It has been an absolutely dreadful week.
We shudder and groan with the news of every dead soldier. The citizens of Israel, and Jews around the world are straining to absorb body blow after body blow.
Constant rocket attacks targeting civilians. Our soldiers caught in the quagmire of an urban battlefield. Deaths and injuries, and lives blighted. The cancellation of flights to Israel and the economic impact of this unexpected consequence. Media bias, or just plain anti-semitism.
One wonders how much more our small nation can take! After all, Israel is a tiny country – just about the size of New Jersey – and is surrounded on all sides by countries populated with millions of people who would like nothing better than to rid the world of Jews, God forbid.
Terror tunnels built with international aid money coming from our tax dollars – yes, yours and mine! – snake their way under the Israel-Gaza border to give access to evil Hamas murderers who want to kill or kidnap Jews on the Israeli side of the border.
And no one gives Israel the slack they give everyone else. Russia shoots down a commercial airliner, Syria massacres tens of thousands of people, ISIS runs rampant through Iraq murdering civilians, Iran progresses towards a nuclear bomb – all this barely registers. It is always Israel, Israel, Israel.
Defending itself as any normal country would, Israel is scurrilously accused of targeting civilians and deliberately manipulating events so that women and children die. The hypocrisy of the world is so sickening it simply defies understanding.
It is at times like this that we need to reinforce our own resolve, so that we remain committed to Israel for the long haul. Instinctively we want there to be a ceasefire. Instinctively we want this pain to end. We want everything to get back to normal, and for life to be as it was before all this began.
That is a mistake. Let us not get lulled into the cozy solutions proposed by international players such as the UN, and even the US Secretary of State. Their only aim is to proclaim ‘success’ in the present, and to move on.
What if the ‘success’ they trumpet now is neither viable nor durable? That, it would seem, is not their problem. It wasn’t their problem in 2009, it wasn’t their problem in 2012, and it won’t be their problem in 2014.
But it will be the problem of Jews living in Sderot, Ashkelon, and even Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And it will be a problem for Jews everywhere, because the fate of Jews everywhere is totally tied up with the fate of Israel.
In this week’s Torah portion God tells the Jewish nation, as they are about to embark on the conquest of the Promised Land (Num. 33:53):
וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ כִּי לָכֶם נָתַתִּי אֶת הָאָרֶץ לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ ‘you will inherit the land, and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess it.’
The Ramban, whose commentary on the Torah is second only to Rashi, addresses this pasuk, and in unequivocal terms. The Ramban emigrated to Israel 700 years ago, in an era when traveling or moving anywhere was extremely difficult and challenging. He not only moved there, but he built a synagogue in Jerusalem, which was only recently rebuilt and rededicated after having lain in ruins following its destruction by Arab marauders in the 1948 War of Independence.
Although one might have thought that the quoted verse was said to the Jews for information purposes only – ‘you will inherit the land’ – Ramban sees this pasuk quite differently.
‘In my view,’ he says, ‘this represents a positive commandment. The Torah commands the Jews to live in the land, to inherit it, because it was given to them by God. They cannot spurn God’s inheritance.’
Israel is not a casual place of residence; it is nothing less than God’s gift to the Jews. And when God gives you a gift, it’s serious.
Ramban goes even further. He says that anyone who moves to Israel is forbidden to leave, and if a husband or wife refuses to join their spouse on Aliyah, that would even be grounds for divorce! Such is the power of this commandment, says Ramban, and such is the power of our inheritance, the Holy Land of Israel.
Let us not dream for a moment that the IDF is defending Israeli homes or Jews struggling to live under fire. Absolutely not. When our soldiers battle for the integrity and security of Israel, they are fighting for the very essence of what it means to be a Jew.
Israel is not merely a country. We didn’t just happen to end up there. Israel is our destiny and our identity. It is the soul of every Jew, and it connects us to God in ways that we cannot begin to understand.
That is the message the world needs to hear. They need to hear it here in Beverly Hills, they need to hear it across the United States, they need to hear it in Europe’s capitals, where hostility towards Israel reigns supreme, and they even need to hear it in Israel.
And let every one of us remember, even as we struggle to deal with constant bad news – there is no ‘Plan B’. The destiny of each and every Jew, and the destiny of Eretz Yisrael, are completely intertwined – ‘for I have given you the land to possess it.’