Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            The central topic of this week's Torah reading is the apportioning of the Land of Israel to the tribes.  It's not very exciting.  Unless you're a geography freak, this is not riveting material, but it's important.  And we do learn important lessons about fairness.  The portions are distributed based on two major factors:  the economic needs of the tribe (coast for seafarers, mountains for shepherds, etc.) and the size of the tribe.  All of this is, of course, significant, and helps to cement our connection to the Holy Land.  This last statement was meant for spiritual and not political reasons and was approved by this author.  However, this week I'd like to look at the issue of the portions of the twelve tribes from a different angle, based on an article I saw recently on the Chabad website.

            The article is called Life in Three Dimensions based on the writings of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994).  I'm thankful to the website, first of all, because it's a wonderful resource and for providing me with a topic for an article.   The essay is an analysis of a famous line from our morning services, which has also become the lyrics for many tunes.  Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, u'mah na'im goraleinu, u'mah yafa yerushateinu.  How fortunate are we that our portion is good, our lot is pleasant, and our inheritance is beautiful.  The Rebbe's main point was that these three phrases describe a three dimensional relationship with the Land of Israel.  First, there is a rational relationship based on the specific needs of each tribe.  Second, there is something supra-rational about this connection, based upon the lots which are cast in this week's parsha.  This hints at an arbitrary nature to each tribe's section.  Finally, the term inheritance hints at an intrinsic bond between the land and the Jew which spans generations.  There is a lot more to the article, and those interested in pursuing the other points made by the Rebbe can search for the article on Chabad.org.

            This famous triple declaration is an introduction to a recitation of the Shema, which, of course, has the triple proclamation of God's name.  There are two traditions about the writing of this section of the morning service.  The first is very prosaic.  We placed an early stating of the Shema; in case it's passed the technical time for reading Shema when we get to it in the regular service.  There is also a dramatic version.  During one of the many persecutions of the Jews, the evil authorities banned the declaration of God's unity.  So, the wily Rabbis placed an early reading of the offending passage.  Presumably this was said too early for the government spies to arrive in the synagogue.  The context of the passage supports this second contention, because we are stating that we feel fortunate to be Jews in spite of any adversity.

In the context of the morning prayers, these expressions aren't talking about the Land of Israel at all.  The portion, lot and inheritance probably are referring to Torah and our spiritual gifts from God.  This section of the introductory prayers is explaining that we have little or no right to approach God with our petty petitions, because we are so insignificant.  However, as the offspring of the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs, for that matter, even though they are not mentioned specifically), who accrued great merit for their righteousness, we are obligated to thank and praise God.  So, here we are reciting these prayers.  Now we proclaim that we are special and fortunate to have inherited this legacy of merit from and relationship with God.  It may be hard to be a Jew, but it's worth it.  I think the Rebbe advocated for this geographic approach to this material because the words employed so readily can refer to our relationship with the Holy Land.  They sound like real estate language.  And I'm thankful for that insight, and a topic for an article.

            So, what are the three aspects of our long term connection to Israel?  I believe that the term chelek or portion means that I own a piece of Israel.  As a Jew there's a rock or a tree or a spring with my name on it.  I think that this concept is expressed in our age in two ways.  One is by the Israeli government.  Every Jew is an automatic citizen of Israel, not because of Knesset legislation, but because of eternal bond between Jew and land.  The next expression, goraleinu or our lot, to me is the most important.  Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993) explained the term goral as fate, as opposed to ya'ad or destiny.  Fate is thrust upon me without my permission or acquiescence; destiny requires my involvement and agreement.  Even though I didn't ask for a deed to the Land of Israel, it's mine nevertheless.  It was thrust upon me to be a caretaker of the most precious, strategic and dangerous plot of land on earth, and I'm proud and satisfied that this is my lot.  When I proclaim 'Next Year in Jerusalem,' it's without disappointment or rancor.  It's with honor.

            Finally, we state that this is our inheritance.  Please, forgive my arrogance, but I wouldn't have chosen that word.  I would have called it a morasha or nachala, meaning a legacy or heritage which I must pass along to future generations.  But our wise Sages were emphasizing our privilege over our responsibility in this statement.  We would be ungrateful wretches not to accept this inheritance left to us by loving ancestors.  Who are we to reject and, thereby denigrate, this possession so affectionately embraced for millennia?  Israel is ours because our parents and grandparents wanted us to have it.  Let's not insult them.

            Traveling in Israel for Jews is unlike visiting any other land.  It might be amazing to view the Grand Canyon.  It may wow us to see the fjords of Norway (Thank you, Slartibartfast, and may Norway be comforted in its anguish.).   But it's only Israel which gives us the feeling of coming home, and that emotion is based on this week's parsha when each of us was allocated our piece of the land.        




You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParsha-subscribe@egroups.com