Incomplete inheritance – earning our unconditional birthright & Parshat Va’era

As we enter the holiday season, an air of happiness and contentedness spreads throughout the world. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, we are told- why? Because of a dead Nazarite’s birthday 2014 year ago? No silly, because of the presents. In the December holiday season, whether one is celebrating Chanuka, Christmas, or Kwanza, or commemorating the solemn month of Ramadan, the common theme is shopping for, giving, and receiving presents. It is only human nature to be jolly at the thought of all of these gifts, and while it is occasionally good to take a step back and contemplate the meaning of life and the price of happiness, I would instead like to broach a different topic; what is the least pleasant type of present that one could receive for the holidays (socks and other clothing excluded)? A gift with strings attached. What’s the fun of getting a brand-new PlayStation 4 for the holidays if you have to do your homework for an hour before using it every night? How could one possibly appreciate a gift certificate for a couple’s day at the spa if he has to bring his wife with him?

In our parsha, G-d reassures Moshe before sending him to Pharoah, and reminds him of his ultimate goal:

והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ… ונתתי אותה לכם מורשה אני יקוק

And I will bring you to the land… And I will give it to you as an inheritance, I am G-d (שמות ו:ח)

G-d is promising the Jewish people, through Moshe, the ultimate gift- an entire land of their own, a permanent home free of slavery.But, then He calls it a yerusha (inheritance). While the two aren’t exact opposites, it is a little difficult to reconcile how, within one sentence, Israel is promised to us both as a matana (gift), and a yerusha. If it’s a gift, then we, the receivers, are automatically entitled to it as soon as we receive it. But, if it’s a inheritance, it is designated to us in advance, but we don’t receive it until later, a present “with strings attached.” How could the Holy Land be both an unconditional and conditional gift to us at the same time?

In his introduction to Em Habanim Semecha, Rav Yissachar Teichtel, bothered by our question, quotes an answer from the Jerusalem Talmud:

אמר ר’ יוחנן: אם מתנה למה ירושה, ואם ירושה למה מתנה? אלא מאחר שנתנה להם לשום מתנה חזר ונתנה להם לשום ירושה

R’ Yochanan said: If it (the land of Israel) is a gift, why is it called an inheritance, and if it’s an inheritance, why is it called a gift? For rather after G-d gave Israel to us as a gift, He went back and gave it as an inheritance.

So, basically, Israel is both an inheritance and a gift- confused? So is Rav Teichtel:

ולכאורה אינו מובן, מה נפקא מינה אם הוא גם כן ירושה או מתנה גרידא?… דלא תימא דהוא מתנה לנו לחלוטין בכל אופן- על זה אמרו בירושלמי דאחר שנתנה לנו לשום מתנה לא הוי מתנה מוחלטת בכל אופן אלא שחזר ונתנה לנו לשום ירושה, שקשור נתינתה לנו בתנאי הירושה שנאמר לאברהם אבינו “כי לא יירש עם בני עם יצחק”- דוקא באופן שנהיה אנו כדייא לירושה כיצחק. ועל פי זה דברי הירושלמי מאירים כספירים…

This is seemingly unclear- what is the difference if it’s an inheritance or an inheritance and a present?… for it wasn’t said that it (Israel) is an unconditional present- on this, the Yerushalmi teaches that after it was given to us a complete present, it was given to us instead as an inheritance, connecting the giving of the present with the terms of inheritance that Sara told to Avraham “For [this gentile child (Ishmael)] will not inherit with my son Yitzchak”- only when we are worthy to inherit from Yitzchak. Based on this, the words of the Yerushalmi are incandescent like sapphires. (פתיחה לאם הבנים שמחה)

So, we see that our gift of the land of Israel is an inheritance in that it comes with the same terms of inheritance as were demanded of Avraham before he sent his son Ishmael away- if we are worthy inheritors of our forefather Yitzchak, then we have truly earned the land, both as a matana and a yerusha.

This idea could, in theory, be used to teach an agenda against our current generation of settlers of Israel. Even though it would seem that G-d has now given us the Holy Land as a present, we haven’t properly earned it, or the right to live there, until we are truly children of Yitzchak. One could posit that until the Jewish People as a whole are at a proper level of avodat Hashem and religious observance, we cannot possibly make our way to Israel, for we are not worthy inheritors of our forefathers and ancestors. While there is definitely some truth to this, and there is no doubt that the final geula will not come until proper teshuva has been done, I don’t believe for a second that this is what Rav Teichtel was trying to teach in this section of the introduction to his book on Religious Zionism. Instead, I have an alternate theory on how we can properly earn our inheritance that is the unconditional gift of the Land of Israel as Bnei Yitzchak. Allow me to elaborate:

It is a well-known idea in Judaism that each of our three forefathers represent three different traits, upon which, as the Mishna in Avot (1:2) teaches, the world is supported: Torah, Avoda (serving G-d), and Gemilut Chasadim (Acts of kindness). Of these three, Rav Naftali Zvi Berlin (Netziv) teaches that Yitzchak is represented by Avoda, as he almost gave his life to serve G-d. The Zohar, in a similar vein, teaches that Yitzchak is represented by the trait of Gevura, strength in service of G-d. If Rav Teichtel, based on the Yerushalmi, taught that our inheritance of the Holy Land is based on our connection to Yitzchak, then, perhaps it would make more sense to say that we should work on emulating Yitzchak’s traits, instead of the more spiritual ones suggested above, which are akin to Yitzchak’s son Yaakov.

Furthermore, the Talmud (Shabbat 89b-see complete source below), in a strange and lengthy aggadic teaching, tells us that the Mashiach will come one day due to the traits of Yitzchak. Shmuel ibn Nachmeni, in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, teaches that in the future, in the time of the geula, G-d will approach Avraham and tell him “your children are sinning to me.” Avraham, representative of chesed (kindness) and kiruv, will answer Him; “Holy one, pardon them for the sake of your kindness.” Then, G-d will go to Yaakov, and warn him that his descendants are sinning. Yaakov, the איש תם יושב אוהלים, will respond; “Father in Heaven, wipe their sins away for the sake of your holiness.” Not completely satisfied with these answers, G-d will finally approach Yitzchak, and tell him what He told his father and son. Yitzchak, whose life was dedicated in service of G-d, whose essence represents the strength needed for divine service, will give a different answer; “רבינו של עולם בני ולא בניך- Master of the Word, they’re my children and not your children?! From the moment they accepted נעשה ונשמע at Mt. Sinai, you began to call them בני בכורי ישראל, my firstborn Israel. But now, they’re not your children?!… For the sake of my sacrifice (on Mt. Moriah), please forgive them.” Only through this answer will G-d forgive the Jews for their sins and send their redeemer.

While this aggada cannot necessarily be taken literally, there is a clear message behind it- the traits that made Yitzchak so unique, specifically the gevura to serve G-d in the hardest of ways, are the ones that will bring the geula. Just as Yitzchak will have the strength to stand up for his sinning descendants in a way that both his father and son couldn’t, we also have an obligation to tap into our inner Yitzchak and make the difficult decisions, even if those around us can’t, for the sake of the continuance of our nation.

With this in mind, Rav Teichtel’s teaching of earning our inheritance in Israel through emulating Yitzchak takes on a new meaning. The Land of Israel is an unconditional gift to the Jewish people, but only if we earn it- what better way of earning it than making the very difficult decision to leave a comfortable life in the Diaspora behind to start again there. For many, this is not an issue to even think about yet- they believe that when they will come to Israel when the geula does. To them, I say that, based on the teaching of Rav Teichtel, the redemption and a permanent and safe settlement in Israel will not come until we become true inheritors of Yitzchak, and if our forebear was willing to give up his life in serving G-d, what right do we have tokvetch about losing a few comforts and making a small adjustment?! We cannot inherit Eretz Yisrael until we emulate a man whose life was shaped by almost losing it to G-d- compared to that, an intercontinental move doesn’t seem too bad, does it? And, once the Jewish people do teshuva for their lack of commitment, then all that’s left for us is to inherit our Morasha and cut the strings off of the world’s best present, finally unconditionally ours.

Click here for a complete index of Judaic sources used in this post

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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