Behar:The Arabs Don't Realize It

The Arabs don't realize what happened in 1948, but do we?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

In the summer of 1990, we had been in the country one year, and headed north to the Galilee after TishaB’Av for summer vacation.  We stayed in a kibbutz house that was being used as a guest-house by the hotel in Kibbutz Lavi. On Shabbat afternoon, a member of the kibbutz took a group of us on a walking-tour of the kibbutz and the surroundings. From the south end of the kibbutz, one can see KarneiChittim, the site of the 1187 C.E. battle between Crusaders and Moslem forces led by the famous Saladin.

Our guide waved his hand toward the green fields in the Chittim Valley below Lavi, and explained that the kibbutz owned many of the fields that spread out below us; Arabs too farmed fields in the valley below, and they were a constant source of trouble,as they were in the habit of moving fences in such a way as to steal land from the Kibbutz. This puzzled me.  I asked the guide how such a situation could exist, this being so many years after Yom Ha’Atzmaut( Israeli Independence Day) 1948.

The guide’s answer shocked this very naïve new Oleh: “The Arabs don’t really recognize what happened in 1948”.

RavTvi Tau writes that RavTzvi Yehuda Kook used to recite daily, after morning-prayers, the four chapters of Tehillim that the Rabbanut (Israeli Chief Rabbinate) declared should be said during the 1948 War of Independence – and Rav Kook passed away in 1982! “

Although the Rabbis legislated this custom only for that war, the Mitzvah( Divine commandment) of Yishuv Ha’Aretz( settling the Land of Israel) is protracted through time. We find ourselves in the continued process of the fulfillment of this Mitzvah, and we must hasten and finish the job. We are still immersed in this Mitzvah and that of of Yerushat Ha’Aretz( inheriting the Land), and all the periods of apparent ‘break-time’ are only rest-stops along the way” ( Ki Ayinb’AyinYir’U, page 130).

Rav Tau’s code-word, “Yerushat Ha’Aretz”, is loaded with meaning. It refers all the way back to Abraham, Avraham Avinu, and the Divine promise to give him the Land of Israel. Avraham had asked: “ Bame eida ki iy’rashena?”- how do I know I will inherit it, that my descendants will view it as an inheritance?

The Almighty answers: with slavery, “avdut”, and sacrifices, “ korbanot” and “avodat Hashem”:  “Your kids will go into slavery for hundreds of years, but in the merit of sacrifices  they will come back and inherit the Land”(see my “Department of Paschal-ar Surgery”, this website,    4/1/ /2010).

This week’s Parsha , Behar, is all about this Covenant, and about laws of the Land of Israel: Shmittah (the Sabbatical year), Yovel(Jubilee), selling fields in the Land, Jewish slaves,etc..

Rav Matis Weinberg discusses that the opening verse with its law of Shmittah is the basis of a dispute between the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban. Ibn Ezra says that the laws of Shmittah and EretzYisrael represent the culmination of the covenant (Brit) that was described in the Torah all the way back in Exodus 23,11 (till Exodus 24,8: “ Here is the blood of the Covenant, Brit”). The Ibn Ezra says this Parsha is a bit “out of place”, but this is only by way of “ connecting all the condition(al Mitzvah)s  for inheriting the Land”; in this he is referring to the laws of sexual depravity, for which “the Land vomited out the Canaanites”( Vayikra 18,28;also 20,23-24).

Similarly, failure to keep the Sabbatical year will result in Churban and exile, because the Brit is a Covenant of the Land, just as it was for Avraham Avinu. This is NOT a Brit of Mitzvot, i.e. do the Mitzvot and you get rewarded, don’t do them and I the Lord punish you. Rather, the Covenant is one between the Land and the Children of Israel; we don’t observe these Mitzvot, prohibitions regarding sexual depravity, and commandments regarding the Shmittah and Yovel, and the Land will vomit us out.

The Ramban sees this Parsha differently. This is not the old Covenant from Sinai, as Ibn Ezra sees it; and it is not out of place, coming after the long interruption  of the Golden Calf and the changed relationship between Israel and the Lord that is represented by the Mishkan, the Sanctuary of the Desert. 

The Ramban says that this Parsha is where is should be:” the first set of Ten Commandments were broken,  and with the Golden Calf G-d viewed that Brit null and void. When the Lord became reconciled with Moshe via the second Tablets, he commanded him in the details of a new Covenant”, which is described in this and the subsequent Parsha, Bechukotai. “In this second Brit, the Almighty wanted to be more strict with them, that the Covenant should come to them with the punishment, oaths and curses”  listed in Vayikra chapter 26.

The Ramban says they were accepting the Sinaitic Brit via these oaths, and thus verse 25,1 mentions Sinai; but it is a NEW Brit, except “ that it is like the first Brit, in that it includes all the commands and laws of the first”. One resulting difference (nafka mina), writes Ramban, is that in the building of the Mishkan, the Jews accepted this Covenant “ b’simcha” , with happiness, as opposed to the “ kafa aleihem har k’gigit’ , the compulsory element of the Sinaitic Brit (see Rashi, Exodus 19,17).  This is important, because a life lived happily is THE condition for continued life in the Land of Israel, as stated in Devarim 28,47, where these curses are repeated.

But  whether according to Ibn Ezra or Ramban, Parshat Behar depicts the Covenant that G-d made with the people of Israel concerning the Land of Israel. Again, this is NOT a Brit of Mitzvot and Torah; unlike the Nazis and the Church, no people make war with us today over our Brit of Torah. But today’s anti-Semites, including our Arab enemies, make war with us over the Land; as far as they are concerned, we may learn all the Torah we want, and do all the Miztvot we can, but Heaven forbid that we manifest sovereignty in our Land (see the ravings of Ahmadinejad of Iran).

This is why the order of the day is a positive, proactive politics and foreign policy by the State of Israel concerning this Land. Twelve years ago, former Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir gave a Yom Ha’Atzmaut speech in Beit El in which he depicted what his dream of Judea and Samaria had always been: plenty of open, inexpensive land so that young people can purchase housing,  It is still mostly vast, unused expanses.

Unlike the US with its motto of “ Go West Young Man”, this country foolishly squanders its natural resources. All one has to do is listen to young people all over the country, and especially in Yerushalayim, complaining about the inability to find affordable housing, and one realizes the folly of the slippery slope we entered when we went along with Obama’s housing freeze. We have effectively given foreigners the say in our housing, and thus our future.

This is the opposite of the Mitzvat Asei (Torah commandment) of Yishuv Ha’Aretz as depicted by the Ramban, part of which is “to not leave the Land desolate, or in the hand of any foreign power”. 

Although much inappropriate  blame for driving up real-estate prices has gone to Diaspora Jews purchasing in Israel, the solution is to flood the market with housing , and especially to do it where housing is cheap, i.e. Judea and Samaria.

Furthermore, instead of freeing up money for mortgages, Bank of Israel’s Stanley Fisher has tightened up the reins on giving loans, making Israelis come up with 50% down-payments, instead of the 10% which was prevalent just 3 years ago. Fisher is afraid of a US –style banking meltdown. This is despite not only the fact that Israel’s economy is  healthier than the US’s, but that we Jews have our Brit Ha’Aretz, pushing us to develop this Land.

We don’t need Fisher’s overly conservative fears, but rather the spirit of Jeremiah in this week’s Haftorah: with the Babylonians at the gates of Jerusalem, and all appeared lost, Jeremiah went out and bought the field of his Uncle Chanamel.

For as the Lord said: “ The time will come when houses, fields and vineyards will again be purchased in this Land…the Lord is Great in counsel, and might, in the ability to do any deeds that He chooses…took Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, gave them this Land which You swore to their ancestors that You would give to them - a Land flowing with milk and honey…is there anything ( You) cannot do? “ ( Jeremiah 32, verses 6-28).