Shimon Apisdorf

Rashi, Part I: Bereishit, Occupation and the Absurd Power of Truth

In the Beginning, God Created … Occupation

This Shabbat, once again, we began our annual journey through the Torah.

The book of Genesis begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth. At first blush, this seems like a reasonable place for the Torah to begin, but not to Rashi.

Rashi, the great medieval biblical commentator, was puzzled by the opening verses of the Torah. If the Torah is primarily a book of laws and commandments, he asked, shouldn’t God have skipped the whole creation thing and gotten right to the point, namely, the commandments given to the Jewish people?

Rashi’s thinking concludes with a statement that goes to the heart of the central issue in the conflict in which Israel has been embroiled for over a century: Occupation.

Regarding the charge of occupation, Rashi’s comments are astonishing, absurd and breathtaking. Let’s take a look:

Rashi’s Answer Is Astounding

Rashi says that the Torah begins with the account of creation in order to preempt a canard that will one day be leveled against the Jewish people. In his words—

[The reason the Torah doesn’t begin with the commandments is because] The nations of the world will accuse the Jewish people of stealing the land of Israel. (Imagine that.) Therefore, to cut such a perfidious accusation off at the knees, the Torah begins with creation so that the Jewish people will be able to respond, “God created the world, the entire earth is His, and He chose to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people.”

Rashi’s words are astonishing, absurd, and profoundly insightful.


Rashi lived 900 years ago and wrote at a time when Israel had been under Muslim rule for four hundred years, Christian Crusaders were marauding their way across Europe to wrest the Holy Land from the grasp of Islam, and only a tiny Jewish community remained in a decimated Jerusalem. It’s simply astonishing that Rashi could not only envision a day when there would be a Jewish state in Israel, but that he could imagine a world that included a mechanism for “The Nations of the World” to collectively accuse the Jews of “stealing” the land from it’s rightful inhabitants.


The response that Rashi proposes to the accusation of occupation is that the same God who created the world, also gave the land of Israel to the Jews.

Tell me, would such an answer ever fly with the likes of Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Mashaal, UNESCO, and all the teachers and preachers that educate Palestinian children to believe that the Jews stole their land? Is there even one American, EU, or UN diplomat that would take such talk seriously?

I can just see it now—

Bibi gets Obama and Abbas on a video conference call and tells them that God gave Israel to the Jews. Abbas immediately relays the news to Hamas, Obama texts Kerry, an emergency session of the General Assembly is convened, and everybody profusely apologizes for ever having hassled us.

With all due respect Rashi, that’s about as likely as the cow jumping over the moon and Donald and Hillary meeting for coffee at Starbucks the morning after the election.

It’s absurd! What in the world was Rashi thinking?


Rashi was no fool, and I believe that what he was trying to tell us was this:

When truth is presented with conviction, nothing can stand in its way. And, when all is said and done, the only weapon the Jewish people may ultimately have at our disposal is the power of truth.

The Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict has always been about one fundamental issue—the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

I suspect that what Rashi wanted all Jews to know, is that while a powerful army, a strong economy, and strategic alliances are critical, the truth is also a weapon, in fact, the most powerful weapon of all. The starting point for how we Jews, as a people and a state, need to relate to the past, present and future of Israel is that it is a precious and priceless gift from God; not the EU, not the US and not the UN.

Everyone Knows: The Jews Are Thieves

Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation …”

U.S. President Barak Obama

“Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation …”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory (the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) is in its fifth decade …

Amnesty International

“Israel will have to end what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory …”

Senator Bernie Sanders


Nine centuries years ago, in the dark depths of the Middle Ages, Rashi knew that just like the day would come when the Jewish people would return to Israel, the day would also come when, united, the nations of the world would declare with one voice—you Jews are thieves.

And in that moment of global confrontation, our response should be?

The truth.

A truth asserted by the Jewish people, collectively, and with unified conviction: Israel is ours. A gift and an inheritance, ripped away from us by ruthless invaders. A birthright we never relinquished no matter how many occupiers besieged and raped our land. Jerusalem, held in the hands of Romans, Christians, Muslims and Ottomans, was nothing more than stolen property held by the thieves of history—our history.

Perhaps, for the sake of genuine peace, we may choose to give away some of what is ours. That is our prerogative. But make no mistake, we will be relinquishing what is 100% ours, not returning something that belongs to someone else.

How this mysterious ingredient called truth works I don’t exactly know—perhaps there is a metaphysical force at work here—but some how, some way, when the entire Jewish people can speak with one clear voice and say from the depths of our collective soul that the land of Israel is the eternal homeland of the Jewish people—that will turn heads in Teheran, Ramallah and the corridors of the UN. That will have a dramatic impact on the “process,” and will make all the difference in the world.

About the Author
Shimon Apisdorf is the founder of Operation Home Again, the first organization solely devoted to community-based Aliyah. He has also authored ten books that have sold over a quarter million copies and have won two Benjamin Franklin awards. The Apisdorf's made Aliyah in the summer of 2012.