Absolute Faith

Abandoning portions of the Jewish homeland is tantamount to amputating a limb from the collective Jewish body. The government views this move as a painful concession, but one that is crucial to Israel's continued existence. Frankly, this is the only concern that could motivate a Jew to abandon these holy lands.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow,

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
The Untenable Dilemma

On a trip to Israel in November of 2001, I asked a number of Israelis to share their thoughts on how the Intifada might be quelled. Their response was, "There is no resolution. The State of Israel will continue to exist and so will the Intifada. Somehow, we will have to learn to live with it." Their unspoken message was that the solution is beyond human ingenuity. It lies in G-d's hands.

Now, nearly four years later, the State of Israel is preparing to surrender portions of Biblical Israel. The surrender will be painful for residents and soldiers alike. Bitter tears will be shed on that tragic day by those conducting the expulsion, as well as those who will be expelled.

Abandoning portions of the Jewish homeland is tantamount to amputating a limb from the collective Jewish body. The government views this move as a painful concession, but one that is crucial to Israel's continued existence. Frankly, this is the only concern that could motivate a Jew to abandon these holy lands.

Our beleaguered Israeli brethren are battle weary and desperate for a solution. When we grow desperate, we grasp at straws, at anything that offers even a glimmer of hope. Diaspora Jews should not point accusatory fingers at those who suffer every day. We need not agree with the policy of the Israeli government, but we may not condemn those who believe that it will deliver a measure of respite.

With this in mind, let us turn to the Torah for guidance on this crucial question.

Moses Recounts

Just before his passing, Moses addressed the Jewish nation and recounted their forty-year journey through the Arabian desert.(1)

Moses began with the divine instruction that he received at Sinai to travel across the desert and lead the nation to the land promised by G-d to Jewish people. This journey would be made in record time. An eleven-day journey was miraculously covered in only seventy-two hours.

Moses then recounted the saga of the spies who were sent to Israel to scout the land and were convinced by what they saw that the land could not be conquered. Moses then recounted G-d's decree that the spies and their entire generation would die in the desert and their children in the following generation would inherit the land.

In reading this account, two obvious questions come to mind.

1. Why did the spies speak of difficulty in conquering the land when G-d had promised that they would inherit it peacefully?

2. Why did Moses recount these past sins to a new generation?

Faith and Weapons

Rashi, the famed eleventh-century commentator, answered these questions in one sentence. He wrote, "Had they not sent spies, they would have had no need for weapons."

Rashi chose his words with precision. The problem was not the report brought back by the spies, but the nation's collective desire to send the spies. This desire reflected a lack of faith in the Divine promise. They wanted to scout the enemy's defenses, identify its vulnerabilities and determine the most advantageous approach for the Jewish army.

Had they trusted in the divine promise of peaceful inheritance, there would have been no war and hence, no need for spies. Sending the spies sent a message to G-d that the nation wasn't confident in G-d's promise. When the nation demonstrated its lack of faith, G-d withdrew his promise and made them fight to conquer the land.

Power of Deterrence

Rashi's precise wording carries an additional message. Rashi could easily have written, "Had they not sent spies they would have had no need for war." Instead he wrote, "They would have had no need for weapons."

Weapons are not always purchased for the purpose of war. They are often purchased simply for their deterrent power. Rashi's comment teaches that G-d's promise of peaceful inheritance was meant absolutely. Nations indigenous to Israel would surrender their lands to the Jewish people of their own free will. Had the spies not sinned, there would be no need for actual war, nor would there even be a need to deter these nations from war through the massive purchase of weapons.

Moses recounted this story to the younger generation for two reasons: to explain why they were going to war, despite G-d's promise of peaceful inheritance, and to encourage absolute confidence in the divine promise of victory. "Don't repeat your parents' mistake. Pursue the war with absolute faith, and you will eventually conquer the land."

Modern Application

The Torah is a book of eternal instruction and Moses' last will and testament must guide us today as much as it did in antiquity. Circumstances today bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Moses' generation, as other nations again lay claim to our land.

Moses encouraged us to place our trust in G-d and unequivocally embrace our Biblical ownership of the land.(2) We must be firm in our conviction and declare our rights with confidence and faith. Rashi taught that we have three options:

We can trust in G-d implicitly and watch him miraculously deliver security and peace. We can trust in G-d only partially and find ourselves in need of a strong army, but be spared from actual war through our power of deterrence. We can trust in G-d minimally and find ourselves embroiled in war, but a war that we will ultimately win.(3)

In its brief history, modern Israel has successfully pursued the second and third options. The first option is the only one left untried.

If nothing else, it is at least worth a try.(4)

Footnotes:

1) Deuteronomy 1:9

2) This does not negate our obligation to treat our neighbors with compassion and respect. It is our obligation to respect our neighbors but it is also our obligation to resist our enemies. Compassion for a neighboring nation must not translate into surrender of G-d's gift to the Jewish people. The only exception to this rule is when it saves Jewish lives. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Jewish lives will be saved through the surrender of Jewish land. On the contrary, recent history indicates that our enemies view our compassion as a weakness, which further emboldens them to destroy Jewish life.

3) These three options do not include negotiation under fire or surrender of life or land, because surrender only leads to defeat. Victory is achieved through firm resolve.

4) This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, vol. XXIV, p. 1



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