvot and notes that there is a Biblical commandment taught in the Gemara in Ketubot (110 and elsewhere) not to leave the land of Israel. There is also a prohibition inherent in the command against waging wars of conquest for the purpose of acquiring other lands.

According to the Ramban, Hashem is telling us here that we are obligated to settle the land He has designated for us – we must not leave nor seek to conquer other lands for the purpose of settling them. Hashem has granted us the land and it is His will that we inhabit it.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].