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Torah and Eretz Yisrael: Generational Gifts
Chaim Weizmann was a prominent scientist and pre-eminent leader of the Zionist movement who lived in England for much of his life. He would, of course, eventually become Israel's first president. He was charged with advocating for the Jewish cause to the British-based Peel Commission. It was this commission, convened in 1936, which would discuss the advisability of ending the British Mandate and the feasibility of a two-state solution for Palestine.
One Sunday, Weizmann noticed that a certain member of the commission with whom he was acquainted put on his formal long tails and top hat, and got into a carriage to leave the city limits. He noticed this exact comportment the next Sunday, and the next. Intrigued, Weizmann decided to approach this gentleman and question the nature of this interesting custom.
"Sir, where do you go every Sunday at the same hour?" asked Weizmann.
"I'm going to the country to visit with my elderly mother."
"But, sir, aren't there enough old women right here in the city with whom you can visit?"
"But none of them is my mother," answered the perturbed British gentleman.
"Now you can understand why we, the Jewish people, cannot accept Uganda or East Kenya as our homeland, but only Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, because, sir, only she is our mother!" declared Weizmann.
It seems that a definitive, if not realistic, analysis of Israel's current existential crisis has been offered by the Israeli writer, Amos Oz. He writes that in 1930s' Europe, "It was said, 'Jews, go to Palestine.' Now they say, 'Jews, get out of Palestine.' They don't want us to be there, they don't want us to be here. Simply put, they don't want us to be."
Ei'leh ma'sei b'nei Yisrael: "These are the journeys of the children of Israel."
The notion of a life's journey is scintillating and soulful, yet forgive me for the following heresy: Let's not be too spiritual. Let's not commit the sin of being too metaphorical. This journey our people was meant to have an ultimate destination, and that is to the Promised Land.
V'horashtem et Ha'aretz: "Possess the land."
As the classical commentator Ramban (Nachmanides, d. 1270) observes, "You are to possess Israel -- not Babylonia or Assyria" -- dare I translate him into modern speak, not Uganda or Kenya -- "but this land, and this land alone.
"Your destiny is here. The unfolding drama and destiny of your people will play itself out in this land."
Vee'shav'tem ba: "Dwell in her, nurture her, thrive in her."
Ki lachem na'ta'tee et Ha'aretz la're'shet o'ta: "Because to you do I give this land to be a heritage in it."
When you inherit something, you have the right to use it entirely -- even squander it. A heritage, however, carries a different level of responsibility. You can use it and be enriched by it, but concurrent with this is a special obligation to perpetuate and pass it on to the next generation, and they to the next. In a word, a "heritage," a morasha, is a generational gift.
In fact, our Bible invokes this term with regard to only two things: Torah and Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. Even as Eretz Yisrael is a generational gift, our encounter with Torah, our engagement with her, is nothing short of a dialogue of the dorot -- a generational conversation.
Ours is a special burden and blessing: to see to it that we cherish these gifts and then pass their meaning, their power and value to the subsequent generation, and they to ensuing generations.
May we be cognizant of this necessary and noble challenge so that together, v'neet'cha'zeik -- "we will be strengthened and sustained as a people worthy of a Divine Law and of a land of drama and destiny."
Rabbi David Gutterman is the executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.