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Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Perspectives on Bitachon and the Centrality of Eretz Yisrael

Parshat Lech Lecha chronicles Avraham's climactic entry into Eretz Yisroel. Almost immediately (12:10) he encounters a famine crisis that tests his faith in the destiny that Hashem promised and that challenges his resolve and judgement.

Avraham's decision to exit Eretz Yisroel and to relocate in Mitzrayim is assessed divergently by the classical commentators. Radak and Rabbeinu Yonah argue that the factor of "ein somechin al ha-nes" (not to rely on miracles) dictated his appropriate and even model conduct. The Ramban, however, emphatically disputes this perspective. He concludes that Avraham displayed an uncharacteristic deficiency of faith (bitachon) when he abandoned his new homeland in an effort to neutralize the crisis.

Ramban's expansive view on bitachon and his unconventional critique of Avraham's actions appear to be at odds with the general evidence marshalled by Chazal, as cited by Radak and others, that proactive solutions are superior to passive reliance on Divine intervention.

Moreover, the Ramban, himself, advocates an active - hishtadlut approach to crises in other contexts. The Ramban (beginning of Vayishlach), for example, projects Yaakov's triad of tefilah, doron, and milchamah (prayer, gifts, and preparation for war) as an ideal normative response to danger. While the prayer component underscores bitachon, the other two factors constitute pragmatic hishtadlut initiatives. Evidently, Ramban does not reject the course of personal responsibility and the factor of ein somechin al ha-nes - overreliance upon Divine protection - in other contexts. Why, then, does he adopt this bitachon-centric critique of the patriarch Avraham in this episode?

Perhaps Ramban's position is that the choice between painful personal concessions and passive Divine reliance is determined by the applicable halachic counter-pressures. Perhaps the jeopardy in which he placed Sarah, and particularly the steep price of leaving Eretz Yisroel generally and especially at this phase of his spiritual odyssey, tainted this particular manifestation of hishtadlut.

Indeed, the Ramban's evaluation of the balance of factors may reflect his well-documented stance on the pervasive centrality of Eretz Yisroel. Ramban counts the settling of the land as a positive command (hashmatot of esin in Sefer Hamitzvot) even in the absence of the agricultural mizvot of Eretz Yisroel (mitzvoth ha-teluyot ba-aretz) and notwithstanding the physical and emotional difficulties entailed by implementing this charge . In his commentary to the Torah and elsewhere in his writings, he speaks frequently and compellingly about the special opportunities of avodat Hashem and the singular, direct providential relationship with Hashem that is particularly manifest in Eretz Yisroel ("ki chelek Hashem amo Yaakov chevel nachalato").

The Ramban may also have felt that the special hashgachah (Divine supervision) that stems from the direct and even intimate relationship that is specifically amplified by Eretz Yisroel particularly engenders a normative response of absolute faith. Furthermore, the fact that he had just initiated this critical phase of his and Klal Yisrael's destiny, and at great personal sacrifice (the Lech Lecha of this parshah being equated by the midrash with the Lech Lecha of the Akedah!), may have militated against a more pragmatic-hishtadlut approach in this context. The grandiose vision of this future - "vi-escha le-goy gadol va-avarechecha va-agadlah shemecha ve-heyei berachah" etc. - tied to the implementation of Lech Lecha in all of its ramifications, called for a normative response of singular idealism in this propitious moment and tone-setting opportunity in Jewish and world history. The ubiquitous norm of hishtadlut was contextually inappropriate given the stakes and opportunities presented by these circumstances.

Presumably, Rabbeinu Yonah and Radak were no less ardent about the centrality of Eretz Yisroel, or sensitive to the opportunity of that moment in history. Their contrary perspective may reflect not only a heightened recoil of ein somechin al ha-nes but also an equally compelling conviction that the centrality of Eretz Yisroel in Jewish life itself and the enhanced value of bitachon that it commands also demands greater personal responsibility and initiative. The capacity to faithfully cling to the ideal of Eretz Yisroel even in the context of temporary setbacks, detours, and other vicissitudes is no less an expression of faith in the destiny of the Jewish nation and Jewish homeland than the one reflected in the Ramban's singular stance. Our history repeatedly demonstrates that the yearning for Eretz Yisroel notwithstanding challenges, obstacles, setbacks, and even exiles, has proven a powerful manifestation of emuanh and bitachon and has served as a catalyst enabling us to persist, overcome, and ultimately realize the ideal. Resiliency and pragmatism need not conflict with idealism when the ultimate telos remains the single-minded aspiration of attaining the destiny promised to Avraham Avinu.

We have a heightened sensitivity to these issues and the respective dynamics they entail especially in our time in which the centrality of Eretz Yisroel is so manifest, the spiritual opportunities connected with life in Eretz Yisroel are so compelling, even as the challenges and dangers faced by its population are so acute. Each of the conflicting views of the classical biblical expositors inspire us with the promise of realizing that destiny both with hishtadlut and bitachon.

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