Dear Rabbi Fried,
Between the UNESCO vote not long ago, then the U.N. sanctioning Israel, and then John Kerry making his final public address to scold Israel for …living in Israel (!!) I am just beside myself, and wonder if it’s foretold in the Torah that the world would one day accuse the Jews of stealing Israel from someone else! How is this possible when we’ve had Jews living there for some 4,000 years?
You are raising a fascinating point; these current events have been very much foretold in Torah sources!
The classical commentator to the Torah, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known by the acronym Rashi, actually begins the very first line of his renowned commentary with reference to your question, albeit from a different vantage point.
Rashi begins his remarks by raising the question: Why does the Torah begin with the Book of Genesis? If the Torah is not a “story book,” rather a book of law, why does the Torah not begin with the first mitzvah, or law, commanded to the Jews? How does the story of Creation figure into a lawbook?
Citing the Midrash, Rashi answers this question with the verse, “The power of His actions He (God) has related to His people in order to bequeath them the inheritance of the nations” (Psalms 111:6). He explains that “if the nations of the world will tell the Jewish nation, ‘You are thieves, you have stolen the lands of the seven nations (Israel),’ you can answer them, ‘The Land belongs to God, He created it and just as He has desired to grant it (temporarily) to the seven nations, He has also desired that it be taken from them and given to us.’ ”
As shocking as it sounds, Rashi is telling us that we need the entire book of Genesis in order to relate the Creation story, so that everyone will know who created the world, and that that Creator has the right to take the Land from other nations and give it to us. It sounds almost ludicrous that we would need so much Torah for something that would probably never happen! If, however, Rashi reveals to us that an entire book of the Torah was given to us for this reason, the Creation story itself, then the claim that we stole the land of Israel goes to very core of the existence of the world. Why is this so? Why is this particular lie so much more foundational that the many falsehoods conjured up against us throughout the millennia of anti-Semitism?
It is because the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel, with all its holiness and fulfilling its laws, with the holy Temple in Jerusalem as the focal point of the nation, is truly the foundation of the world and the fulfillment of its purpose. From their high place in Israel the Jews are meant to be a light unto the nations, teaching by example the entire world its purpose and giving the Gentile nations their direction and calling. That is why we refer to the traveling or moving to Israel as “aliyah,” or “going up” to Israel, unlike any other country in the world. Israel is an elevated place, the dwelling place on earth closest to heaven. From the spiritual heights of Israel that light is meant to shine from above, through the Jews, to the Gentile nations and to provide their illumination. For this reason the world was created!
Hence, the claim that we stole the land is the way evil can justify itself by bucking the teachings and examples of the Jewish people and closing its eyes to the beautiful light emanating from Israel. This claim goes to the core of Creation, to the foundation of the purpose of life. If, at the time of Creation, there was destined to be a struggle between good and evil, truth and falsehood, then it would be manifest by claiming “You are thieves!,” that we stole the land and are not to be the nations’ mentors.
For much of our history, although Israel was conquered time and again, we never imagined it could possibly come about that someone would have the audacity to claim that we have stolen the land of Israel! And now, here we have it! The motion that was submitted and passed (sans the veto of the Obama administration), which officially makes us thieves of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall and much more of Israel. From here on in, the “negotiations” with the P.A. will begin with us having absolutely zero leverage, because all the land we occupy since 1967 is stolen property!
All this is foretold in a few words of Rashi, and is a lesson to us as to our lofty purpose in this world.
Dear Rabbi Fried,