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Torah Attitude: Parashas Masei: Gaza, to live or to leave?

Summary

At the end of the exile, prior to the coming of Moshiach, no one will feel safe anywhere in the world. In Israel the population is divided, for and against disengagement. There is no contemporary issue or question that we can not find an answer to in our Holy Torah. In this week's Torah portion, G'd defines the borders of the land of Canaan which the Jewish people were about to enter. It is not sufficient to drive the inhabitants out physically; rather, it is also necessary to drive out their beliefs and lifestyle. The mitzvah of dwelling in the land of Israel weighs as much as all the other mitzvot in the Torah. The Rebbe of Sochatzov shows clearly that only if one can live in the land in peace does the mitzvah to dwell in the land apply. Abraham had made a covenant promising not to harm any of Avimelech's offspring for four generations. The land of the Philistines will only be possessed in the final redemption through the Moshiach. If giving up part of the land will save Jewish blood, then we really have no choice.

Not feel safe

The three weeks from the Fast Day of the 17th of Tammuz culminating with the Fast Day of Tisha B'Av is a time of mourning. On the 17th of Tammuz the Romans breached the walls in Jerusalem on the way to destroy the Second Temple. On the 9th of Av both Temples were destroyed. This period is a time for reflection on our long and bitter exile. This year, with the forthcoming disengagement plan and the recent bombings in London, brings home the reality of the fact that the Jewish people are still in exile, with all its dire consequences for us and the world around us. What the episode of 9/11 did to the citizens of the United States, the recent episode of 7/7 has done to the citizens of Europe. How true are the words given over in the name of Rav Saadia Gaon that at the end of the exile, prior to the coming of Moshiach, no one will feel safe anywhere in the world.

Answer in our Torah

The Jews of Europe are wondering where they shall turn. There is no country in the world that does not have a large Muslim population and influence. Danger lurks in every corner of the world. It seems clear that we are experiencing what is described as the exile under the children of Ishmael, which will be the last of all exiles. In Israel the population is divided, for and against disengagement. We must go in the footsteps of the Chofetz Chaim who used to say that there is no contemporary issue or question that we can not find an answer to in our Holy Torah.

The borders

In this week's Torah portion, G'd defines the borders of the land of Canaan which the Jewish people were about to enter. It says (Bamidbar 34:2): "This is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance " Regarding the southern and western borders it says (ibid 34:3-6): "And the southern border shall be from the edge of the Dead Sea till the stream of Egypt and it shall end by the Sea. And the western border it shall be the Great Sea [Mediterranean]."

Drive out beliefs and lifestyle

It seems clear that the Gaza Strip falls within the borders of the land of Israel. Just prior to this G'd instructs Moses to tell the Jews (ibid 33:52-53) "You shall drive out all the inhabitants and you shall destroy all of their prostration stones and you shall drive them out of the land and you shall dwell in it." The double command of driving the inhabitants out is to explain the purpose of exiling the inhabitants. It is not sufficient to drive them out physically; rather, it is also necessary to drive out their beliefs and lifestyle. As it says (Vayikra 18:3) "The deeds of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan you may not do."

Dwelling in Israel

Rashi explains that the Torah here informs us that only after ridding the land of Canaan of its prior inhabitants will the Jews be able to settle there. However, the Ramban writes that this is a positive command where the Torah instructs us to settle in the land of Israel. In the Ramban's annotations on the Rambam's Book of Mitzvot he further elaborates that this is a command for all generations, even during the period of exile. He concludes with a quote from Sifri (Devarim 12:31). The Sifri relates how some of our great sages traveled to the Diaspora but when they arrived at their destination they decided to return and said, "The mitzvah of dwelling in the land of Israel weighs as much as all the other mitzvot in the Torah."

Only applies if live in peace

The Rebbe of Sochatzov (Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 454) explains that the fact that the Rambam does not include this mitzvah in his count of the 613 mitzvot does not necessarily mean that the Rambam does not consider this act to be a mitzvah. As the Vilna Gaon explains, there are a lot more than 613 mitzvot in the Torah. The number 613 is a description of basic commandments, many of which include many other commandments. The Rebbe goes through a lengthy discussion of the details relating to this mitzvah and shows clearly that only if one can live in the land in peace does this mitzvah apply. He further elaborates that a person who does not live in accordance with Torah and fulfill the mitzvot may endanger himself by moving there. As we find after the sin of the spies that although the Jewish people are were eager to rectify their mistake, G'd told Moses to tell them not to enter the land. Those who nevertheless tried to enter were killed by their enemies (see Bamidbar 14:40-45). Finally, he explains that as long as the Jewish nation is in a status of exile we may not revolt against the nations of the world and take land by force. As the Talmud (Ketuboth 111a) says G'd made three adjurations, two addressed to the Jewish nation and one to the nations of the world. The Jews are adjured not to take the land of Israel by force and not to rebel against the nations of the world. On the other hand, the gentiles were adjured not to oppress the Jews excessively.

Abraham and Avimelech

It is important to note that the Gaza Strip was not settled when the Jews entered after wandering 40 years in the desert. At the time when they returned from the Babylonian Exile it was not even conquered. The first Jews who lived in the Gaza were in the time of the Chashmonaim. In the Book of Judges (1:18-21) it says that the Tribe of Judah conquered Gaza and its surroundings and drove out the inhabitants of the mountain but not of the valley. Even the inhabitants of Jerusalem were not driven out by the Tribe of Benjamin until the reign of King David. Rashi explains that these were the descendants of Avimelech, the King of the Philistines, who lived in Gaza. Abraham had made a covenant promising not to harm any of Avimelech's offspring for four generations (see Bereishis 21:23). Since his great-grandson was still alive at that point they had to honour Abraham's oath.

Land of the Philistines

In the year 5357 (1497) Rabbi Yosef of Triani (Maharit 1:47) wrote that although the Gaza falls within the borders of the land of Israel, nevertheless the one who dwells there does not fulfill the commandment of living in the land of Israel. This can only be fulfilled living within the boundaries conquered by our ancestors when they came back from the Babylonian Exile. The Torah relates (Bereishis 26:23) the incidents that happened to Isaac when his servants were digging wells for water. In the land of the Philistines, there were constant arguments and quarrels and only when he moved further north was he able to dig a well and live in peace. This was similar to what had happened to his father Abraham (see ibid 21:31). In the early commentary of Rav David Kimchi, known as the Radak, he points out that this was a sign that G'd would give this part of the land to their descendants; however, the land of the Philistines although it is a part of the land of Israel, would not easily be possessed by their descendants. This will only happen in the final redemption through the Moshiach, as is the case with the other three parts of the land known as the Keini, Knizi, and Kadononi (see Bereishis 15:109).

Save Jewish blood

The issue at hand regarding the disengagement plan is not so much the question of fulfilling the mitzvah of settling in the land of Israel. Even if someone would argue that this mitzvah applies in the Gaza it is like all other mitzvot that we should live by and not die for. There are only three mitzvot for which we are obligated to sacrifice our life for: not to commit murder, adultery or idol worship. As quoted above, our sages in the Sifri noted that this commandment weighs as much as all other commandments. Similar statements are found about other mitzvot including the wearing of tzitzis. No one would suggest that one should endanger one's life to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis. The real issue at hand is the safety of the people living in the land of Israel. This is a very serious question and only people who are informed about all the details and have an understanding of the total situation can decide upon this. It is our hope and prayer that those in charge will merit to make the right decision for the safety of the inhabitants of Israel. As painful and sad as it may be, if giving up part of the land will save Jewish blood, then we really have no choice, as the Ponievitch Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Elazar Schach said 26 years ago. He further added that peace in Israel will affect not only the safety of Jews living there; rather everyone all over the world will be affected by it.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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