There’s an astounding element of biblical political philosophy that doesn’t enjoy much popularity in Religious Zionist writings. That’s not surprising, because it’s a notion that complicates our understanding of the unique relationship we enjoy with the land. Moshe repeats it in chapter 9, but it’s an idea that was introduced in the very first moments of God’s first covenant with Avraham, in Breishit, chapter 15, in order to answer a simple, but troubling question.
If God is so committed to giving Avraham the land, why doesn’t he fulfill that promise immediately? The Torah gives an explicit, though somewhat cryptic, answer. “And you will join your fathers in peace, you will be buried at a ripe old age. And the fourth generation will return here, for the sins of the Emorites will not be filled until then.” Apparently, the fact that, after God’s covenant, the land is “ours” is not enough to justify settling it. There are other peoples living in the land, and our rights can’t displace them until they have brought exile upon themselves for their own misdeeds.
This is the same message that Moshe relays to the people as they prepare to enter the land. “Not by your own righteousness or the purity of your heart do you come to inherit their land, but rather because of the wickedness of these nations that God drives them out from before you.” Conquest is not a natural, national right that we enjoy. It is only acceptable when it fills the objectives of divine justice, and that divine justice can be directed against the Jewish people as much as any other nation.
Although this land is our land, Moshe emphasizes again and again that we will remain on it only so long as we deserve it. When we have filled our “quota” of unworthy behavior, we too are expelled from the land.
So now that we’re here again (not by virtue of conquering, and not just by virtue of historic right, but by the approval of the land’s previously sovereign powers) the most important question to answer is- how do we make sure we’re worthy of staying? Some of the answer we learned in yesterday’s chapter, and tomorrow’s chapter will have more to teach us.
This blog has my daily reflection on the 929 chapter of the day. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions. Learn more about 929 at 929.org.il