Masei 5781: Mourning – And Yearning – for the Promised Land

This Shabbos we usher in Chodesh Av and the most mournful Nine Days on the Jewish calendar.  Once again, in 5781, almost two thousand years after churban Bayis Sheni (destruction of the Second Temple) by the Romans, we are mourning the destruction of the Beis Ha’Mikdash, Tzion and Yerushalayim and for the galus (exile) of our nation from our homeland.  Perhaps it is not for naught that it is on this Shabbos – which begins the Nine Days – that we read Parshas Masei, and the command to inhabit and settle Eretz Yisrael.  As we mourn for our exile, the Torah reminds of where we truly belong.  

According to the word of G-d, Moshe instructs the Bnei Yisrael that when they cross the Yarden River into the land of Canaan, they are to drive out of all the inhabitants of the Land, destroy all their temples and molten idols, and demolish their high places; וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶתהָאָרֶץ, וִישַׁבְתֶּםבָּהּ  כִּי לָכֶם נָתַתִּי אֶתהָאָרֶץ, לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ, and then you shall possess the land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to occupy it (Bamidbar 33:51-53).  

Rashi (to v.53) teaches that only if we possess the land, by driving out its inhabitants, will we be able to dwell securely in the Land.  And if we do not drive them out: וְהָיָה אֲשֶׁר תּוֹתִירוּ מֵהֶם לְשִׂכִּים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם וְלִצְנִינִם בְּצִדֵּיכֶם; וְצָרְרוּ אֶתְכֶם עַלהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ, those whom you leave over will be as spikes in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harass you in the land in which you dwell (33:55).  

On these pasukim, and mitzvos delineated therein, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, powerfully teaches, “To assert that the Land of Israel is central to halacha is as obvious as stating that the Torah contains six hundred and thirteen commandments… 

“Opinions have been expressed that living outside Israel was a better option for Orthodox Jews than living in Israel, because while Israel was allegedly rife with heretics, outside Israel one could create insular ghettoes and eliminate outside influences.  Yet with all the ghettoes that Jews have created, from Brooklyn to Johannesburg to Gateshead, none was holier than the Levite camp during the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn, the camp where Moshe himself lived.  Despite the sanctity of this encampment, Moshe, the most preeminent of prophets, begged G-d: אֶעְבְּרָהנָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶתהָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, please let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Yarden (Devarim 3:25).  Moshe knew that even the holiness of the Levite camp itself did not approach that of the Land of Israel. And if Moshe himself made such a request, then this same request should be made by all the purported saints of today who minimize the significance of living in the Land of Israel. 

Halacha has decreed that a state of permanent impurity pertains to all land outside of Israel, equivalent to the impurity associated with a dead body, and that even the air space above these lands is thus contaminated (Shabbos 15b).  On what basis could one even begin to engage in such idle speculation, to minimize the sanctity of the Land of Israel?

“… The Ramban (Sefer HaMitzvos, additions to mitzvos aseh, no.4) writes: ‘For we are enjoined to possess the land which G-d gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and not forsake it in the hands of others of the peoples, or in desolation.’

“The Biblical phrase from which the mitzvah is derived, וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶתהָאָרֶץ, וִישַׁבְתֶּםבָּהּ, and you shall possess the land and settle in it, contains dual imperatives: ‘settle’ means colonization of the land, while ‘possess’ means governing and controlling the land.  The mitzvah of settling the land is not limited to colonization.  It requires conquering and governing as well – maintaining political power and sovereignty…

“The mitzvah to settle in Eretz Yisrael is one of the mitzvos that has not found its rightful place in Jewish eyes.  I am not speaking of the Middle Ages, when traveling to Eretz Yisrael and remaining there was hazardous, as stated by Tosafos (Kesubos 110b): ‘It is not acted upon nowadays because of the dangers of the journey.’  In modern times, Jews have failed to observe this mitzvah properly… The State of Israel is the instrument for the realization of ‘possessing the land’ (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bamidbar, p.264-265).  

On the 9th of Av we will yet again sit on the floor and mourn for the destruction of the Land and our exile from her.  Yet perhaps we must ponder a harsh truth: have we become so comfortable here that we forget where our Home is?  

גָּלְתָה יְהוּדָה מֵעֹנִי, וּמֵרֹב עֲבֹדָההִיא יָשְׁבָה בַגּוֹיִם, לֹא מָצְאָה מָנוֹחַ; כָּלרֹדְפֶיהָ הִשִּׂיגוּהָ, בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים, Yehuda went into exile because of affliction and great servitude; she settled among the nations, [and] found no rest; all her pursuers overtook her between the boundaries; עַלאֵלֶּה אֲנִי בוֹכִיָּה, עֵינִי עֵינִי יֹרְדָה מַּיִםכִּירָחַק מִמֶּנִּי מְנַחֵם, מֵשִׁיב נַפְשִׁי; הָיוּ בָנַי שׁוֹמֵמִים, כִּי גָבַר אוֹיֵב, For these things I weep; my eye, yea my eye, sheds tears, for the comforter to restore my soul is removed from me; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed (Eichah 1:3, 16).

In 1920, R’ Avraham Yitzchak Ha’Kohen Kook zt’l taught, “The Gemara teaches (Taanis 30b): ‘Anyone who mourns over Jerusalem will merit to see her joy.’  Shouldn’t it say ‘will merit to see its rebuilding?’  After all, the main goal is to rebuild Jerusalem.  The answer is that when Jerusalem is being rebuilt, everyone will see what is happening.  However, only those who mourned over it will experience feelings of joy” (An Angel Among Men, p.271).  

May we finally merit the ultimate redemption, the end to our long and bitter exile, and the rebuilding of Tzion and Yerushalayim speedily and in our days.  And indeed, may we merit to see, not only her rebuilding, but also her joy.

בברכת בשורות טובות, חודש טוב ושבת שלום, 

Michal

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