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When things couldn’t possibly get more grim, the power of historical reflection can often become a beacon of hope, granting vital solace to anxious hearts. Amid all the turmoil following the Hamas invasion of Southern Israel, and the looming shadows of a potential war in Gaza, and possibly Lebanon, many might ask – and not without good reason: why is the Jewish connection to Eretz Yisrael constantly tested and contested?
While a full answer to that question is very complex, this is hardly a new challenge – to the extent that a defense of the Jewish claim to Israel is as old as Judaism’s most ancient scripture: the Torah.
In the very first commentary on the Torah by Rashi, one of the most important Jewish commentators of all time, we are provided with a profound insight, an insight that is so pertinent and insightful that it resonates even today – and perhaps even more so today than ever.
Rashi asks why the Torah – which is essentially a guidebook for Jewish life – begins with the account of creation, instead of starting with the first commandment that was given to the Jews.
Moreover, the creation narrative merely opens the door to a whole range of other narrative material – stories of ancient heroes, and some villains too. But while they were undoubtedly foundational figures of humanity, and some of them were the ancestors of the Jewish people, they all lived out their lives in the period before the Jewish nation had emerged.
Rashi’s incredible explanation is that the Torah chronicles creation and the events and people that followed, to establish the rightful claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. It’s as simple as that.
God created the world, and there were tribes and families who dominated early human history. And then, when God deemed it appropriate, He gave the holy land to His chosen nation. It’s all there in the bible, recorded for all time.
Thousands of years later, this powerful message still resonates. Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, is not merely some random geographical location – it is the spiritual heart of the Jewish people, a land accompanied by a divine promise, and the oxygen that gives life to Jewish identity.
All the challenges we face today, as Jews who love and cherish Israel, now with another violent adversary denying the Jewish claim to our land – these are just a test of our resolve, and a further opportunity to demonstrate our enduring commitment to God’s promise that is embedded in the very first chapters of our foundational text.
The narrative flow of Bereishit is not merely an account of the world’s creation followed by some random stories of ancient heroes, rather it is a reminder of our sacred bond with the land.
Throughout history, this bond has been tested time and again – through exiles, conquests, and invasions. And yet, each time, the Jewish spirit has prevailed, proving unambiguously that our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not fleeting, but eternal.
And to be clear: nothing infuriates Israel’s enemies more than this truth. Indeed, as last weekend proved, they are willing to rape and slaughter, kidnap and destroy, just to vent their anger. In today’s guise, this ancient hatred operates under the hollow, facile slogan “Free Palestine” – but we’ve seen it all before, and we know it only too well.
Our ancestors faced challenges that defy humanity’s wildest nightmares, but they always held firm, drawing strength from their unwavering faith – even when they faced genocide, banishment, enslavement, and exile. Between the challenges from the Arameans, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Mamluks, and the Ottomans – among others, Israel has continually faced formidable foes and violent incursions.
Each adversary believed in their own time that they would finally subdue the Jewish spirit. However, while these once-mighty empires have faded into the annals of history, the Jewish people have remained resilient, always returning to the land they hold dear.
Abraham and Sarah planted the seeds of the Israelite nation when they settled in Canaan and established their family in ancient cities like Hebron and Beersheba. Later, Moses led our ancestors out of Egypt and through the desert, preparing them for their legacy inheritance – Eretz Yisrael.
King David conquered Jerusalem more than 3,000 years ago, and his son, King Solomon, built the Jewish Temple on Temple Mount, a location purchased by his father from the Jebusites, thereby establishing for all time the Jewish claim to the most cherished site of our faith.
So, let me say this to those who have anxious hearts, and also to the haters who continue to cling to their false tropes of antisemitism: the stories of Bereishit are a testament to our legitimate claim and our everlasting bond with the land of Israel. Jews have stood the test of time, and we will continue to do so.
Yes, we have been through our ups and downs, and through the kinds of tests that would have seen off almost anyone else. Tragically, this latest test is no exception. Nevertheless, when anxiety looms large, rather than giving in to our fears and sinking into despair, we confidently draw strength from our rich heritage, and from the tales of tough resilience, and from our boundless faith, and our undying hope. We, the Jewish people, are not just defending a land; we are upholding an ancient legacy.
In this trying time, let us all unite – and let all those who value truth over fear unite with us – bolstered by the unyielding truths of Jewish history and the divine promise that underscores our bond with Eretz Yisrael.
Thousands of years may have passed, and yet we still find ourselves in the ridiculous predicament of needing to prove our legitimacy. But, as history has shown time and time again, we will prevail, and prevail we must.
May peace reign in Eretz Yisrael. May the murderers who seek our destruction be obliterated. And may the resilience of our people be the strength that guides us through these turbulent times. Amen.