Sometimes young people ask the big questions without hesitating, and open a door to deep thought. When I recently met with a group of youngsters for a conversation, one of them asked seriously, and painfully: Why are there terrorist attacks? Why are righteous Jews killed?
Because There Are Not Enough Jews in Israel
I answered: Because there are not enough Jews in Eretz Yisrael in general, and in Judea and Samaria, in particular, as the Torah says: “But if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live” (Numbers 33:55).
Some think the problem is external – if there are no enemies in the land, the troubles will end. However, from the Torah we learn that the reality is the exact opposite: if there are no enemies, greater troubles may arise from the desolation. It’s unpleasant to admit, but the fight against the enemy forges and unites Israel, and who knows what crises and civil wars we would have gotten into without it.
In other words, as long as there are not enough Jews to settle the entire land, its’ length and breadth, until there are no desolate places remaining, God sees to it that in a natural way that enemies will remain in the land. As the Torah says: “I will not drive them away from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field outnumber you. I will drive them out from before you little by little, until you have increased and can occupy the land” (Exodus 23:27-31).
After Am Yisrael increases and become stronger, physically and spiritually – the enemies will leave. Conceivably, some of them will join us, and thus, turn from enemies to allies. And there will probably be those who will fight and be defeated, and others who will prefer to emigrate to another country.
Why were the Borders of the Land Reduced in the Torah Portion Masei?
The borders of the Land of Israel are from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River. However, in practice, in the Torah portion Masei, when God commanded Israel to occupy the land and settle it, He commanded to conquer only the western part of the Jordan. This is because the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel) must be fulfilled according to Am Yisrael’s capability. And since the number of Israelites was not sufficient to settle the entire Land of Israel, the mitzvah was to first conquer the more inherently sacred area – the western side of the Jordan River. Only after increasing in numbers, would they be able to gradually expand towards the eastern side of the Jordan River, and to all the territories of the Promised Land of Israel (Ramban, Bamidbar 21:21; Malbiim, ibid.).
The Eastern Side of the Jordan River
Consequently, from the outset, Israel did not intend to conquer the land of Sichon and Og, and only after they did not accept the peace offer and waged war against Israel, Am Yisrael conquered their land. Even so, there was still no intention to settle there; therefore, when the sons of Reuven and Gad asked to inherit the eastern side of Jordan, Moshe Rabbeinu was very annoyed with them, but reluctantly granted their request after they promised to be the first in conquering the holier, principal portion, located on the western side of the river. In practice, there were not enough Jews to inherit the western side of the Jordan River, and there remained sovereign enclaves of Gentiles, who caused great trouble to Israel for about four hundred years, as recounted in the Book of Judges.
The Value of Israel’s Large Population
Chumash Bamidbar is called the Sefer Ha’Pikudim (the ‘Book of Counting’), because it describes the counting of battle-worthy young men. Unfortunately, during the forty years in the desert, the Israelites did not increase – their number remained the same as at the beginning, approximately 600,000. In Egypt, over the course of 210 years, the Israelites multiplied from seventy people to 600,000 men of military age; if they had continued to observe the mitzvah of Puru u’revu (procreation), in the desert they would have multiplied more than double. In other words, the Sin of the Spies led to despair from the vision of Yishuv Ha’Aretz, and also from the desire to procreate and multiply.
And as the Torah says repeatedly, the blessing of reproduction and inheritance of the Land are correlated, and dependent on one another.
The Effect of the Sin of the Spies on Our Generation
About a hundred and twenty years ago, at the time of the establishment of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people numbered approximately eleven million, while the Arabs who lived in all areas of the Biblical borders, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, numbered a little more than five million, with a little more than half a million Arabs living on both sides of the Jordan. At that point, the Jewish nation had the opportunity to return to the Land of Israel, in which to flourish and multiply. However, the majority of our nation decided to remain in the Diaspora, suffered increasing hardships under the rule of Communist oppression, until the climax was reached in the Holocaust. At that moment in time, the despair of the rebirth of the People in its Land, led to the cessation of reproduction, and assimilation.
As a result of this, today, there are about fifteen million declared Jews in the world, and in Israel, approximately seven million. In contrast, the Arabs in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael benefited from the fruits of the industrial revolution, the growth of food production, and the improvement of medicine, and grew from five million, to more than eighty million.
Blessed are the Jews who chose to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, and settle in it. They continue the vitality, they inherit the Land and multiply, and they are the future of the entire nation.
Disputes – Swords in the Heart of the Nation
The controversy between Korach and his followers is one of the most serious consequences of the Sin of the Spies, as indeed, it appeared immediately following it. Connection to the Land of Israel unites the people, and betrayal of it, leads to disputes, which also drains vitality from the people, and causes the cessation of proliferation.
Thus we find in modern times, that partnership in the settlement of the Land created a union between all the factions – religious and secular, left and right, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Hasidim and Mitnagdim. Even the few Reform Jews who supported the settlement of the Land were united with all the Zionists, including the religious. Although Yishuv Ha’Aretz itself was accompanied by huge disputes, in the end, unity prevailed. In Chutz le’Aretz (abroad), on the other hand, disputes created rifts that led to despair, and the acceleration of assimilation.
The Difficult Example from Hungary
The most difficult and deep controversy was among Hungarian Jewry. As a result of the Law of Equality of Rights for Jews, in 1870, a severe split occurred between the Orthodox and Neologs. The Orthodox saw the Equality Law as a danger, and tried to manage with it, while the Neologs saw the law as a blessing which would enable the expansion of emancipation (giving equal rights to Jews).
Many compare Neologists to Conservatives who took an intermediate position, between the Orthodox and Reform, but this is not accurate. What the Neologs had in common was that they advocated a great openness to modernity, and wanted the Jewish community to include both the secular and the religious, consequently, under the label Neologs, there were also a few modern religious, alongside communities that resembled Conservative and Reform. The Neologists began to form a community in 1830, and at the time of the division, forty years later, their number was already close to half of the Hungarian Jews.
The Result of the Division in Hungary – Terrible Assimilation
According to documented material, during the 19th century, 10,056 Jews converted to Christianity in Hungary. The rate of conversion to Christianity increased over the years, and in the decade around the year 1896-1907, 5,148 Jews converted to Christianity (the number of converts was about a fifth of the number of converts to Christianity).
In the years 1919-1941, the number of converts to Christianity kept increasing, and a total of 36,648 converts were recorded in twenty-two years.
At the same time, the rate of intermarriage between Jews and Christians in Hungary was also increasing. In 1895, the rate of intermarriage was about three percent, and about forty years later – about 12 percent.
It is difficult to estimate numerically the loss caused to the Jewish population from intermarriage, but it can be learned from the Nazi (may the name be blotted out) census in 1941. The number of Christians who were registered as ‘racial Jews’ according to the Jewish laws was 89,640, about a fifth of the entire Jewish population. This number was composed of three main groups: converts, their descendants, and the descendants of mixed-marriages who were registered as Christians.
There were many more Jews who converted to Christianity who immigrated to the West. It can be estimated that their number is at least as high as the number of those remaining in Hungary, since those who converted to another religion emigrated more easily to a different country. True, Jews who remained in their identity also emigrated, but after everything is taken into account, it can be estimated that until the Holocaust, close to half of Hungary’s Jews assimilated.
Hungary As Opposed to Galicia and Germany
It is difficult not to notice the huge difference between the rate of assimilation in Hungary, where the separation of communities was practiced in all its severity, and its rate in neighboring Galicia, where the Jewish community, despite the disputes, maintained its unity. In terms of modernity, there was no real difference between them – both were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but compared to Hungary, the rate of mixed-marriages in Galicia was less than a tenth, and the rate of converts to Christianity – about a quarter.
Not only that, but even in relation to Germany, the process of conversion to Christianity in Hungary was faster. Indeed, intermarriage in Germany reached 28 percent before the Holocaust, while in Hungary it reached 12 percent, but in Germany, secularization began about three generations beforehand, so if you compare the rate of intermarriage in Hungary to the rate in Germany at the corresponding stage according to the level of secularization, about thirty to forty years earlier, it emerges that the rate of intermarriage in Hungary was higher than in Germany.
The Division also Caused Assimilation in Religious Families
It can be assumed that the considerable majority of conversions to Christianity and intermarriage were from among the Neological community, but it is clear that even among the Orthodox communities, the rate of conversion to Christianity and intermarriage was significantly higher compared to the rate in the corresponding Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe. It must be said that the division of the communities harmed Jewish resilience, and caused the disaster of conversion to Christianity and intermarriage, at extremely high rates.
Swords in the Heart of the Nation
And this is what our mentor and rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l, frequently taught in the name of the Netziv of Volozhin, who said concerning the separation of the religious and reform communities: “This suggestion is terrible, like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” And he would also quote the Rabbi of Lviv, the capital of eastern Galicia, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Broida, who opposed the separation of the communities and said “this is not the correction of religion, rather, the greatest damage of religion – to divide between the adherents of Israel’s communities.”
This week, on the 20th of Tammuz, is the day of the passing of one of the greatest Jews from Hungary. Who knows, perhaps precisely because of the terrible rift, which, in Herzl’s great sensitivity, he felt deeply, at first, he despaired of the future of Judaism. But then, when he returned to his Jewish identity, the absolute understanding formed in his heart, that the salvation of the Jewish people depended on the establishment of a state in the Land of Israel. In doing so, he corrected the Sin of the Spies and united the people, and founded the Zionist movement, by means of which, salvation was achieved for the Jewish people in recent generations.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.