At a 1930 building dedication for the Jewish National Fund, the organization established to redeem land in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Kook spoke about the rights of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah proudly called out, “Open, O gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faithfulness may enter” (26:2). Isaiah mentioned two qualities of the Jewish people:
This attitude of fairness is expressed not only toward individuals. Also on the national level, in our relations with other peoples, we aspire to equitable dealings. Thus, even as we take the necessary steps toward reclaiming our land, we do so in a just and magnanimous fashion. As we return to the land of Israel, we eschew taking it by force, preferring to use peaceful methods, paying for property in full. We do this even though our rights to Eretz Yisrael were never abrogated.
Our eternal rights to the land of Israel have a firm basis in Jewish law. Rabbi Nachshon Gaon, the ninth-century head of the academy in Sura, wrote that any Jew can execute a legal transaction on the basis of land (kinyan agav karka). This is true, the scholar explained, even if one does not own any real estate, since every Jew possesses a personal inheritance of four cubits in Eretz Yisrael. From here we see that even during those times when the land of Israel was stolen from us, this theft did not void our legal rights to the Land.
While there is a rule that “land cannot be stolen” (Sukkah 30b), it is likely that the conquest of land in war may be considered a form of acquisition that nullifies prior ownership of property. However, that is only true for land that the owners have the right to buy and sell. With regard to the land of Israel, the Torah states, “The land cannot be permanently sold, for the land is Mine” (Lev. 25:23). The special bond between the land of Israel and the Jewish people is enforced by a Divine right that may never be annulled. No form of acquisition, whether by purchase or conquest, can cancel a Jew’s rights to his portion in the Land. And certainly nothing has the power to revoke the rights of the entire Jewish people to their holy inheritance.
However, since we are a “righteous nation,” we try as much as possible to ensure that our redemption of the land of Israel be through consent, reclaiming the land with monetary acquisitions. In this way, the nations of the world cannot lodge complaints against us. As the Midrash states,
“Regarding three places, the nations of the world cannot claim, ‘You are occupying stolen territory,’ since they were purchased at full price. They are the Machpeilah cave in Hebron, the field in Shechem, and Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.” (Breishit Rabbah 79:7)
As we return to our homeland and renew our ownership of the land, we exercise both our eternal rights of Divine inheritance and also the accepted means of monetary acquisition. The JNF, which has proudly taken upon itself this historic mission of redeeming the Land, works to fulfill Isaiah’s stirring call. May the gates of Eretz Yisrael open up, “so that the righteous nation that keeps faithfulness may enter!”
(Silver from the Land of Israel, pp. 188-190. Adapted from Mo'adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 413-415)