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Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar: Listening for peace
Can a small country stand up against world opinion that clearly demands Israel to give up part of the land for peace? Our only right as Jews to the Land of Israel is based on the promise given by G'd to our Patriarchs. The Land of Israel is the private domain of G'd Who determines who will live there and for how long. The two kinds of security are being allowed to dwell in the Land and being provided with all our needs. The Meshech Chochma shares with us a deeper insight. There will be produce so plentiful that there will be a large export of the produce of the land. The Torah warns to keep the commandments or the land will become desolate. When the Jews abided by the laws of the Torah, they lived in prosperity and peace. When we listen to G'd and follow His commandments we succeed and have peace. When we forsake His ways it has disastrous consequences for us.
Land for peace
The world's eyes are focused on Israel and especially the issue whether they are going to give parts of the land to the Palestinians or not. The population in Israel is deeply divided over this issue. It is an extremely volatile situation with a lot of uncertainty in many circles. What is the right thing to do? No one really knows what the future will bring, whether land for peace is given or not. How can one trust people who have sworn to kill and annihilate the Jewish people? Even if one Palestinian is willing to sign a peace treaty, what about all those who will not stop their terrorist acts until all the Jews are driven out of the Land of Israel. On the other hand, can a small country stand up against world opinion that clearly demands Israel to give up part of the land? Can Israel allow themselves to be isolated from the other nations of the world including their friends and allies?
Our only right as Jews to the Land of Israel is based on the promise given by G'd to our Patriarchs. As G'd said to Abraham, (Bereishis 12:7) "To your offspring I will give this land " This promise is repeated time and again throughout our Holy Torah. We dare not neglect the Torah's instructions about the special nature of this Land. The Holy Land is different than any other land or country in the world, as it says in this week's Torah portion, (Vayikra 25:23) "And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is Mine. You are staying and living with me." In Tehillim (115:15) it says, "The heavens belong to G'd but the earth is given to mankind." Explains the Sforno in his comment on this week's portion (ibid) that this refers to every other land in the world but the Holy Land. G'd has retained the Land of Israel for Himself and He looks after it with a special direct relationship. As it says, (Devarim 11:12) "A land that G'd seeks out constantly the eyes of G'd watches over it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
Rashi in the beginning of his commentary (Bereishis 1:1) cites Rabbi Yitzhak that the Torah is primarily a book of laws and instructions. So we may ask why was it necessary to begin with a description of the creation. Only in Shemos do we start getting the detailed instructions and laws. What is the importance of the First Book of Moses? He explains that the purpose of the Torah's detailed account of creation is to establish that G'd is the Creator and Sovereign of the whole world. If one day the nations of the world would accuse Israel of robbing the land from the seven nations who lived there before the Jews then they can answer: "The whole world belongs to G'd. He created it and gives it to whomever he sees fit. He gave it to them [Seven Nations] and now He gave it to us." Any other country in the world could have claimed that once the land was given to them, no one else had the right to take it away from them. The Land of Israel is different. It is the private domain of G'd. He and only He determines who will live there and for how long.
G'd has provided us with instructions in the Torah as to the conditions to merit to live and see the blessings of this special country. He clearly says in this week's portion (ibid 18-19) "And you shall fulfill My decrees and keep My ordinances And you will live in the land in security. And the land will give of its fruit and you will eat until you are satiated. And you will live in security in it." It seems strange that the Torah repeats itself about living in security in the Land. The Sforno (ibid) explains that the Torah is talking about two kinds of security. The first kind is referring to that in the merit of fulfilling the laws and decrees of G'd we will be allowed to dwell in the Land and not be exiled. The second kind is referring to that the Land will provide us with all our needs and we will not be required to travel abroad to import food to support us.
The Meshech Chochma shares with us a deeper insight. It is no secret that the majority of the world's population hates and has animosity against the Jewish people. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is a hatred against our religion that is different from all other religions in the world. Second, it stems from when we are successful and become affluent. G'd promises us in these two verse that if we keep His laws, we will dwell in the Land of Israel secure from our enemies. In the second verse, we are told that, even when we will prosper and have plenty, we will still be secure in our Homeland.
In next week's portion this same lesson is spelled out in even greater detail. As it says, (26:3-10) "If you follow My decrees and the land will give its produce You will live in security in your land and I will provide the land with peace And you will remove the old produce to make room for the new." As the Sforno explains this means that the produce will be so plentiful that there will be a large export of the produce of the land.
On the other hand, the Torah clearly warns us (ibid 14- 34) "And if you do not listen to Me and you are not performing all of these commandments And the land will not give its produce And I will bring upon you a sword And I will make the land desolate And I will scatter you among the nations." The same message we find in the second portion of the Shema where we are promised: (Devarim 11:13) "And it will be if you listen to My commandments And I will provide grass in your fields And you will eat and be satisfied." Again we are warned, "Be careful that you hearts shall not seduce you and you will stray and serve idols And He will restrain the Heaven And the land will not give its produce. And you will quickly vanish from the good land that G'd has given you."
Prosperity and peace
In the days of the Judges it is described that when the Jews abided by the laws of the Torah, they lived in prosperity and peace, and as soon as they strayed away from their observance of the commandments, their enemies would attack and wreak havoc in the Holy Land. During the reign of the Kings, we find different periods of more and less observance. G'd in His conduct of being slow to anger waited for the Jews to repent and return to the ways of the Torah. Eventually, when the measure of their transgressions was full, first G'd exiled the ten tribes that have not been heard of since. Later G'd decided to let the Babylonians destroy the First Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, the last two tribes were exiled into Babylonia. Seventy years later, G'd in His great mercy took pity and permitted these two tribes to return to the Holy Land and again the Jews merited building the Temple. However, times were not always good. Many Jews again strayed away from the path of the Torah and eventually after 420 years, the Second Temple was destroyed. And this time the Jews were scattered among all the nations of the world.
We have suffered for almost 2000 years at the hands of the world's nations, most recently 65 years ago during the horrendous Holocaust where 6,000,000 of our brothers and sisters were brutally killed and where even the thousands of survivors came out broken in body and spirit. Who would have thought that after all that we had been through we would have been able to rebuild our nation, not to mention return to the Land of our forefathers. Almost all nations in the world displayed such hatred and animosity against the Jews during the Holocaust. First and foremost were the atrocities of the Germans. But also the apathy of the Allied Forces who did not lift a finger to try to save one Jewish soul allowed the Germans to pursue their horrific conduct. Things did not look much better afterwards during the mandate of the British in the country then called Palestine. As unbelievable as it sounds, they simply closed the gates and ports of the Holy Land to the persecuted and downtrodden remnants of European Jewry.
Hand of G'd
It was clearly the Hand of G'd that brought about the change of heart to let His Beloved Children back into His special domain of the Land of Israel. After our long history of fortune and suffering, we clearly see what brings us success and what brings our downfall. When we listen to G'd and follow His commandments we succeed and have peace. When we forsake His ways it has disastrous consequences for us. It is most unfortunate that such large segments of our nation have not yet learned to appreciate this lesson and thereby endanger themselves and their neighbours around them. Since Jews have returned in large numbers to the Holy Land so much blood has been spilled and so many wars have been fought. Who knows how much of this could have been avoided if we, the Jewish nation would open our eyes and collectively embrace the Holy Words of the Torah and its commandments. It is only by the mercy of G'd that we have survived both amongst the nations of the world and lately in our Holy Homeland. It is an open miracle that the little lamb of Israel is able to stand up against the hungry wolves of its Arabic neighbours.
Every one of us can make a difference, whether we live in Israel or in the Diaspora. We all have a share in the Land and its destiny. With every commandment we fulfill and every good deed, we help in the defence and security of the Land. No doubt it is a special responsibility for those of us living in G'd's private domain; however, we are all connected and responsible for each other and for our Holy Land. We can only hope and pray that the leaders of our nations will turn to the words of the Torah and understand that only then do we find true peace for every part of the Land and all its inhabitants.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network