And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the Land. (Lev. 26:42)
In our Passover story, with each successive plague, G-d is testing the authority and power of Pharaoh. But more important, He is testing the faith of the Israelites. Imagine the first plagues striking fear in the hearts of slaves wondering what Pharaoh might do to them, as Moses confronted the powers of Egypt. What consequences would the Israelites suffer? Imagine the revenge the Egyptian populace might exact upon the Israelites with each plague – and the embarrassment of Pharaoh and his court. Pharaoh was looked upon as the supreme god-like authority over Egypt, the most powerful country in the known world at the time. Yet G-d declares, “I will be glorified through Pharaoh and his entire army, and Egypt will know that I am Hashem.” (Ex. 14:4)
The Israelites left Egypt armed, but G-d took them by way of the Philistines, knowing they were not yet prepared to fight for their freedom. Forty years later, the time had come to again confront a king – but this time, to fight. And it was when G-d hardened Sihon’s heart that the Israelites were forged into a people, having experienced G-d’s miracles on their journey – a people now ready to do battle and enter their promised land – with their new leader, Joshua.
Over the last 2000 years, our G-d has tested the faith and commitment of each generation of Jews to see if they were willing to honor their covenant to inherit the Land, and sadly, our people were not yet ready. From crusades and inquisitions, to pogroms and finally the Shoah, our people have not been willing to honor the commitment their ancestors made at Sinai. In 1948, G-d made our decision easy. He hardened the hearts of every country on the planet and opened only one door for rescue. And the world proclaimed, “Look what their G-d did for them!” Our people, in peace, had asked the world to live up to their commitment set forth in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo Resolution of 1922. And when the world chose dishonor, once again the words of Torah retell the story: “Into your hand have I delivered Sihon, king of Heshbon. … Begin to drive [him] out and provoke war with him…” Moses had sent messengers to Sihon with words of peace, asking for safe passage through his land, but Sihon refused… “for Hashem, your G-d, hardened his spirit and made his heart stubborn, in order to give him into your hand, like this very day.” (Deut. 2:24-30) G-d was telling His people that He was willing to be our strength and our shield but only when we were willing to recommit to our covenant with the Land. So it was in 1948 and 1967.
Note that in 1918, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France were handed 2.2 million square miles to divvy up, and 98 percent was given to various Arab tribes to create countries that did not exist. Two percent was given as a Mandate for the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jewish people on both banks of the Jordan River. In 1923, Britain betrayed its obligations under the Mandate and gave another three-quarters of that 2 percent, to create a state called Trans-Jordan, in the hopes of finally appeasing the Arabs.
Does this hardening of an enemy’s heart sound familiar? Over the last 23 years, misguided prime ministers of Israel have tried to appease murderers of Jews by giving away portions of our Land of Israel – 98 percent of this and 50 percent of that – in the belief that our enemy would eagerly accept these “generous offers.” To the disbelief of all the appeasers, our enemy’s heart was hardened, and over 1600 Israeli Jews have been slaughtered as a result of successive foolish concessions. The Land of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, was given to the Jewish people as an everlasting covenant. After 2000 years of wandering in the deserts of other countries, G-d heard our cries in Europe, in Russia, in Ethiopia and in the Arab world, and returned our people to our Land.
We’ve sat at too many shivas in the last 23 years since Oslo. The obscenity uttered by Yitzhak Rabin that somehow innocent Jews were “sacrifices for peace” illustrates a painful history of delusions. There has been no peace, only the criminal insanity that the life of a Jew can be sacrificed for a worthless piece of paper signed by a succession of Jew- haters. Zachor, remember, we were there 70 years ago. Why are some so bewildered by the reality? For Jews, it is important to seek peace, but not when it is based on a lie. It was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who lamented in his later years, “Everything would have worked out, if only Hitler hadn’t lied to me.”
Our Land of Israel has been conquered over 17 times by at least six empires over the last 3500 years, and never once did any pagan, Christian or Muslim conqueror make Israel or Jerusalem the center of its theology. For the Christians, the center became Rome. For the Muslims, Mecca. This “third holiest site for Muslims” is nonsense. When Basra was being bombed in Iraq during the Gulf War of 1991, Basra was the third holiest. Muslims can be flexible!
No other people has been tied to its land and its capital with such love and devotion. Three times each day we turn toward Jerusalem, praying to return. We Jews are a chutzpahdik people with a most special relationship with our G-d and our Land—and the world knows it. If only we could get more Jews to know it. The very existence of our people is an historical mystery. We’ve survived for nearly 2000 years while seemingly on the brink of total annihilation, yet the announcements of our death have been greatly exaggerated. No nation has survived its enemies against all the odds of history except the Jews. Where are the empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, or the thousand- year Reich of the Nazi Germans? Jews have been victims of crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and holocausts, and have stubbornly survived them all. “What is the secret of their immortality?” asked Mark Twain. Yet, just over 68 years ago, when even the “best friends” of the Jews believed that this time there was no longer a chance for the Jews to survive, our people not only survived Hitler and his all-too-willing executioners and their European collaborators, we had the chutzpah, just three short years after the Holocaust, to return to our homeland and begin rebuilding. How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
The reestablishment of the State of Israel forces all the people of the world to confront the reality of the unique, unconditional, eternal covenant of love between Israel and our G-d and the fact that there must be a higher force at work without which the very existence of Israel and our people makes no sense.The Jewish State was destroyed by Titus almost 2000 years ago, and not once thereafter did anyone ever claim the Land of Israel as their own homeland—except our stiff-necked people, the Jews. Never did we as a people ever look for another homeland, and never did our G-d give up on us. Jewish prayer for the last 2000 years has been filled with love of the Land of Israel. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept as we remembered Zion. If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its dexterity. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I will not remember you, if I will not bring to mind Jerusalem during my greatest joy! The more distant the Land was, the more it came alive in our hopes and prayers.
The State of Israel was in fact reestablished in in the year 70 C.E., the day after the Romans exiled us. The very moment Titus threw us out, we were already busy contemplating our return. When the L-rd will return the exiles of Zion, we will have been like dreamers. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with songs of joy; then will they say among the nations,”The L-rd has done great things for these.” (Birkat HaMazon) For out of Zion shall come the Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem. No other people can make that claim.
Yet, the world community has for decades declared that Jerusalem, our capital, needs to be internationalized. To whom does Jerusalem belong? For the Jew, our pilgrimage is to Jerusalem. For Christians, their pilgrimage is to Rome. For Muslims, to Mecca. From time immemorial, even in the writings of Christian missionaries, is it not true that Jerusalem was always referred to as the city of a Jew named David? Was it ever called the city of Titus or the city of Saladin? And today, do the descendants of Rome, of Titus or of Saladin mourn and fast on the ninth of Av, the date our Holy Temples were destroyed? It was the famous Israeli author Shmuel Agnon who made us aware of the unusual relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966, King Gustav VI of Sweden asked him where he was born. Agnon responded, “I was born in Galicia, but that was only in a dream. In reality, I was born in Jerusalem and exiled by Titus.”
When a Jewish boy is only eight days old, he is circumcised and the Jewish community showers him with blessings; but above all is the prayer that he ascend to the Land of Israel and visit the Holy Temple on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. At eight days of age he becomes connected to our tradition and becomes a Zionist. As the child grows up and is standing under the chupah, the rabbi places a glass on the floor. The groom breaks it as a sign of mourning, vowing never to forget Jerusalem and its Temples. At the very moment of declaring his devotion and love for his bride, a moment of incredible joy and sanctity, it is still impossible to forget the destruction of our Temples and our longing for Jerusalem. This has been our custom for nearly 2000 years. How many millions of glasses have been broken in Jewish history!
On Pesach, we finish the Seder with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” On Yom Kippur, as the sun has set and the shofar sounded, we start the new year with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Even in the death camp of Auschwitz, stories of hope were often retold, ending with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem!” And perhaps the most profound statement the Jewish people ever make is at the burial of the dead. The Jew is always buried in Israel. While there are Jewish cemeteries all over the world, far away from Israel, the tradition is to sprinkle the body with some earth from the Land of Israel. While his tombstone may be outside Israel, his body is buried in the Land of Israel. And when a Jew mourns, we say, “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem” – not “May you be comforted among the mourners of New York or Chicago.” Does any other people connect their most profound life cycle events to our Land of Israel or our sacred city, Jerusalem?
And yet, on my most recent trip to Israel, I realized that it is now time for the “settlers” to leave the occupied territories if there is to be true and lasting peace in the region. After all, that is what the world wants for us Jews, to rest in peace. And so, I say it’s time for the “settlers” to leave the occupied territories. As I traveled to our Biblical communities of Hebron, to Kiryat Arba, to Bet El, past Mamre, to Efrat, to Shilo and Tekoa, etc., I finally and sadly realized that, as some say, the “settlers” are truly an obstacle to peace. It is time to uproot their communities and move them out, by force if need be. We did it in Gaza – it can be done again.
For you see, the real “settlers” are the Palestinian Arabs. They are occupying our land, given to us by G-d. As G-d repeats from Genesis through Deuteronomy, in all the five books of Torah, “Go in and possess the Land I am giving to you and your descendants this day as an everlasting covenant.” The Land I am giving to you—to the Jewish people. Now, who are you going to believe: G-d or the U.N.? Torah or the New York Times?
Shabbat Shalom, 04/22/16
Jack “Yehoshua” Berger
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