Rabbi David Walk
This week we read about the first distribution of the territory of the holy Land amongst the tribes. There's a lot of this stuff. It started last week and won't conclude until next week. It's the kind of material which makes my eyes begin to glaze over like the sugar on a warm Danish (Of course, I mean the pastry). It's just not compelling material. I mean who cares who lives where, especially since none of those tribes are presently in those locations anyway? So, what is its importance that we read it annually in the Torah, and it takes up a major portion of the book of Joshua (It's the part we tend to skip, Chapters 11 through 23)? I think that there are two answers to this question. One seems like a side issue, but the other response is, I firmly believe, essential to our Jewish identity.
Let's begin with the relatively minor concern. How was the land divided up? Although there are many answers to this question, I'll present the one I think is both true and the most accepted. The pertinent verses read: Divide the land among the tribes, and distribute the grants of land in proportion to the tribes' populations, as indicated by the number of names on the list. Give the larger tribes more land and the smaller tribes less land, each group receiving a grant in proportion to the size of its population. But you must assign the land by lot (Numbers 26:53-55). So, is the apportionment of land by the reckoning of numbers or by lots drawn by the leaders? Well, both. We know from Congressional apportionment of districts that just knowing the number isn't good enough. You must also make sure that lines are drawn to ensure your team wins the most seats. In 2012, the Republicans won 234 seats in the House of Representatives to 201 for the Democrats. However, the Democrats got two million more votes than the Republicans. Isn't Democracy wonderful? Here's the rub: It isn't good enough just to know the numbers. It's how you draw the lines and apportion the areas. In the desert the leaders made the sizes of the tribal areas based on the raw numbers, but the locations were decided by lots, which we believe was Divine fiat. And that is a potent idea for our people. What happens to the Jews must always be a mixture of our efforts and Divine intervention.
The other idea in the presentation of this topic is critically important. The emphasis on the apportionment of land in Israel is that each tribe, each clan, each household, and each individual gets a specific piece of Eretz Yisroel, which is theirs, personally. I can't stress this point enough. Every Jew must feel a direct connection to the land of Israel. Somehow and in ways we no longer can pinpoint, there is a piece of the Holy Land which has my name on it, which is mine. That's why so much ink is expended on explaining where every Jewish group was to settle. It's to remind and to encourage every one of us to acknowledge a personal association with a piece of our homeland.
There is a belief that some day we will again inhabit our ancestral portion, but that eventuality is almost beside the point. We must feel that link. The bond must draw us to sense the relationship in ways which go beyond logical and rational ties to family, community and country. There is an ineffable union of spirit linking each one of us to the troika of Jew, Israel and God. You know how we can store our computer memory on a cloud floating around in cyber space? Similarly, there is an amorphous veil which shrouds our relationship with the Land of Israel. It's hard to put your finger on it. Sometimes it feels closer, sometimes further. But it's always present just beyond the point of focus or clarity on the horizon.
To our everlasting credit, this oscillating reality grows stronger when Israel is in trouble. These difficult days have many of us contemplating our connection to Israel and its pain. We're obsessing over the news. We want more and more details of where the rockets hit. We must know how the Israelis are holding up under the barrage of terror weapons, because no one knows where they'll land. And it makes little difference whether they have family in harm's way or not. Neighbors and friends adopt our family members as their own, and the handful of soldiers from our communities become our own children and siblings.
This brings me back to my first point. The conquest and settlement of Israel was a joint effort between God and human effort. We feel the same way today. The Israelis fight with the best strategy and tactics supported by the most sophisticated weaponry available, but then they pray for God's blessing upon all these efforts. We, too, in the exile must give all the material and emotional support we can muster. Send letters and donations, then pester our elected officials with demands that our host nations support the safety and integrity of Israel. And then we, too, add our prayers that 'our brethren , the whole house of Israel, who are standing in a place of trouble or captivity, wherever they may abide may the Omnipresent shower compassion upon them, and bring them forth from distress to tranquility, from darkness to light, and from subjugation to redemption, speedily within the cycle of destiny; and let us all say, amen.'
It is my fervent belief that our Torah stresses this allocation of the Land so that we take these attacks personally. I don't want any rockets raining down on my plot of sacred earth, and neither should you. But there's one last point: Let us resolve to maintain this connection to the Holy Land even after, please God soon, this crisis abates. It's only right because it is home.