The entire Book of Deuteronomy can be viewed as Moses’s last opportunity to strengthen the faith of the Jewish People before they enter the land of Israel. He cajoled them, blessed them and warned them of horrific consequences that could befall them.
According to Midrash Tanchuma, Moses warned that miracles experienced by the Jews while receiving the Torah and in the desert will not be repeated until the end of days. So, for example, just as when the Jews were receiving the Torah they achieved such a high level of sensory perception that they could “see” sounds: (Exodus 20:15)
“All the people saw the sounds…”
At the end of days, there will also be sounds heard that could not be perceived during the long, dark exile: (Jeremiah 33:10)
“Thus said the Lord: Again there shall be heard… in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man, without inhabitants, without beast, the sound of joy and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride.”
The Three Oaths
To further dramatize the notion that should our misdeeds in the Land of Israel lead to expulsion, we will not be welcomed back until the end of days, Midrash Tanchuma introduces the idea of “The Three Oaths.” These are derived from a verse in the Song of Songs. G-d made us swear not to try to arouse love before its time.(Song of Songs: 2:7)
“I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem, … Do not wake or arouse Love until it is desired”
Did you ever wonder why the Jews, with their great wealth in the Golden Age of Spain didn’t hire mercenaries to conquer Israel? (Yes, they probably got too comfortable). What about the Jews living in the dreary, grinding poverty of Poland and Russia. Why didn’t they pick up and say “it can’t get much worse than this, we might as well go home.” (Yes, they were too poor and some did in fact come).
Midrash Tanchuma offers another reason. One that is mysteriously embedded deep in the Jewish psyche:
“There are three oaths in the Song of Songs that the Holy One, Blessed be He, made the Jewish People take… not to reveal when is end of the exile, (Secondly) that they would not try to forcibly end the exile, (Lastly) that they would not rebel against the ruling nations of the world.”
The Three Oaths are also discussed in the Talmud (Ketubot 111A) concerning the same verse from Song of Songs. However the description of the Oaths are somewhat different:
“Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina said: … One, that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall (on mass) , but little by little. And another one, that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured the Jews that they should not rebel against the rule of the nations of the world. And the last one is that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured the nations of the world that they should not subjugate the Jews excessively.”
These three oaths, and specifically the oath of Non-Jewish nations not persecuting us excessively, helped give rise to Religious Zionism. The Balfour declaration and the subsequent United Nations resolution declaring Israel a State, signified that we had the world’s consent and we were not attempting to force the end of the exile. The Holocaust signified that we didn’t need anyone’s consent. The nations of the world broke their side of the bargain with the unimaginable horrors that befell us. (Many see the echoes of the holocaust in the dire warnings of Moses at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy).
The idea that you can’t go back is reminiscent of the expulsion of Adam of Eve from the Garden of Eden. The Torah in the Book of Genesis makes it clear that trying to return is futile: (Genesis 3:24)
He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery, ever-turning sword, to guard the way (back) to the tree of life
This is also similar to an incident that Moses recounts in this week’s Parsha. When the Jews heard the report of the spies they cried all night. As a punishment for crying for nothing, G-d turned that same night – Tisha B’av – into a time when we recount many real tragedies to cry about.
When Moses first informed the Jews that the entire generation will not enter the land, rather they will die out over the 40 years in the desert (except for Caleb and Joshua), some Jews had an idea. Let’s repent and march into the land. That would demonstrate their renewed faith in G-d (Deuteronomy 1:41-44):
“You replied to me, saying, “We stand guilty before G-d. We will go up now and fight, just as the Lord our G-d commanded us.” And you all girded yourselves for war and headed towards the mountains. But G-d said to me (Moses) , “Warn them: Do not go up and do not fight, since I am not in your midst; or else you will be defeated by your enemies.”
As the Midrash implies, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t always say you’re sorry and undo the past. Those Jews in the desert who tried to enter the land without G-d’s permission were killed by hostile enemies.
So as the Jewish People were about to enter the land after 40 years in the desert, the message of “The Three Oaths” was loud and clear. If you bring expulsion upon yourself, you can’t return to the land for a seemingly endless amount of time.
Until love has once again been aroused.
As we are privileged to witness in our lifetime, rekindling this love has taken close to 3 thousand years.