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Israel at 69: The Country of God’s Providence

This past Thursday, 50 students from Posnack High School embarked on its inaugural 10th grade class trip to Israel. The students are being led by our veteran and very talented Upper School Director of Hebrew Language, Mrs. Anat Nagar. Accompanied by 4 other dedicated administrators and faculty chaperones, these students will spend 20 exciting days immersed in our country, absorbing its rich religious and cultural heritage. Sites, activities, and events for the trip were planned by Anat to maximize our students’ wide range of interests. Each was chosen to imbue them with a love of our land and its people.

Israel is an amazing and unique place on the earth. For one thing, it is has an incredibly diverse geography. Skiable mountains in the north, an arid desert and canyons in the south. You can hike the Hermon in the morning and snorkel at Eilat later that same day. Beautiful beaches grace the west coast while a fertile Jordan plain lies to the east. All of this diverse terrain exists within a land about the size of New Jersey.

But even more astounding are two verses in the Torah. After describing the destruction that will occur to the Jewish civilization and the land of Israel if its Jewish inhabitants disregard the mitzvot, particularly the commands concerning the Shemita and Sabbatical years of rest, the Torah states, “And I will bring the land into desolation, so that it will become desolate (also) of your enemies who live in it…Your land will be desolate and your cities will be laid waste.” (Vayikra 26:32-33) Rashi quoting the Sifra says, “This is a good dispensation for the Israelites, for the enemies will not find any pleasure or gratification in their land, since it will be desolate of its inhabitants.”

In his diary from his world tour, “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain wrote in1867 about Israel: “… a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds, a silent mournful expanse. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.”

While a small number of Jews always remained in the Land, the overwhelming number were exiled in 70 CE. Eventually dispersed throughout the world, to every continent, Jews began to return to the Land in numbers by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s culminating in the creation of the modern Nation of Israel, May 14, 1948. Almost 2000 years elapsed from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple until Israel rejoined the nations of the world. What is the message of the Torah verified by the eyewitness account of Twain?

The Land of Israel cannot just be built by any group of people. Only the Jewish people possess the capacity to transform it into a settled land and to make the desolate waste bloom. This divine promise has been upheld over centuries of conquest. Over this long span of time neither Christian nor Muslim empires were successful in realizing their claim to the Land. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

The Torah tells us that those who exile the Jewish people and replace them as residents will reside in a desolate country. This piece of geography was occupied by many powers: Rome, Byzantium, by the Muslims and by the Crusaders, and then by the Ottoman Turks. Despite the many attempts, not one nation or people ever succeeded in establishing a state in Eretz Yisroel. No one developed Israel agriculturally, industrially or scientifically. Clearly, it is the will of the Creator of the Universe that this portion of the Earth be settled and inhabited by a specific people, the Jews.  Their chief responsibility is to bring the idea to the world that there exists one non-physical God who relates to mankind. The demonstration of this idea to the world is the unique relationship the Jewish people have to the Land of Israel.  This visible proof is continually on display to the world.

There is a third verse in the Torah that concludes this section of Vayikra. “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob, also My covenant with Isaac, also my covenant with Abraham will I remember. And I will remember the Land.” This verse is part of the same divine promise from the Creator of the Universe. May Hashem grant our 10th grade students and chaperones safe travel, learning and meaningful life experiences and that they return to us in 20 days as eyewitnesses to the veracity not only of this verse but of the entire word of God, the Torah. May Hashem continue to bless all our brothers and sisters in Israel with life and peace.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Robert Kaplan