The danger of dubtracting from unity

Our sidra contains many well-known sections, including the Aseret Hadibrot, the first perek of Shema, and the scary reiteration of the tochacha that we read on Tisha B’Av morning. However, despite all of the important messages of these prominent parshiot, one section towards the beginning of Va’etchanan is given special recognition:

  וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁמַע אֶל-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם, לַעֲשׂוֹת–לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ, וּבָאתֶם וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם, נֹתֵן לָכֶם.

And now Israel, Harken to the laws and ordinances, that I will teach you today to do; so that you will live, and come and inherit the land, that Hashem, the G-d of your fathers, will give you. (דברים ד:א)

So, what is this all-important law, which will ensure that we are able to inherit Eretz Yisrael?

 לֹא תֹסִפוּ, עַל-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ, מִמֶּנּוּ–לִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹת ה’ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי, מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם.

You shall not add on to the commands that I’ve given you, nor shall you take away from them, so that you can guard the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, which I command you. (שם ב)

Moshe presents the well-known negative commandment of בל תוסיף, the prohibition against adding on to or taking away from G-d’s mitzvot. Rashi expounds on this by explaining the issur. Hashem Himself is perfection, and the Torah therefore is also perfect. One who modifies G-d’s Law, by adding to it or taking away from it, is in effect denying His flawlessness, a very serious offense. This could also explain why the next passuk speaks about ba’al pe’or, a form of עבודה זרה– violating בל תוסיף is just as bad as idol worship, as both deny G-d’s uniqueness and Oneness.

Chizkuni takes this idea a step further by connecting the issur to Eretz Yisrael. He writes that the Jewish People had seen the negative effects of לא תגרעו ממנו– when the spies decided to drop the mitzva of ישוב הארץ and give an evil report on the Holy Land to dissuade their brethren from wanting to go. That lapse led to a forty year exile en route to their redemption, and the Jews of the wilderness were still fresh from this punishment. But, in future generations, this may not be the case- there may be some evil Jews who once again distance themselves from Hashem and Am Yisrael, taking away from His mitzvot to fit their evil agenda. In order to ensure our “coming to the land, and inheriting it,” as the passuk says, we must make sure not to violate this essential mitzva, one which is tantamount to Avoda Zara.

In our times of unprecedented Jewish national unity in the face of our difficult losses, one group has once again decided to distance itself from klal Yisrael. The SatmarChasidim, along with their neturei karta activists, have been against Am Yisrael since our tragedies began last month. Once the news of Eyal, Gil’ad, and Naftali (Hy”d)’s deaths was publicized, the Satmar Rebbe was quick to blame our tragic losses on the boys’ parents and all of the Jews who decided to return to Eretz Yisrael ( Once Operation Protective Edge began, Satmar Chasidim were also very quick to join borderline violent Anti-Israel protests that took place in the New York metropolitan area, pitting Jews against Jews on this crucial issue.

However, the Satmar perspective, that we should not be returning to our ancestral homeland, is exactly the same type of בל תגרעו that we are warned against in our parsha. In the lack of clarity of our days of אתחלתא דגאולה, some have decided that the best course of action is to avoid the question of ישוב הארץ entirely by erasing that mitzva from the 613 that we were given. However, the Torah is very clear how wrong this approach is- our parsha warns that if we have any hope of inheriting our land, we cannot take away from the mitzvot. It would not be a stretch to say that, based on this passuk, no matter how one feels about the secular State of Israel, as long as they don’t “remove themselves from the equation” by taking away from G-d’s perfect Torah, they will surely inherit the land. Only those who wickedly change the Torah to fit their political and religious needs are in danger of losing the privilege  of coming home. In other words, by trying to avoid the “evil rishut” of the Holy Land, the Satmar Chasidim are ensuring that they will never merit to live in the Promised Land that they work hard to discourage.

Putting this perspective aside, I would again like to return to the issue of achdut. Coming out of one of the most tragic observations of Tisha B’av for several decades, the Jewish People are for the most part united. But, having this group of Jews aggressively supporting those activists who seek to kill us severely undermines this. With Hashem’s help, we will all Jews properly embracing the Torah as our Creator intended it, and with this unity, we will certainly merit the geulah very soon.

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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