Torah Thoughts for Today
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of KI TAVO

Acquisition of Israel: The Land That Does Not Come Cheap

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of KI TAVO.

The Torah portion of Ki Tavo is in the Book of Deuteronomy (26:1 – 28:69).

Classical Judaism teaches that three things are acquired by suffering: Torah, Israel and the World to Come (olam haba). This week’s Torah portion is a good example of that with the Torah outlining many types of “curses” and “blessings” for following in its ways, too many to mention let alone analyze in one brief essay. 

But please allow me to take a stab at one angle here with reference to the way this Torah portion opens with the words (translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah): “when you come (ki tavo in Hebrew) to the land [Israel] the God your Lord is giving you as a heritage, occupying and settling it…you shall make the following declaration…The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us. We cried out to God…and God heard our voice, seeing our suffering, our harsh labor and our distress…God then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand…He brought us to this area, giving us this land flowing with milk and honey…I am now bringing the first fruit of the land that God has given me…rejoice in all the good that God your Lord has granted you and your family…” with this being taught by Moses as the Children of Israel are battling their way to the Holy Land facing and fighting multiple enemies along the way determined to stop or better yet, annihilate them.

Seems not much has changed in the more than 3,300 years since those words were spoken for eternity. Now in our days after the Jews have been in a 2,000 year exile from their homeland in Israel, in the last century especially, they have been battling and surmounting the attacks against them as they pursue their inexorable goal of returning from the their exile on a national level now for the third time in history.

The beginning of the first time the Jews were on the road to Israel was as recorded in this week’s parsha, when they left Egypt and traveled to the “land of milk and honey”.

The second time was following the destruction of first of the Ten Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria, and then after destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and the First Temple (Beit HaMikdash) by Babylonia over 2,500 years ago when the Jews began their return to the land having been exiled by Babylonia and then Persia which then granted them “permission” to return to rebuild the Second Temple.

And now in our days, after Greece and Rome undermined, attacked and then destroyed the Second Temple that has been in ruins for about 2,000 years, the Jews have commenced the third national return to their Promised Land that will result in the re-building of the Third [and final] Temple.

In each of the three returns there were enemies to overcome and lessons to be learned. While the Jews were forcibly thrust off of their homeland and kept out of it, the condition was called Galut (exile) and the process that begins when Jews return to the land is called “kibbutz galuyot” (the in-gathering of the [Jewish] exiles).

I had often wondered if there was an underlying or over-riding principle or Divine master plan that one could pinpoint as the key factor in this more than 3,300 year cycle of Jewish history saga. I am not sure if you have given this matter some thought. It is not easy trying to find some sort of “golden rule” that can be used as a yard-stick for “measuring” such vast and sweeping historical and spiritual currents or tsunamis.

But I came across one and here it is, make of it what you will:

Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1904-1980) one of America's leading yeshivah deans, was asked whether the term "Shoah" (literally, "Holocaust") was acceptable in describing the destruction of European Jewry. (Published as: Yitzchok Hutner, "'Holocaust' – A  Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe," translated by Rabbi Dr. Chaim Feuerman and Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, The Jewish Observer, October 1977, pp. 1;8) His reply was: "CLEARLY NOT". The reason being, that the word shoah in Hebrew, like "Holocaust" in English, implies an "isolated catastrophe, unrelated to anything before or after it, such as an earthquake or tidal wave." This approach is "far from the Torah view of Jewish history" because "the churban [destruction] of European Jewry is an integral part of our history and we dare not isolate and deprive it of the monumental significance it has for us."

In the later stages of the article "'Holocaust' – A Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe" (1977), Rabbi Hutner asserts that ironically, the "artificially contrived term [i.e. “The Holocaust”] . . . empties the churban of its profound meaning and significance." Those who coined the term "Holocaust", and who thereby appropriated a term which signifies isolation and detachment from history, "did not realize that, the significance of the 'Holocaust' is precisely in its intricate relationship with what will come after". Thus, the pattern of Jewish history throughout the ages is Churban – Golus – Geulah: Destruction – Exile – Redemption, and no event requires new categories or definitions.

The phenomenon of "Destruction – Exile – Redemption" should be the prism through which to view all of Jewish history. One aspect of this phenomenon cannot be isolated from the rest. For a unified perspective there must be a unified approach.

One should not minimize the dimensions of "Destruction". One should follow the course of "Exile". The final national objective is "Redemption" that brings the Jewish people to their Divinely promised Holy Land flowing with milk and honey.

Shabbat Shalom!

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