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Then the land will rest… it will be appeased… all its years of desolation… for its not resting in the sabbatical years when you dwelled on it (26:34-35).
As the Talmud puts it, exile results from Israel's failure to observe the commandment of shmitta - the sabbatical year that the land must rest from being cultivated (25:1-7). If people do not let the land rest in their presence, it will rest in their absence (Shabbat 33a). Thus the Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years (c.f. Ramban to 26:16, 43), during which time the land made up for the rest of which it had been deprived.
It is striking, however, that it is the land that is punished directly and the people who are punished indirectly. As if the land itself is to blame for being forcibly laid desolate at the hands of the enemy.
The implications of the land being made to rot for the sins of the people raises the millennia-old fundamental perplexity of why innocent third-parties suffer - most recently in the Nazi Holocaust. The following lines are not to suggest an answer, but an approach, by which the reader might build a framework towards understanding.
The human being is created in the image of G-d (Gen. 1:27). Today Man - and only Man; no other species - is learning to come to terms with the phenomenal complexity of planet Earth, the knowledge and understanding of what it contains on different scales, and that it is a tiny spot in a myriad of space spanning thousand of light years. So Mankind may be viewed as being at the summit of the Creation.
The Israelites were given an opportunity and a legacy to climb even higher. That is to have experienced contact with the Creator in different forms. Those privileged to stand at Mount Sinai experienced the Giving of the Torah - the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Those in succeeding generations - the present one very much included, have the duty (c.f. Deut 6:7) to tap into that source through the mitzvah of regular Torah study. Thus the Israelite nation has not only the ability to view and understand the Creation, but to access the Creator and His rules on which it runs. As the Zohar puts it, the Almighty looked into the Torah and created the world. In other words, the principles of the Torah are the key to the spiritual foundations and dimensions of how the world operates.
Those privileged to have been disclosed those principles have the status of being part of 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (Ex. 19:6). That is not a mere privilege conveyed on the Israelites. It is a specific, pivotal, and vital role within the Creation which is assigned to them - by dint of their acceptance of the Torah: 'all that G-d instructs we will do' (Ex. 19:8). That niche within the Creation must be filled, in order for the rest of the Creation to function harmoniously. Why that is, is known only to G-d: 'That which is hidden is for G-d' (Deut 29:28). What was being disclosed to the Israelites is that if the Israelite did not carry out their very specific function they took on themselves ordained in the Torah, the Creation itself would suffer - it would ultimately implode and disintegrate.
So the Holy Land would be barren and unyielding during the exile. The Land was created to work in harmony with the Israelites living according to their role in the Creation (c.f. 26:3-6). If the Israelites create discord, the Torah teaches, the land ultimately suffers. It is not the land that has sinned, it is a product of its being the object of disharmony in the Creation caused by the Israelites having strayed from their exalted function in the Creation - indeed, holding the Creation together.
This idea might be applied to the Nazi Holocaust. In wishing to be a people and ultimately a nation like all other nations, Jews hoped to be accepted by the host societies. By formally renouncing Judaism, the erring Jew hoped to finally find himself part of an economically and technologically-advancing society.
But the world was not created to operate along those lines. The defined role of the Jewish people is within the framework of the Torah and its accompanying laws and principles. This was being abandoned on an unprecedented scale as the nineteenth century progressed. Thus the Creation created space for the superimposing of secular, biologically-based anti-Semitism onto the ancient popular Christian-based antipathies in the latter part of the 1800s. So renouncing Judaism did not help. And populations were in the process debasing themselves, as secular anti-Semitism became an increasingly important, and increasingly deadly part of the 'isms' characterising the earlier decades of the early twentieth century. Thus 'isms' did not merely seek to debase the Jews, but were undermining the very societies that adopted them and perpetrated them.
Thus, it may be argued, the Holocaust was not directly umipnei chataeinu - because of our sins. It was the culmination of a many-centuries domino-effect of the Jews aspiring to a different framework to what was theirs. One that neither fitted them, nor the Creation as a whole. And those who were murdered were a symptom and indeed a victim of the implosion of Mankind and indeed, unless arrested, the Creation itself…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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