Behar-Bechukotai: Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael?

This past Shabbat’s Torah reading, Behar-Bechukotai, has three major concepts, that relate directly to events of the day, and without delving deeper into them, they might be completely missed.

PM Netanyahu in forming his new government coalition, has conditioned participation on full acceptance of the Trump peace plan, including the possibility of Palestinian statehood.

Shas and United Torah Judaism, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Haredi parties, have joined on. Rafi Peretz has jumped the sinking Yamina ship of opposition, to swim ashore onto Netanyahu’s beachhead attack on Religious Zionism.

In true Machiavellian-style, Netanyahu, after having successfully disemboweled the Blue and White party to his left, turned rightward, and torpedoed Yamina.

Peretz agreed, that the Jewish Home faction would leave Yamina, and join up with Likud, in the government. He will back Netanyahu’s application of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria. He has also agreed, to support Netanyahu’s other positions related to the Trump plan, including potentially, Jewish Home support for Palestinian statehood in part of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).

How could three “religious” parties agree to such a thing?

In this past week’s Torah reading, the whole Jewish world learned, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are sojourners and residents with Me” (Leviticus 25:23).

And, Rashi says there, “Permanently: irreversibly. A permanent, irreversible sale.

Although this is referring to the right of redemption of the land, after a sale between Jews, is there anything more permanent, than the setting up of an enemy state in our midst?

In the parsha, talking about the Jubilee year, the Torah says, “For the land belongs to Me: [God says,] Do not be selfish about the land [hesitating to return it to its rightful owner at Jubilee], because the land does not belong to you” (Torat Kohanim).

If Eretz Yisrael doesn’t really belong to the Jewish people, but to God, then no one, no prime minister, no Israeli government, no one, has a right to give away part of it to some other “nation.”

Yet, in his speech to the Knesset, about the incoming government coalition, Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to apply sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, “It is time to apply Israeli law to the territories in Judea and Samaria. This step will not push off peace, but will bring it closer. Hundreds of thousands of settlers will not be moved from their homes.”

Its important to keep stressing ad infinitum, that applying Israeli sovereignty to Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, opens the way for the rest of Judea and Samaria to be given away to the “Palestinians,” and violates God’s Rights to the Land.

A little later in the Torah reading we learn the second major concept, the value of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael.

“I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a God to you” (Leviticus 25:38). He took the Jews out of Egypt, and brought them to the Land of Israel, to live there and keep his Torah there.

And on this verse Rashi comments, “…To be a God to you,” I am a God to everyone who lives in the land of Israel, but anyone who leaves it is like one who worships idols” (Torat Kohanim; Ketubot 110b).

Concerning the value of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, Rashi’s source can be found in Ketubot 110B. There, the Sages of the Talmud, taught in the context of a husband or wife wanting to force the other spouse to leave Israel, or make Aliya, and go up to live there, “A Jew should always live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly gentiles, and should not reside outside of Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly Jews.”

“The reason, is that anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who does not have a God. As it is stated: ‘To give to you the land of Canaan, to be your God”’ (Leviticus 25:38).

“The Rabbis then ask: Can it really be said, that anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael has no God? And answer: Rather, this comes to teach you that anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship. And so it says with regard to David: ‘For they have driven me out this day, that I should not cleave to the inheritance of the Lord, saying: Go, serve other gods’ (ISamuel 26:19). But who said to David: Go, serve other gods? Rather, this comes to tell you that anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship” (Ketubot 110b).

The Rambam brings this down as Halacha, in his Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Kings and their Wars, Chapter 5, Halacha 12: “At all times, a person should dwell in Eretz Yisrael even in a city whose population is primarily gentile, rather than dwell in the Diaspora, even in a city whose population is primarily Jewish. This applies, because whoever leaves Eretz Yisrael for the Diaspora is considered as if he worships idols as I Samuel 26:19 states ‘They have driven me out today from dwelling in the heritage of God, saying: Go, serve other gods.’ Similarly, Ezekiel’s (13:9) prophecies of retribution state: ‘They shall not come to the land of Israel…’”

Its also brought down as Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, “You force her to go up to live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly gentiles, and you should not reside outside of Eretz Yisrael, even in a city that is mostly Jews” (Even HaEzer 75:3).

With all the chaos and crisis taking place around the world these days, the CoronaVirus, economic collapse, rising anti-Semitism, what will it take, to awaken world Jewry to move to Israel? When will they fulfill the Mitzvah of Aliya, living in God’s Land?

Then in Bechukotai, we find the third major concept. Among the “Tochachah-Admonitions,” one of the promised punishments for not keeping the Torah, is: “I will make the Land desolate, so that it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you. Your land will be desolate, and your cities will be laid waste. Then, the land will be appeased regarding its sabbaticals. During all the days that it remains desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies, the Land will rest and thus appease its sabbaticals,” (Leviticus 26:32-34).

Rashi, the Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and many other commentators say: “‘I will make the Land desolate’ This is actually a blessing in disguise, namely, that since the Land will be desolate of people living in it, their enemies, will not find contentment in Israel’s Land [and will have to leave]’” (Siftei Chachamim; Torat Kohanim).

The Ramban, (Nachmanides) after winning the famous Barcelona Disputation, was forced into exile, he fled Catalonia for Eretz Yisrael. He described his travels in 1267, in a letter he wrote to his son, “Many are Israel’s forsaken places, and great is the desecration. The more sacred the place, the greater the devastation it has suffered. Jerusalem is the most desolate place of all, where I couldn’t even find nine other Jews to pray with.”

Similarly, American humorist, Mark Twain observed 600 years later, while riding through the Jezreel Valley,“There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent, not for 30 miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride 10 miles, hereabouts, and not see 10 human beings.” He wrote, “We reached Mount Tabor safely…we never saw a human being on the whole route…” (The Innocents Abroad, 1869).

In his Torah commentary, the Ramban gave an interpretation to the desolation he encountered. He saw it as a good thing for Israel. He wrote that the devastation, “constitutes a good tiding, proclaiming that during all our exiles, our land will not accept our enemies…Since the time that we left [Eretz Yisrael], it has not accepted any nation or people, and they all try to settle it…This is a great proof and assurance to us.”

And, that’s exactly the condition the Jewish people found Eretz Yisrael in, when they started returning in the mid-19th century, a desolate and barren land. But the early Jewish agriculture projects started to make the land blossom again.

As is well known from numerous studies, most of the Arabs who live in Eretz Yisrael today, are descended from settlers that were encouraged to move here by the Ottoman authorities, from other parts of the empire, to balance the influx of Jews, in the late 19th century.

Or, decendents of migrant workers who came in looking for work, mostly from Egypt and Iraq, in the early 20th century; as the Jews were building up an economy, under the Ottomans, and the early Palestine Mandate period.

That’s why the Arab states and Soviet bloc wrote the UNRWA bylaws in 1949, to define an Arab refugee, as anyone who lived in the Palestine Mandate, only two years, prior to Israel’s declaration of independence. Many, many Arabs were newcomers to the country. They were used as a political tool against the fledgling State of Israel. First, Arab settlers, were redefined as Arab refugees, then overtime, they became “Palestinian” refugees, in anti-Israel doublespeak.

Now, there is an Israeli government that has agreed to the possibility of a Palestinian State, in parts of Eretz Yisrael. That gives an official stamp of approval to the lie, that there is a “Palestinian” people, that some other group than the Jews have rights here.

But its God’s Land, not ours, the Jews are only trustees for God. All the Jews. Even those who have yet to make Aliya, and come to receive their rightful inheritance as promised to their forefathers.

I’m waiting for you to come home, and so is your God, the God of Israel.

Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master’s Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.

(c) 2020/5780 Pasko

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