Parshas Bechukosai: Eretz Yisrael & Am Yisrael

This Shabbos is Shabbos Chazak and with this week’s double parshios, Behar-Bechukosai, we once again conclude Sefer Vayikra.  In Bechukosai, we read of the terrible klalos (curses) that will befall the nation should it not go in the ways of Hashem.  However, in the midst of the listing of the curses, the pasuk tells us:

וַהֲשִׁמֹּתִי אֲנִי, אֶתהָאָרֶץ; וְשָׁמְמוּ עָלֶיהָ אֹיְבֵיכֶם, הַיֹּשְׁבִים בָּהּand I will lay the Land desolate, and your enemies who dwell in her will find desolation (Vayikra 26:32).  What does this mean?  Rashi explains:

והשמתי אני את הארץ. זוֹ מִדָּה טוֹבָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁלֹּא יִמְצְאוּ הָאֹיְבִים נַחַת רוּחַ בְּאַרְצָם, שֶׁתְּהֵא שׁוֹמְמָה מִיּוֹשְׁבֶיהָand I will lay the Land desolate: this is a good measure (good tidings) for Israel, for the enemies who dwell in their Land (the Land of Israel) will not find contentment or fulfillment in her (when Israel is not in her Land), for she (the Land) will remain desolate of her inhabitants (Rashi, ibid).

What is Rashi teaching us?  And is this another one of the klalos – that our beloved, holy Land will remain desolate throughout the millennia of our exile – or is this a veiled bracha, good tidings and comfort for an exiled nation?

In a most moving and beautiful piece, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l, the Rav, teaches: “The Land of Israel cannot be built by just any people or group.  Only the Jewish people possess the capacity to transform it into a settled Land and to make the desolate waste bloom.  This divine promise became a miraculous fact in the history of the Land of Israel during various periods.  We must not forget, even for a moment, that the Land of Israel drew the nations of the world – Christians and Muslim alike – like a magnet.  The medieval Crusades were undertaken for the purpose of conquering the Land of Israel and colonizing it with a Christian population.  All of the efforts of the Crusaders were in vain, and they did not take root in the land.  Even the Muslims, who were already in the land, did not succeed in colonizing it properly.

“Those who exile the Jewish people and replace them as residents of Eretz Yisrael (E”Y) will reside in a desolate land.  They will starve because the Land will not give of itself to them.  Our enemies drove our ancestors out of Jerusalem.  They set fire to it and destroyed the BHM”K. But they never colonized or populated it.  Mt. Zion was desolate for a very long time, and despite many attempts, not a single nation, not one other people, ever succeeded in establishing a state in E”Y.  Many peoples were eager and ready to colonize it.  It is a land considered holy by Muslims and Christians.  It was occupied by many powers – by Rome, later by Byzantium, by the Muslims, by the Crusaders, and then by the Muslims again.  It changed hands so many times, but no one developed E”Y agriculturally, industrially, or scientifically.

“In the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, entire continents and huge stretches of land like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were colonized and settled by the British.  They took desert country, jungle, and converted it into blossoming gardens.  They brought civilization to pagans.  Yet the same British could not colonize E”Y.  It is a special land, an eretz chemdah.  With the exception of a small colony here and there, no one was able to colonize it on a grand scale.  E”Y remained a desolate land.

“Contrast this to the flourishing of the yishuv in E”Y.  It is a very young yishuv, in existence only since the turn of the 20th century.  And yet see what its members have accomplished!  Apparently there is a sense of loyalty on the part of the land that she will never betray her people, she will not give herself up to strangers or to conquerors.  She will save herself only for the people to whom E”Y belongs” (Chumash Masores Ha’Rav, Vayikra, p.229-231, See also Fate & Destiny, p.37-38).

In his speech delivered to the yeshiva on Yom Ha’atzmaut 5760, fifty-two years after the establishment of the State, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed (Rosh Yeshiva of Bet El Yeshiva) stated: “We have merited what many generations did not merit: we are able to live in E”Y.  Moshe and Aharon were not allowed to enter the Land, yet we are here.  The great Talmudic Sages of Bavel also did not merit it, nor, in later generations, did the Geonim, Rishonim, or the Achronim – and yet we have been granted the great privilege of returning to E”Y from where we were exiled two millennia ago.  There were some Torah giants who did merit reaching E”Y, but under very difficult conditions.  The Ramban ascended to the Land towards the end of his life, but found it desolate.  As he wrote, the most sacred parts of the Land were the most wasted; J’lem, home to the Holy Temple, was more desolate than anywhere else in the Holy Land!

“Today, we have the great honor and joy of living here, not under foreign rule, but as a free nation, sovereign in E”Y.  How fortunate is the generation that has merited all this!  It is true that we have paid a very high price for returning to the sanctity of E”Y, for conquering, liberating and maintaining it.  More than 19,000 (this speech was delivered 23 years ago; since then, R”L, this number has tragically risen) soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in military campaigns and terror attacks, and each and every casualty is an entire world… E”Y was acquired with spilled blood; the land was redeemed and restored to its children, to its true owners, by the self-sacrifice of the soldiers and citizens of Israel…

“The glowing light of Mashiach will one day rise up to become a great flame, a tremendous light stemming from the light of the Resurrection of the dead, the light of eternity.  That is why this day is one of such great joy.  It marks 52 years of our independence, twice 26, the numerical value of the ineffable Name of G-d, doubling and multiplying the complete revelation of G-d’s Name in the world” (This is the Day, Me’Avnei HaMakom, Beit El Yeshiva, p.160-161).

Let us always remember the promise of Hashem to the Avos, as He declared to Avraham: כִּי אֶתכָּלהָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁראַתָּה רֹאֶה, לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, עַדעוֹלָםFor this entire Land that you see, to you and to your seed I will give it, forever (Bereishis 13:15).  She is a faithful Land; she will save herself for the people to whom She belongs”… May we merit the complete and final redemption and ingathering of the exiles, may it be immediate and in our days.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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