Torah reading
Torah reading צילום: Kupat Hair

Parashat Ki Tavo begins with the words, “It will be, when you come to the Land which Hashem your G-d gives you a heritage – you will inherit it and you will dwell in it” (Deuteronomy 26:1).

We begin by noting the first word of the parashah, וְהָיָה, which we have translated here as “it will be”. Hebrew idiom has two almost synonymous words: וְהָיָה and וַיְהִי. Almost synonymous – but with an important if subtle difference, which the Midrash explains:

“Wherever it says וַיְהִי there is no joy, wherever it says וְהָיָה there is no sorrow” (Bereishit Rabbah 42:3, Vayikra Rabbah 11:7 et al.). Hence by using the word וְהָיָה to introduce this section, the Torah intimates to us that entering the Land of Israel entails no sorrow. It is unadulterated joy.

Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d (New York and Israel, 1932-1991) comments on this:

“This is our right and our claim to the Land of Israel – that G-d gave it to us. ‘You will inherit it and you will dwell in it’ – this is a commandment: You are obligated to inherit it and to dwell in it, because G-d took it from the other nations for this purpose – that you will dwell in it and fulfil the mitzvot, and elevate yourself to holiness in the midst of the Holy Land” (Peirush Ha-Maccabee, Deuteronomy 26:1).

The whole of Chapter 28 (69 verses out of 122 in the entire parashah) is the Tochachah, the Castigation. This begins with 14 verses which detail the promise of G-d’s blessings that He will bestow upon us when we obey Him and His Torah, followed by 55 verses of warnings of the curses and punishments that He will inflict upon us if we disobey Him and His Torah.

The Ramban identifies four stages: the first stage (verses 15-31) describes all our undertakings in the Land as being doomed. The second stage (vs. 31-35) describes a foreign nation occupying and controlling our Land. The third stage (vs. 36-63) depicts the king and part of the nation being exiled, and life in Israel becoming progressively harsher as foreign occupation becomes progressively crueller. The fourth and final stage (vs. 64-68) describes the majority of the nation dragged into exile, with life in exile becoming increasingly bitter.

It is this final stage – exile – which is most relevant to us today, because it is the stage in which more than half the Jewish nation is still living:

“Hashem will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the world to the other end of the world, and there you will worship other gods which you had not known – neither you nor your fathers – wood and stone” (v. 64).

Does the Torah here command us to worship idols in exile?

– No, of course not. Both Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan render, “...and there you will serve nations who worship idols...”, which explanation Rashi cites, agrees with, and expands upon: “Not literally idolatry, but rather being forced to pay tribute and poll-tax to priests of idolatry”.

But actually, the connection between exile and idolatry is more obvious. “I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you the Land of Canaan, to be your G-d” (Leviticus 25:38), on which the Talmud expounds:

“A Jew must always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city whose majority are idolaters, and not live outside of the Land of Israel, even in a city whose majority are Jews; because any Jew who lives in the Land of Israel is as one who has a G-d, and any Jew who lives outside of the Land is like one who has no G-d, as it says ‘to give you the Land of Canaan, to be your G-d’. So does no one who lives outside the Land [of Israel] have a G-d? – What this means is that anyone who lives outside of the Land of Israel is as though worshipping idolatry” (Ketuvot 110b).

The Rambam (Laws of Kings 5:12) cites this, word-for-word, as halakhah in practice.

And, as Rashi (commentary to Leviticus 25:38) says, “‘To be your G-d’ – because I am the G-d of one who dwells in the Land of Israel, and anyone who leaves it is like an idolater”.

So inevitably, every Jew in exile “will worship other gods...wood and stone”.

The Torah continues by describing life in exile: “And among those nations you will not be calm, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; Hashem will give you there a turbulent heart, yearning eyes, and suffering soul” (Deuteronomy 28:65).

Now it is indisputably true that we have had much suffering in exile – but it is equally true that we have had many periods of calmness and tranquillity and prosperity. It is enough to cite the examples of several centuries in Babylon (modern-day Iraq) from the days of Nebuchadnezzar until the Arab Moslem conquest; of the first three-and-a-half centuries of Moslem Spain, from 711 until the mid-11th century; of half a millennium in the Catholic Kingdom of Poland, from the 11th to the 16th centuries; of three-and-a-half centuries in Britain and the USA (the first Jews came to the USA in 1654, and were readmitted to Britain in 1656); and of Germany from the Enlightenment until 1933.

But this is precisely the point: Many periods of calmness and tranquillity and prosperity – periods which always ended when conditions changed. Whether invasion, or civil war, or revolution, or political upheaval, or economic collapse, or social crisis, or military defeat, or any combination of these – the good times came to their end. And though the general populations may have suffered privations or violence or repression, among those nations Jews had even less rest for the sole of their foot, they suffered there from turbulent heart, yearning eyes, and suffering soul far, far more than the surrounding indigenous populations.

Such is the inescapable reality of galut (exile). The Jew in galut can ignore the implications for years, for generations, sometimes for centuries – but eventually, inevitably, the curses of the tochachah will catch up with him.

The Jew’s relationship with galut is symbiotic: the deeper the Jew is in galut, the stronger is the galut’s hold on him. The stronger is the galut’s hold on the Jew, the harder it is for him to leave galut.

The first stage of galut is physical expulsion from the Land of Israel. The Jew knows he is in exile, he yearns to return to return home.

A later stage is when the Jew become acclimatised to his new “homeland”. Comfortable and prosperous in the land of exile, he retains his Jewish identity, but nevertheless feels himself to be Egyptian, Babylonian, Spanish, French, German, British, American, whatever.

A later stage yet is when he becomes fully assimilated into his “homeland”, sometimes even abandoning his Jewish identity entirely.

And the ultimate galut, the deepest, darkest galut of all, is when the Jew is so utterly estranged from the Land of Israel that he begins to think of Israel itself as “galut” (rachmana litzlana). The Jew who has so completely absorbed galut into himself, and has been so completely absorbed into galut, that for him, Berlin (or Vilna, or Crown Heights, or Stamford Hill, or anywhere else) is “the new Jerusalem” – while the true Jerusalem, the true Land of Israel, become “exile”.

This is a galut so complete that it has defeated even the Yeshivot. It is a galut of such darkness that even the blackest of hats and the longest of beards are inextricably mired in it – sometimes even more than the secularists.

From this exile, the Jew does not want to be redeemed: after all, he denies the very fact of exile. From this exile the only possible redemption is persecution. This is precisely the reason that in exile, the Jew “will not be calm, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; Hashem will give you there a turbulent heart, yearning eyes, and suffering soul”.

The phrase “rest for the sole of your foot” (מָנוֹחַ לְכַף רַגְלֶךָ) clearly echoes the dove which Noah sent forth from the ark: “The dove did not find rest for the sole of her foot (מָנוֹחַ לְכַף רַגְלָהּ), so she returned to him, to the ark” (Genesis 8:9).

The Midrash homiletically compares the end of the Flood with the end of Israel’s exile: “Had she [the dove] found a resting-place she would not have returned. Similarly, ‘she [Israel] dwells among the nations, she did not find any resting-place’ (Lamentations 1:3). Had they [Israel] found any resting-place, they would not have returned [to the Land of Israel]” (Bereishit Rabbah 33:7).

If the only way that G-d can bring His exiled children home is by having them harassed and harried in exile, if the only impetus that will bring them home is not finding rest for the soles of their feet, then that is what Hashem will send into the world.

“You will inherit the Land and live in it, because I have given you the Land to inherit”, says G-d (Numbers 33:53), on which the Ramban comments:

“In my opinion this is a positive commandment: He hereby commands them to live in the Land [of Israel] and to inherit it, because He gave it to them and they are not to have contempt for Hashem’s portion. And if they even consider going to conquer the land of Shinar [the modern border-region between Iraq and Iran, around the Persian Gulf] or Assyria [the region straddling the modern Turkey-Iraq border], or anywhere else, and to live there, then they are violating Hashem’s commandment”.

It emerges from this that there are three separate commandments, two positive and one negative. G-d commands us (1) to live in the Land of Israel, (2) to inherit it, and (3) not to live anywhere else [1].

And Jews who illegally settle in other nations’ lands, illegal Jewish settlers whether in Babylon or Persia, whether in Britain or in the USA, Jews who violate G-d’s commandments by regarding other nations’ countries as their own, inevitably make it impossible for any Jew to be calm. It is an immutable law of the Torah that when Jews construct illegal settlements (illegal by G-d’s law, that is, not necessarily illegal by human definition) in countries out of Biblical Israel, whether in Shinar or in Golders Green or in Williamsburg, there will be no rest for the sole of their feet; Hashem will give them there a turbulent heart, yearning eyes, and suffering soul.

Quite simply, it is these illegal Jewish settlers who provoke anti-Semitism.

Obviously, for well-nigh two millennia we had no choice. With our national homeland under foreign occupation (most of the time brutally anti-Jewish foreign occupation), we had no option of returning home.

Let us compare this to a family whose house has burnt down. With nowhere to live, they throw themselves on the mercy of friends, relatives, neighbours, anyone who will host them. Even begrudging and mean hospitality is better than no hospitality.

Such was our lot ever since the Romans exiled us from our Land. We indeed found hospitality among the other nations – in the Roman Empire, in pagan Babylon and Persia, in Christian Europe, in the Moslem East, and beyond. Sometimes warm and generous hospitality, sometimes grudging, often outright hostile.

But when the family has rebuilt their burnt-out house, even the most generous and patient host is justified in telling the guests: Your house is ready, it’s time to go back home. You were a welcome guest in my house when you needed hospitality, you’ve been good friends – but this isn’t your house. Your house is ready and waiting for you.

It is never a good idea for a guest to outstay his welcome. And it is perfectly understandable when the nations of the world today – even those who have been unreservedly welcoming to Jews – start telling the Children of Israel: Your house is ready, perhaps it’s time to think about going back home. You were welcome guests in our house when you needed hospitality, you’ve been good friends – but now your house is ready and waiting for you. It’s time for you to go home.

Now to be sure, our house is still in something of a mess. It’s not perfect. (Which country in the world is?) Yes, we have our problems here in Israel. Yes, we suffer from a bloated government bureaucracy and (to some extent) a Middle Eastern mentality.

But with one of the strongest economies in the world, with the stablest government for a thousand miles in any direction (yes, even including certain European Union countries: Greece, for example), being among the top 20 countries in the Human Development Index [2] – ahead of the European Union as a whole, ahead of some two-thirds of individual EU countries, incomparably ahead of any other country in the Middle East – we have done a remarkable job of rebuilding our national home. Certainly we are light-years ahead of just about every other post-colonial society in the world.

We have built a healthy, robust society; a country which produces more advances in technology and medicine than any other country in the world with the sole exceptions of Japan and the USA, one of only nine countries in the world which have launched satellites into space.

We have the only country in the world where all major supermarket chains stock only kosher food, where no one has to make special arrangements not to work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, where every Army kitchen is kosher by standing orders [3], where shops are forbidden by law to publicly sell chametz on Pesach, where official government correspondence is dated by Jewish date, and where the official radio and TV broadcasts begin each day with the Hebrew date (the Gregorian date coming second).

With such a healthy society, no Jew really has much of a justification to remain in galut. And it is no surprise that illegal Jewish settlers in galut are increasingly under attack.

Dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Frances (Freidel) Pinner, nee Tropp, who passed away 30 years ago this Shabbat, 20th Ellul 5751 (30th August 1991). Yehi zichrah baruch.


[1] Living in Israel and inheriting it are two separate mitzvot. Living in Israel is an individual mitzvah, inheriting it is a national mitzvah. A Jew who lived in Israel under foreign occupation did not “inherit” the Land; only when we have national Jewish sovereign independence in the Land do we “inherit” it.

[2] See

[3] Kashrut in IDF kitchens is often more reliable than in certain kosher restaurants. After all, a worker in a civilian restaurant who violates kashrut rules risks no more than a reprimand from his employer. A soldier who violates kashrut in an IDF kitchen can face court-martial.