Select Page

The Land Comes With Responsibility

The Judaic program at the Posnack Jewish Day School, Fischer High School, requires our seniors to enroll in a course called Israel Advocacy. Curriculum for this course comes from many sources, among them: The David Project: Center for Jewish Leadership, Stand With Us, and Step Up for Israel. Israel Advocacy is earmarked at this point of our academic program so that our graduates will be prepared to articulate the truth and positive messages about Israel wherever their post-high school life leads them.

Early in the curriculum we come across the undisputed fact that Jews have six concurrent rights to the land of Israel. They are referred to by Harvard professor, Dr. Ruth Wisse, as divine rights, aboriginal rights, legal rights, internationally granted rights, pioneering rights and the rights attained by virtue of war. In class, each one of these rights is explained, examined, and thoroughly thrashed out sometimes in heated debate.

Expressions of both our divine and aboriginal rights (those recorded in the Bible as well as those due to our uninterrupted existence on the land of Israel that pre-dates any other claimant) are prevalent and pervasive in our religious practices and in our rich heritage. Much of what we do as Jews is tied to the land of Israel. For example, many of the 613 mitzvot are only obligatory in Israel. Primarily are the commands that relate directly to the produce of the land such as fruits of the first 3 years, tithing of crops, and the observance of sabbatical and jubilee years. In fact, this year is a Sabbatical or Shemita year (a rest year from planting and commercial harvesting) in Israel. If you plan to travel to Israel this year, please check with your rabbi or Jewish law websites to find out about specific laws that are applicable only in Israel during the Shemita year.

Many rabbinic mitzvoth are instituted specifically to “remember the Holy Temple” in Jerusalem. A few examples that immediately come to mind are the rabbinic commands to shake the lulav all 7 days of Sukkot, and the eating of “morror” and the “korech” sandwich  during our Pesach Seder. One opinion in the Talmud maintains, “The counting of the Omer that we do each night between Pesach and Shavuot is, in our time, performed as a rabbinic command to remember the Temple.” (Talmud, Menachot 66b).

Anyone who has been to a Jewish wedding knows that at the very end of the ceremony, the groom recites, “If I forget thee Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand; let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I don’t raise Jerusalem to the height of my happiness.” He, then, steps on a glass. Why? Even the moment of a person’s greatest joy is tempered, for a split second, by recalling the destruction of the Temple. As long as the Temple is not rebuilt, our personal simcha and joy cannot be complete.

We have a three-week period in the summer, culminating in the Fast of the 9th of Av. During this time, we mourn for the loss of both Temples and our subsequent exile from Israel. When we leave a shiva house we say to the mourner, “May Hashem comfort you with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

 Our daily prayers make mention of our continual yearning for our return to the land of Israel and its complete restoration. Wherever we are on the globe, when it comes time for prayer, we face Jerusalem. The blessings said after we eat bread or after consuming foods and drinks made from vegetation for which the land of Israel is specifically blessed, we give thanks to Hashem and praise Israel as our homeland and Jerusalem as our eternal capital.

From these various practices, we see that the land of Israel is always on our mind and in our lips. Israel is part of the very fabric of our life. These different expressions are not just haphazard additions to our religious experience nor are they unexpected outcomes. Why is that? The answer is that our aboriginal rights are a direct reflection of our divine right. 

Confirmed by an everlasting covenant between God and our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we, their descendants, have been bequeathed the land of Israel. This divine gift of land, however, is not an end in itself. Rather, it was given to us for a purpose. The land of Israel is designated to be used as a means for man’s perfection as a complete human being. Israel is to be a showcase for the pinnacle of human existence.

This week’s Torah portion “Acharei Mot” clearly spells out the purpose of the Land of Israel. “Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live–I am Hashem.” Notice the Torah here says “man.” All mankind can embrace living the perfected life Jewish people are charged to model to the rest of the world. Where will the model be visible for everyone to see? It can only be fully displayed in the land of Israel, by Jews living there and following the mitzvot of the Torah.

 If we use the land and relate to it as originally intended, to be the one place in the world for the pursuit of the knowledge of God and the infusion of ethical conduct into every aspect of life, then we are not only the rightful legal heirs to the land but the true philosophic heirs to the legacy of our forefathers.

As we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this coming week, the 74th anniversary of the creation of the modern State of Israel, we pray that Hashem continues to bless its establishment and grant us the courage and strength to fulfill our commitment to the Land of Israel.

May Hashem continue His protecting care over the nation of Israel, Jews, and peace-loving people the world over.

עם ישראל חי and שבת שלום

Rabbi Robert Kaplan

Join Our Mailing List!