Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Eretz Yisrael: The Heritage of the Jewish People

"Ve-horashtem et ha-aretz veeyshavtem bah ki lakhem natati et ha-aretz la-reshet otah" (Bamidbar 33:53). While Rashi and Unkelas interpret "vehorashtem" as referring to the obligation to eradicate idolatry and other spiritually problematic influences from Eretz Yisrael consistent with the theme of the pesukim that precede and follow, the Ramban argues that this verse refers to the positive obligation to settle the land (as he further elaborates in his glosses to Sefer ha-Mitzvot). According to the Ramban's view, the placement of this mitzvah in the context of the Torah's discussion of the consequences of neglecting the spiritual environment seems puzzling.

An analysis of the rest of the parshah, however, provides an important perspective that justifies this link. The parshah establishes that Eretz Yisrael is not merely the inheritance (nachalah) of the Jewish people, but like the Torah itself ("morashah kehilat Yaakov"), it is their heritage ("vehorashtem") and legacy. Thus, the apportionment of the land requires the Divine imprimatur of the lottery ("goral"), even though the division is based on logical principles ("la-rav tarbu et nachalao, ve-lameat tamitu et nachalato"). Indeed, life in Eretz Yisrael requires higher spiritual standards. Towards the end of the parshah we read (35:33-34) that Eretz Yisrael cannot tolerate immorality and violence ("lo tachnifu, velo tetameu"). The mourning period for the destruction of the batei mikdash that is initiated during the "bein hamezarim" (3 weeks) and especially intensifies from Rosh Chodesh Av is ascribed in Eikhah and elsewhere to the neglect of these standards of justice and morality and to the abuse of this heritage. This perspective justifies the Ramban's view that the Torah chooses to establish the imperative of settlement in Eretz Yisrael specifically within the framework of formulating the need for a spiritually conducive and even ambitious environment.

The need to intersperse the cities of Leviim and arei miklat (cities of refuge) throughout the borders of Eretz Yisrael further underscores the spiritual agenda that is an inseparable theme in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.

There are some geonim and rishonim (see Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 6:14; Zekhiyah 3:8) who insist that the rules governing legal conditions or stipulations (mishpetai tenaim) that were derived from the negotiations between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven and Gad over settlement in ever ha-yarden (across the Jordan River) do not apply to monetary transactions. The Ra'avad (Hilkhot Zekhiyah) already notes the obvious difficulty with this stance, as the paradigm itself was a real estate transaction! However, the geonic view can be justified because the issues of settlement and borders in Eretz Yisrael evidently transcend the monetary component. The agreement with the tribes primarily consists of a reformulation of the broader heritage and legacy of Klal Yisrael, a matter of issur ve-heter that clearly requires the rules of conditions.

We now stand at a painful crossroads as the Israeli government prepares to implement its controversial "Disengagement" policy, ceding sovereignty not merely over real estate but a part of the heritage of Klal Yisrael. The Talmud (Bekhorot 55a based on Bamidbar 34:12) rules that despite the divisions to different tribes all of Eretz Yisrael constitutes an integrated whole: "melamed she-kulah Eretz Yisrael achat hi". Irrespective of one's ultimate stance on the halakhic, military, and political validity of the "hitnatkut" decision, these are not only days of crisis and uncertainty but also of profound sadness and loss as thousands of Jewish families stand to be uprooted and as Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael stands to be diminished.

Alas, even this sense of loss is hardly uniform, provoking further disunity. Those who are insensitive to halakhic concepts and certainly outsiders may simply be unable to comprehend why the resettling of a few thousand people and the relinquishing of a few small settlements is so traumatic. Sadly, there are also small but vociferous segments of the Israeli political establishment (Shinui) that have cynically exploited the national trauma and the deep and passionate divisions in the country in an effort to advance their anti-religious ideology. Others, though far less strident, unfortunately still speak cavalierly about the insignificance of the proposed concessions and focus exclusively on the political, military, and security ramifications.

For this reason, it behooves us to revisit the implications of parshat Masaei. It is important that all of Klal Yisrael, including those who support the governments plan for various reasons, unite in its acknowledgement of the magnitude of pain and loss and that they identify with the tenacious and passionate ideal of love of Eretz Yisrael and yishuv ha-aretz that animates the opposition campaign. At the same time, it is equally important that all sides of the debate carefully examine their tactics and rhetoric, for as the parshah teaches us, the settlement of Eretz Yisrael and the apportionment of its borders must ultimately derive from and enhance the larger agenda of sanctity and halakhic growth.

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