Every day we encounter world opposition to the “Israeli Occupation”, that is, Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. I would like to offer an explanation for this phenomenon from a Jewish perspective. With this in mind, I will start from Genesis, where the first verse in the Torah says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.
“Rabbi Yitzchak said: It was not necessary to begin the Torah from anywhere but “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were given. So why did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Psalms 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper; according to His will, He gave it to them, and according to His will, He took it away from them and gave it to us.”
The Difficulties in Understanding Rashi’s Commentary
Rashi seems to be saying that the Torah begins with the story of the creation of the world in order to give Jews another argument for the basis of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel. Yet if we look further, it seems that Rashi’s commentary is not problem free.
The Israelite’s don’t turn to the other nations in the Bible using Rabbi Yitzchak’s language. In the books of Joshua, Judges and Kings, the Israelites did not turn to those nations living in the land of Israel nor did they use Rabbi Isaac’s words: the whole earth belongs to the Holy One Blessed be He and He gave us the Land of Israel, so you must move to another place.
Moreover, the story of creation is told twice in the first chapter of Genesis, once in the story of the first day and the second time in the story of the third day. Ramban (Genesis 1:10) explains that on the first day the foundations were created, that is, on the first day, the heavens and the earth were created as the essentials, as the spiritual world and the material world. But on the third day, the earth, the land, was created. If so, then Rabbi Yitzchak’s language should have been used to interpret the third day, when the land-earth was created, and God gave part of it to Israel. Rashi, however, uses these words for his commentary on the first day and Ramban cites Rabbi Yitzchak and Rashi in his commentary on the first day of creation as well.
And more questions arise. According to a simple understanding of Rashi’s commentary, the Torah begins with the creation of the world so this fact can be used as an argument against the Gentiles. Gentiles, however, never accepted the Torah. They do not know what it contains, where it begins. They are unaware that it talks about the creation of the world and the land of Israelas a legacy to the Jews. Ostensibly, in order for us to bring Rashi’s and Rabbi Yitzchak’s commentaries to the Gentiles, we must first teach them Torah, translate it into different languages, in particular Arabic, and then distribute the Pentateuch among the Gentiles.
We know, however, that this is not correct. The day on which the Torah was translated into Greek is mentioned in the last chapter (13) of the Scrolls of Fasts, which lists the fast days. It reads: “The Torah was written on the eighth of Tevet … in the Greek language, and there was darkness in the world for three days”. Three days: the 8th of Tevet , the 9th of Tevet and the 10th of Tevet. Namely, the negative impact of the translation of the Torah into Greek lasted three days and eventually led to the events of the 10th day of Tevet, the day on which the siege of Jerusalem commenced.
The fact, however, that the Torah has already been translated is irrelevant. It is written: “Speak His words to Jacob, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He did not do thus to all nations, and they did not know the judgments. Hallelujah! (Psalms, 147: 19 – 20). And it is further written: “A Gentile who engages in Torah deserves death” (Sanhedrin 49A; Rambam, Laws of Kings 10:9).
Israel‘s Role in the World
So what is Rashi saying in his commentary? He is saying something incredible! Rashi holds that the Torah is written in this way so that we will know how to communicate with Gentiles. And this is already in the first verse of the Torah! But why and when do we need to communicate with Gentiles?
“In those days, it shall come to pass, that ten men out of all the languages of the nations shall take hold, and will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zacharia 8:23) Then we will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). “A Kingdom of priests” means that Jews will be to other nations as the Jewish priests are to the rest of the Jewish nation. In other words, Israel will bring the other nations closer to God.
It’s common knowledge that the haftarah (weekly reading from the book of Prophets) is always linked to the weekly Torah portion and offers commentary on the reading. In the haftarah for the Torah portion in Genesis, the creation of the world is mentioned in the context of recognition of the kingdom of God by the nations; the land of Israel is not mentioned. “Thus says God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that sprad forth the earth and that which comes out of it…. I the Lord have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand and will watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations. To open blind eyes…And you are the witnesses to God’s words. (Isaiah 42: 5-8)
Why must Jews bear witness before the Gentiles? After all, they also know that there is a God above and even, perhaps, that there is a sacred heaven. But Gentiles look at the world and see it simply as it is, materialistic and lowly. There is no holiness. From their perspective, the world is split in two: the heavens, in which there is holiness and divinity and the earth in which there is man and materialism. Gentiles, then, have two approaches. The first is a complete disregard for holiness and a devotion to materialism. The second approach is one of abstinence and a disregard for the material world.
In contrast, the children of Israel were meant to teach the world that not only the mind but the body as well are sacred. In the words of Jeremiah (23:24): “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth, says the Lord.” Gentiles view the body as lowly and unclean. In contrast, Jews believe that the body is necessary and can be made holy. It is no coincidence that the sign of the covenant is made on the organ that is most prone to bodily desires. But it too can be made holy.
Gentiles acknowledge that God runs the world, but believe that His power does not extend to the small details. As a result, they see the observance of mitzvoth or commandments as unnecessary and small-minded. It is interesting to note, however, that these same people strictly observe ceremonial rules in the presence of the Queen. Why is observance of the commandments superfluous to them? Because they are unaware of the presence of the King of Kings.
“Amalek was the first of the nations” (Numbers 24:20). Amalek expresses Gentile approach that God belongs to the heavens and has no place on earth, which belongs to man. This makes the sacredness of the Jews difficult for Amalek. Midrash Tanhuma (Ki Tetze, Chapter 10) says that Amalek would throw Israel’s words upwards and says “you chose it, oh what have you chosen.” In this way, Amalek argued that holiness was in heaven only. God has no place on earth. Amalek also prevents exposing the sacred on earth.
It is also written “The Lord has sworn by thisthrone that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16 ). Rabbi Haim Cohen explains that among the four letters – yud, heh, vav, heh – in God’s name, the last two letters, vav and heh express the sanctity of this world and they are used as a throne for the first two letters of God’s name, yud and heh, which express the sanctity of the higher worlds. Amalek prevents holiness from penetrating this world. Amalek reaches out and conceals the letters vav and heh (the throne for the letters yudand heh – “a hand on the throne of God”), thus preventing unification of the Holy Name and the presence of the sacred in the material world.
Therefore it’s written in Pesikta Rabbati (Chapter 12, Zachor): “As long as Amalek’s offspring are on earth, God’s name is not complete, neither is His throne complete”. The name Amalek prevents the unification of the Name, the unification of the letters yud heh with vav heh. And in the future, Amalek will disappear and with it the separation between that part of the name that reflects the sanctity of this world and that part of the name that expresses the sanctity of the upper worlds. The Name will be complete – one.
Then “God will be king over all the earth: on that day God will be One and His name one” (Zechariah 14:9). In Proverbs (3:6) it’s written: “In all your ways acknowledge Him.” This verse can also be read: “In all your ways, acknowledge heh vav”. These last two letters, heh and vav, are the last two letters of God’s name and express the sanctity of this world. Thus, in everything you do, know that God is revealed in this world.
How Jews can Influence the Nations of the World
A Jew’s essence is in the observance of Torah and the commandments. Observance of the commandments is always directed toward the material and brings about change in the material world. As a result, the material world is sanctified with God’s holiness. But typically, observant Jews don’t interact with Gentiles. So how can we influence the Gentiles, how can we enlighten them and how can we bear witness to them?
This question can be further clarified.
In the Book of Kuzari (1:25) the friend explains: “God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:2),’ and He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.” This is because we were not present at the creation of the world, but we witnessed the exodus from Egypt and this was then passed on from generation to generation. But non-Jews were not present at the Exodus, so how can they recognize God, Blessed be His name?
Rashi’s answer to this question: by carrying out the commandment of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. The commandment to settle the land is related to the material essence, and these laws pertain to everyone. The same word, “land”, is used to describe both the actual material substance and the country, because the land is, as the Ramban explains, the heart of the material. Division of the land affects all nations.
“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. For God’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).
Rashi, in his commentary, and Rabbi Yitzchak, refer to the time after the people of Israel return to the land of Israel. The other nations will say to Israel: “You are robbers, all of the land is God’s”, meaning, “the whole material world belongs to God.” The Jews’ then have an even stronger claim: If God created the material world, He also administers this world and gives the land, the essence of the material world, to those He deems worthy.
So the land of Israel and its deliverance to the people of Israel plays a central role in bringing the nations of the world closer to God. That is, the role of the people of Israel as priests. For this reason, the promise of land was part of the covenant God made with the forefathers. And the exodus from Egypt was an exodus into Israel.
“The Lord said: I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their suffering. And I came down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite” (Exodus 3:7-8).
Commandments to settle the land of Israel are not only autonomous commandments but also a tool for outreach to non-Jews. Subconsciously, the nations of the world understand this, and thus their resolute opposition to the right of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel. In point of fact, all nations reside on lands they conquered through force. Only Israel received the land through God’s orders. Only the people of Israel have authorization from God. And they are the only one whose right to their land is questioned. Their right is questioned because it stems from God’s authority. In fact, what is actually being questioned is the principle that the land, the material substance, is controlled by God.
As a result, the bulk of the United Nations resolutions deal with “the Israeli occupation”. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees sees its goal as settling refugees in new locations so that they may cease to be refugees. This Commission deals with all refugees, except Arab refugees from the land of Israel.
These refugees are assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which sees its goal as maintaining the status quo and increasing the number of refugees. UNRWA gave directives that were not applied to any other refugee group. Descendants of Arab refugees who were born outside of Israel are also considered refugees as are Arabs who have citizenship from another country. UNRWA’s budget comprises half of the UN budget!
Non-Jewish opposition to recognizing the rights of Jews to the land of Israel stems from their refusal to accept the kingdom of God in this world, in the world of doing, in the material world.
The Role of the Gentiles in Sanctifying the Land of Israel
There is a direct relationship between non-Jews recognizing that God rules on earth and the sanctity of the Land of Israel. As we know, the sanctity of the land is dependent on its settlement by the people of Israel. The land of Israel was sanctified twice. The first time it was sanctified when Joshua the son of Nun and those who left Egypt captured the land of Israel. This sanctification was nullified with the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of the Babylonian exile.
The land was sanctified a second time by Ezra and the Babylonian exiles. This sanctification remained even after the destruction of the second Temple and the resulting exile. Why? What was the difference between these two eras? The first time, the country was conquered by brute force alone, so holiness was eliminated when the Temple was destroyed. The second time, however, Jewish settlement was a result of Koresh’s decree, that is, through non-Jewish recognition of the Jewish right to the land of Israel. As a result, the region in which the Babylonian exiles settled remained sanctified. This region remains sanctified until today.
Ostensibly then, the fact that the State of Israel was established by a U.N. resolution, that is, through U.N. recognition, has some religious legal significance. And when, in the future, the nations of the world recognize Israel’s right to the entire Land of Israel, the land will be sanctified throughout the world and then God will be the eternal king of the entire country, and on that day He will be one and His name one.
From the talk given on Shabbat Bereishit, 5774, in the “Homat Shmuel” synagogue, in memory of my mother z”l.