It’s not only modern readers who question the Torah, and especially the stories of Genesis. Even Rashi, the famous medievalist commentator himself, states that the Torah should begin much later, in Exodus 12:1. He wonders, why did the Torah bother with the superfluous prelude of the creation story, and answers: So that one day, when the nations of the world ask how come the Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people, it will be possible to trace the story all the way to the very beginning where we will learn that God is the Creator and Master of the universe, and as such, has the right to give any piece of it to anyone He so wishes, including gifting His people one specific plot, about the size of New Jersey, often arid and filled with strife.
We might disagree with Rashi’s commentary, but its accuracy isn’t what is amazing. Rather, it is the fact that somewhere in France of the 11th century, there sits a rabbi who is sure that the whole Torah is written as it is just to explain the special connection the People of Israel have with the Land of Israel.
What is it in this relationship that made Rashi make such a statement, in spite of the distance in space and time, and almost thousand years before modern Zionism?
But Rashi wasn’t the only one to see something extraordinary. Centuries and miles away, on the other side of Europe, 17th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslau coined the saying, “Everywhere I go, I go to the Land of Israel”. Rabbi Joel Moshe Solomon, a religious Zionist leader of the 19th century, wrote: “… In all the days that passed from the time her sons left her, she had covered herself with sack cloth, shed tears and withdrew her light and hid in haze… she did not give her strength to strangers not her produce to aliens. Like her son’s destiny who cannot find rest among the nations, so is hers…”
What is it that they saw?
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime-minister, describes it: “There are, no doubt, many who would like to conquer this Land, or – other lands. But is there another People who loves this Land? “
Indeed, this is also what the Book of Deuteronomy tells us (10:13-15): “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord your God requires of you, but… to love Him… with all your heart and with all your soul… Only the Lord has delighted in your forefathers to love them… and He chose their offspring after them, even you… as it is this day…”.
The repeating verb here is – love; love of God, love of a People. While it goes through ups and downs, true love never goes away. It might be irrational, but it can’t be denied to those who feel it. This is what Rashi knows, 2000 years after King David’s reign, one thousand years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, and during the time of the Crusaders, centuries before the establishment of a State with a government who argues over borders, education, and finance.
This is what we can still feel today.
In this week’s parasha, we encounter the stories of “the spies”: 12 princes and tribe leaders who brought back not-a-great report of their journey in the Land, resulting in the people staying in the desert 40 extra years. What did they do wrong that merited such a heavy punishment? After all, they acted as many leaders would. They were concerned about the People’s future and well-being; they were cautious; they were meticulous in noting, in detail, the challenges ahead. Indeed, they could have shared those more tactfully, but nevertheless, we can view their report as maintaining transparency and clear communication. And for none of that we would have wanted any of us to be punished with 40 years in the desert, and not entering the Land!
If it was only their actions, we might be able to justify them, but it wasn’t. What they lack is love. They lacked the faithful “I do” necessary to “go up and inherit the land”. This ingredient is a must in our relationships with the many facets of who we are as Jews, including – the Land, to this very day.
Once again, we will celebrate this relationship locally on Sunday, June 2 at our annual, largest community wide celebration, Israel in the Gardens. We look forward to seeing you there. Shabbat Shalom.