Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Walk Article-Chaye Sarah


Chaye Sarah-5775

Rabbi David Walk


            One of the most ironic Midrashim ever written references this week's Torah reading.  This Midrash declares that there are three places on earth concerning which no one can ever question their Jewish ownership, and they are Hebron, Shechem and the Temple Mount.  The reason for this assertion is that each was bought and paid for by one of our ancestors.  Avraham bought the Cave of the Machpelah in beautiful downtown Hebron, Ya'akov bought Shechem, and King David bought the land upon which his son would build the Temple from the last king of the Jebusites.  Pretty ironic, huh?  There are probably no more contested pieces of real estate on planet earth than these three locations, and that's been true for a while, like two thousand years.  Sadly it doesn't look like this situation will change anytime soon.  I always find this Shabbat nerve wracking, because thousands of my right wing family and friends descend upon Hebron to commemorate the purchase of this plot of land.  These are not the most conciliatory Jews, and we are a quite contentious tribe.  This week they face off against the Arabs of Hebron, and they're not our most friendly cousins.  Did you notice my title?  More different groups have said this about Israel than anywhere else.  So, I thought that this would be a good week to discuss our right to proclaim that 'This is My Land'.

            A thousand words (the average length of these pieces) is not nearly enough space to cover this topic.  However, I will review a few of the most famous answers and then present a novel approach to this issue.

            There are those who claim that the special nature of Israel can be explained by natural phenomena and geographic considerations.  The Kli Yakar wrote:   And similarly, the Holy Land is home to peaceful harmony because of its combination of opposites and because it is midway between cold and heat, it being the center of the world and having the middle climate and elevation among the seven climates and elevations, as the verse states: "Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth." The mixing of cold and heat corresponds to the quality of peaceful harmony (Ollelot Efrayim, Jerusalem, 1991, I, p. 67).  So, too, we Jews follow the Golden Mean and must be at this crossroads of the world, because we are meant to be the light to the nations.

            In a similar vein, the mystic Rabbi Shlomo Alkebetz wrote: Just as some countries yield more agricultural produce than others, and some countries produce more silver, gold and precious stones than others, so too all types of perfection flow from this country. Therefore, it is called "the city of justice," because justice grows there, as do other types of perfection. The sanctity of the land is not like that of other lands; it also has a divine element (Brit Ha-Levi, Teshuva, Third Principle, 41).  Again, the Jewish nation is responsible to maintain justice and ethics and must dwell there to receive and then to dispense these blessings.

            That naturalistic approach is also espoused by the modern scholar Prof. Yehuda Elitzur.  He explains that the rain cycle was the clearest and most evident sign of the nature and quality of Eretz Israel, that it is the land of providence, the land which God seeks out, the land upon which His eyes rest from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Rainfall is merely a sign and an example; the main thing is that it is the land of Divine Providence.

            Following in the profoundly Kabbalistic Zionist teachings of Rav Yehudah HaLevy, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook wrote:  Eretz Israel is not a superficial element, a possession external to [the essence] of the nation, merely a means to the goal of [establishing] a comprehensive union and fortifying its material, or even its spiritual, existence. Eretz Israel is an essential element connected by way of a living bond to the nation, attached through its inner qualities to its essence. (Orot).  Israel, both the people and the land are one entity.

            Rabbi Chasdai Crescas (1340-1411) looked in a different direction when he wrote that God is everywhere and relates to all locales.  However, God doesn't relate to them all equally, and, therefore Providence (hashagacha) is different for Israel.  This is because those who live there relate towards God in a special way.  So our Sages have explained that 'Eretz Israel is unique, to the point that they knew by tradition that prophecy rests only in Eretz Israel. ( Or Ha-Shem, ma'amar II, 2, chap. 6).'  First there was the Jewish nation and that dictated the reality of the land.

            This brings us to an idea propounded by Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik in his book The Emergence of Ethical Man.  The Rav acknowledges the uniqueness of his proposal, but clearly proclaims that kedusha or holiness in this world is a result of human effort.  The sanctity of a Torah scroll emerges through the efforts of a scribe writing the words of God upon the vellum.  He extends the concept of Rav Crescas to say, 'the sanctity of the land denotes the consequence of a human act, either conquest or the mere presence of the peole in that land.  Kedushah is identical with man's association with Mother Earth (p. 150).'  The Rav insists that there is no 'objective metaphysical quality inherent in the land.'  I think that's why Avraham when he returned from Egypt (Genesis 12:1-4) he stopped at the same locations he had originally visited.  He recognized the holiness which he had himself created by his deeds.

            Sarah and Avraham created this holiness and this relationship to the land.  Again, I quote the Rav, 'A soil is sanctified by historical deeds performed by sacred people.'  This soil was hallowed by our forefathers by their mitzvoth, prayers and deeds. Our attachment to the land is through emulation of their behavior. I'll leave legal arguments to lawyers.  This is emotionally satisfying. It's my land, because I'm their heir.