David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

The gift of the land and suffering

After Abraham (named Abram at the time) arrives in the land of Canaan, and then passes through it, God promises: “I will assign this land to your offspring”. Yet, soon thereafter, the Torah reports that there was a famine in the land forcing Abraham to flee to Egypt. Abraham then returns to Canaan with great wealth-including cattle, silver and gold- that he had accumulated in Egypt but he now faces a new challenge. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, also accumulated flocks and herds, and there simply isn’t enough room in the land to accommodate both. Fortunately, Lot chose to settle in the Jordan Valley, enabling Abraham to remain in Canaan.

Thus, it appears that the promise of the land is precarious and includes numerous setbacks along the way. This leads Abraham to ask God for a sign that He will in fact fulfill His promise: “O Lord God, how shall I know that I am to possess it?” God responds by telling him to conduct a ritual at the conclusion of which God obligates Himself, through a binding agreement called a “covenant”, to give the land to Abraham’s offspring. Yet, just when God announces this agreement, He informs Abraham that they “shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” and only afterwards will his descendants inherit the land. It is as if God is saying that inheriting the land is never going to come easy and will always involve hardship and suffering. Not surprisingly, the Rabbis later (Berachot 5a) state that the land of Israel is one of three divine gifts that God grants by means of suffering.

We all know too well, the death and destruction we had to endure during our two thousand years outside the land, which the creation of a sovereign Jewish State in our homeland was supposed to prevent from ever happening again. Yet, even in Israel we have lost tens of thousands of lives in both war and acts of terror, and we are currently reeling from the horrific attack perpetrated by the Hamas savages who bludgeoned and butchered more than 1,400 men, women, children, elderly and even babies, and kidnapped over 200 to Gaza where they are currently held hostage. Furthermore, our counter attack whose objective is to topple Hamas and strip it of all its military capabilities, which will almost certainly involve more loss of life on our end, has hardly begun. Thus, the history of the State of Israel and current events seem to corroborate the Rabbis’ claim about the land as the gift that God grants us through suffering.

Nevertheless, despite all the pain and suffering, we must never lose sight of the fact that Israel is, indeed, a divine gift. Although we have been hit hard we are blessed with a sovereign Jewish state with one of the most powerful armies in the world and so we will never again walk to our deaths like sheep to the slaughter. We are confident that we will succeed in eradicating the forces of evil and prevailing over the enemy. And when this war is over, we will learn from our mistakes, regroup, and make this country safer, happier and more flourishing than it was before.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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