The First Jewish Immigrant to Israel



The Parsha begins with G-d instructing Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) to leave his father?s house and to go to the Land of Israel, making him the first Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) in Jewish history. The Torah states, ?And G-d said to Abram: ?Go for yourself [?Lech-Lecha? in Heb.; literally, ?Go to yourself?] from your land, from your relatives and from your father?s house to the land that I will show you (Chap. 12, verse 1).?



The Question:

What is the significance of G-d?s instruction to Abram to ?Go for yourself? to Israel?



The Answer:

The commentators note that the command given to Abram to go to the Land of Israel contains the seemingly extraneous word ?Lecha?, which literally means ?to yourself?. The Kli Hemdah (cited in MeOtzareinu HaYashan), says that G-d?s command of ?Lech Lecha? ? ?Go to yourself? ? is meant to teach us that if a Jew wishes to uncover his roots and reach his true self, then he must do so by going to ?the land that I will show you? ? namely the Land of Israel. Hence, G-d?s command was intended to enable Abram to reach his full potential as a Jew, something that could only be accomplished in the Land of Israel.



The Lesson:

Living in the Land of Israel is a central component of Judaism. As Rabbi Meir Yechiel HaLevi of Ostrovtzeh (1851-1928; cited in Menachem Beker?s Parperaot LaTorah) points out, the command of ?Lech Lecha? is the first mitzvah in the Torah that was given to the first Jew in history. This, says Rabbi Meir Yechiel, is a sign of its great importance. Indeed, the Sifri (on Parshat Re?eh) and the Tosefta both say that, ?the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot in the Torah.? The Ramban (Nahmanides), in his comments on the Rambam?s Sefer HaMitzvot, says, ?it is a positive commandment for all generations, incumbent upon each and every one of us, even during a time of Exile?.



Sadly, however, this fundamental principle of Judaism is neither appreciated nor practiced by the majority of the world?s Jews. Even among those who strive to be meticulously observant of the Torah?s precepts, the mitzvah of living in Israel has inexplicably been overlooked and ignored. It is time to stop making excuses. It is time for every Jew to look to the example set by Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, and to do as he did ? to ?Go to yourself? and to come home to the Land of Israel.



The First Jewish Settler



After receiving G-d?s command, Abram and Sarai, his wife, pack their belongings and head off to the Holy Land. Abram goes to Elon Moreh, near Shechem (Nablus), thereby becoming the first Jewish settler in history (fortunately, the United Nations did not yet exist at the time). G-d appears to him there and promises that ?To your offspring will I give this land (Chap. 12, verse 7; George W. Bush ? please take note!).? Abram travels further south until he reaches Beit-El, where he pitches his tent and builds an altar to G-d.



The Question:

Why does G-d appear to Abram at Elon Moreh to tell him that the Land will be given to his offspring?



The Answer:

Rashi says that when Abram arrived at Elon Moreh, the Canaanites were in the process of seizing control over the Land of Israel from the descendants of Shem, Noah?s son. Thus, G-d wanted to reassure Abram that despite the political turmoil around him, and the Canaanites? victories, the Land would one day belong to his descendants, the Jewish people (who, through Abram, can trace their lineage back to Shem as well). Thus, He appeared to Abram at Elon Moreh and told him that the Land would belong to his offspring.



The Lesson:

Over the past decade, the Palestinians have gained a significant foothold in the Land of Israel. Thanks to the failed Oslo accords, large tracts of land were turned over to the control of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA), resulting in the current campaign of terror and violence directed against the Jewish state. Even after a year in which some 200 innocent Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorists based in PA-controlled areas, Israel?s government seems to lack either the will or the ability to go back in and clean out the hornets? nest of terror. This past week, for the second time in three weeks, Hizbullah terrorists in southern Lebanon carried out cross-border attacks against Israeli soldiers in northern Israel, raising the possibility of the outbreak of a regional war. Just like our patriarch Abraham, we look at the events around us in Israel, and we start to wonder: what about the promise of return? Have the Jewish people survived 2000 years of exile and persecution, Holocaust and pogroms, only to return to their Land and then lose it to a gang of terrorist thugs? Were all the Jewish tears and Jewish blood that were spilled over the past five decades in vain?



In Abraham?s time, it was the Canaanites who seemed unstoppable, in our day it is the Palestinians. Yet that is precisely why G-d?s appearance to Abram at Elon Moreh is so pertinent. Even though the Canaanites were riding to victory, G-d was quick to reassure Abram that their ascendance was only temporary, telling him that, ?To your offspring will I give this Land.? That reassurance, that encouragement, still speaks to us today, because it is we who are Abraham?s offspring and it is we to whom the promise has been made. The Palestinians may very well have succeeded, for now, in grabbing some land and winning some diplomatic battles, but ultimately, it is G-d?s promise that will prevail.



Standing Up to a Superpower



Later in the Parsha, Abram and his nephew Lot part ways after a feud between their herdsmen. Abram moved to Hebron, where he lived in the plains of Mamre, while Lot moved to Sodom. Then, in the first 12 verses of Chapter 14, the Torah describes the outbreak of the War of the Kings, in which 4 powerful kings fought against 5 vassal kings in what was no doubt the ancient equivalent of a world war. The 4 kings were victorious and they captured Sodom and took all its wealth. They also captured Lot and took him hostage. When Abram heard that Lot had been captured, he raised a small army of 318 men who were his disciples and then attacked the 5 kings, despite their having a force far greater in size than his. Abram prevailed in the battle and freed Lot. The Torah tells us, ?And he [Abram] and his servants deployed against them at night and struck them; he pursued them as far as Hobah, which is to the north of Damascus. And he brought back all the possessions; he also brought back his kinsman, Lot, with his possessions, as well as the women and the people (Chap. 14, verses 15-16).?



The Question:

Why does the Torah devote a dozen verses to the account of the War of the Kings?



The Answer:

The Sforno (Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno of Italy, 1470-1550) says that the Torah ?is telling us how great these five kings were and how powerful were the four kings who defeated them. Now we can know (judge) the great might of Abram and his military skill, as well as the great kindness shown to his relative (Lot), by his willingness to sacrifice himself to overcome them (the four kings) so as to save his nephew and his possessions from them, wresting the prey from their jaws and achieving even more than he had hoped for, thanks to the mercy of G-d (translation courtesy of the Artscroll Sforno, by Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz).? Thus, according to the Sforno, the Torah wanted to give us a better appreciation for Abram?s courage and heroism in coming to the assistance of his nephew Lot, hence it provided us with the details of the War of the Kings.



The Lesson:

Over the course of the past week, Israeli forces made limited incursions into Palestinian-controlled territory throughout Judea and Samaria to hit back at Palestinian terrorists and thwart future attacks. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said that intelligence warnings about impending attacks were at an all-time high, so it was necessary to send in the army to prevent future loss of life. Despite Israel?s purely justified actions against terrorism, the United States government came down hard on Israel, with the State Department issuing a sharply worded demand that Israeli forces withdraw immediately and not return. So, Israel?s leaders appear to face a dilemma ? to protect Israel?s citizens by leaving the troops in place or to risk angering the United States by refusing to do so. In reality, however, there is no dilemma. Protecting the lives of innocent Jews is far more important than making the State Department happy.



As we saw above, Abram was willing to stand up to the superpower of his day to save his nephew Lot from a dire fate. He was neither intimidated into passivity nor fearful of the consequences. When it came to protecting his family, all other considerations fell by the wayside. Let us hope and pray that the Israeli government will show a similar level of concern for the welfare of its citizens and not hesitate to do what is necessary in Judea and Samaria to finally put an end to the threat posed by Palestinian terror.



Note:

With this issue of the Parsha sheet, I have now completed the annual cycle of the weekly Torah readings. The Parsha sheet first came out last year on Parshat VaYera, which we read next week. Originally, it was intended to be an ?occasional? series, but due to the positive feedback I received, it turned into a regular, weekly undertaking. I want to thank my wife for her encouragement and comments along the way and I am especially grateful to G-d for enabling me to learn His Torah and apply its wisdom to the events going on around us. Next week, the Parsha sheet will return, albeit with one very major difference. Stay tuned and let?s keep on learning.