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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 even divide Jerusalem for the sake of 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. There are two aspects of security: 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 again focused on Israel. Israel is under tremendous pressure as the United States and the European Union push for further concessions to the Palestinians. The population in Israel is deeply divided. It is an extremely volatile situation with a lot of uncertainty in many circles. What is the right thing to do? No one knows what the future will bring, whether more 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 seems willing to sign a peace treaty, there are plenty others who have clearly shown that they 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 and to divide Jerusalem? Can Israel allow themselves to be isolated from the other nations of the world including their friends and allies?
As always we turn to our Holy Torah for guidance and clarity. Especially as our only right to the Land of Israel is based on G'd's promise to our Patriarchs as written in the Torah. G'd said to Abraham, (Bereishis 12:7) "To your offspring I will give this land " This promise is repeated time and again throughout the Torah. G'd, Who promised us the Holy Land, also provided express conditions for living there in peace. We may not neglect the Torah's instructions about the special nature of this Land. It is different than any other land or country in the world, as it says in this week's 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." This seems to contradict what King David says in Tehillim (115:15): "The heavens belong to G'd but the earth is given to mankind." The Sforno explains that King David 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 supervision. 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."
In the beginning of his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 1:1) Rashi cites Rabbi Yitzhak who states that the Torah is primarily a book of laws and instructions. If so, why does the Torah start with a description of the creation? Only in Shemos do we find detailed instructions and laws. So what is the significance of the Book of Bereishis? Rabbi Yitzhak answers 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. Therefore, if one day the nations of the world will accuse the Jewish people of robbing the land from the seven nations who lived there before them, they have a ready answer: "The whole world belongs to G'd. He created it and gives it to whomever he sees fit. He gave it to them [the Seven Nations] and now He gave it to us." The inhabitants of any other country in the world can rightfully claim that once the land was given to them, no one else has the right to take it away from them. But 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.
In His great mercy, G'd has provided us with clear instructions how to merit and see the blessings of this special country. As it 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 how the Torah repeats to live in the Land in security. The Sforno (ibid) explains that the Torah is referring to two aspects of security. The first time G'd promises that if we fulfill His laws and decrees we will be allowed to dwell in the Land and not be exiled. The second promise refers to financial security. The Land will provide us with all our necessities and we will not need to travel abroad to import food to support us.
The Meshech Chochma shares a deeper insight with us. It is no secret that the majority of the world's population hates us and has strong animosity against the Jewish people. There are two reasons for this. First of all they hate our religion because it is different than all the other religions of the world. Secondly, they get jealous when we are successful and become affluent. In the first verse, G'd promises us that if we keep His laws, we will dwell in the Land of Israel secure from our enemies. In the second one, 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." The Sforno explains that the produce will be so plentiful that there will be a large export going out 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." And 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 Sefer Shoftim, the Book of Judges, it describes how the Jewish people lived in prosperity and peace when they abided by the laws of the Torah. But as soon as they strayed from observing the commandments, their enemies would attack and wreak havoc in the Holy Land. Later, 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 Jewish people to repent and return to the ways of the Torah. Eventually, when the "measure" of their transgressions was full, G'd exiled the ten tribes. Later G'd decided to allow the Babylonians to 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 where they merited to rebuild the Temple. However, times were not always good. Many strayed away from the path of the Torah, and eventually after 420 years, the Second Temple was destroyed. And this time they 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 during the horrendous Holocaust. 6,000,000 of our brothers and sisters were brutally killed, and even those who survived came out broken in body and spirit. Who would have thought that, after all that we had been through, we would be able to rebuild our nation, not to mention all the Torah institutions both in the Land of our forefathers and worldwide. Almost all nations in the world displayed such hatred and animosity against us during the Holocaust. First and foremost we suffered the atrocities of the Germans. But we also experienced an unbelievable apathy of the Allied Forces who did not lift a finger to try and save one Jewish soul. Things did not look much better in "Palestine" during the mandate of the British. It is difficult to understand how 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 that let His Beloved Children back into His special domain, the Land of Israel. After our long history of fortune and suffering, we clearly see what brings us success and what causes our downfall. As the Ramban writes at the end of Parashas Bo (Shemos 13:16), 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 still endanger themselves and their neighbours around them. Since we 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 nothing but an open miracle how the little lamb of Israel has been able to stand up against the hungry wolves of its Arabic neighbours.
Make a difference
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 future. With every commandment we fulfill and every good deed we do, 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 Jews all over the world will turn to the words of the Torah and understand that this is the only way will we find true peace for the Land, in general, and for Jerusalem, in particular.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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