When is a national dream realized? When does a people’s journey reach its destination?
I ask because it’s that time of year again, as we confront the string of post-biblical holidays in the spring. The Exodus itself seems to have an ambiguous ending, as for millennia we’ve debated whether the atzeret (from atzor, stop) of Passover, its finale, is the seventh day (as in the Torah) or the fifty-first day (as in the Talmud). But here’s a truly radical suggestion: what if the Exodus actually lasted sixty-nine years?
This is suggested by some of the verses we read yesterday, in the passage discussing house leprosy. Attributed to Rabbi Eleazar b. Shimon (of Lag baOmer fame) is “There never was a leprous house, and never will be. Then why was its law written? That you may study it and receive reward” (Talmud Sanhedrin 71a), so let’s expound a bit.
The law of the leprous house is preceded by God’s declaration that he will give the Land of Canaan to the Israelites “as a possession” (Lev. 14:33-35). The Talmud (Yoma 12a) says:
As a possession”–until they conquer it. If they have conquered it, but not divided it by tribe; if they have divided by tribe, but not by clan; if they have divided it by clan, but each does not recognize what is theirs, whence do we know [that the law does not yet apply]? “And whosever house it is shall come”–the one to whom it is unique.
Thus, there are four stages of “possession”: military, political, communal and personal. Now, how long does each take? The Talmud talks of seven years of conquest and seven of division (Zevahim 118b), which accounts for the first two stages. We can assume that the next two also take seven years each (seven years being the standard agricultural cycle in the Torah), which would jibe with the total given for Joshua’s rule: 28 years (Seder Olam Rabbah 12:1).
But when should our count start? Well, we famously talk about four expressions of redemption used by God right before he sends Moses to bring the Ten Plagues on Egypt (Exodus 6), but God also promises “I will bring you to the land” and “I will give it to you as an inheritance.” (Hm, “I will give” (ve-natati)–the exact same term used in the verses from Leviticus.) That’s about a year before the Jews leave Egypt, so we have 41 years of Moses + 28 of Joshua = 69 years until God’s promise is realized. As the latter puts it (23:14): ““Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
So here we are, 69 years after Independence. What will Israel be in year 70 and beyond? That’s up to each of us, and our unique part of this glorious inheritance. The dreaming is over; time to wake up.