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THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL AND ISRAEL

Wednesday, 4 October, 2017 - 3:47 pm

On the sixth day of Creation, G-d turned to the angel Gabriel and said, "Today I am going to create a land of outstanding natural beauty called Israel. It will have rolling hills, and mountains full of goats and eagles, a beautiful, sparkling, clear ocean full of sea life, and high cliffs overlooking sandy white beaches. I shall make the land rich in oil to allow the inhabitants to prosper. I shall call the inhabitants "Jews," and they shall be known as the friendliest people on the earth."

"But," asked Gabriel, "Don't you think you're being too generous to these Jews?" "Not really," replied G-d. "Wait and see the neighbors I will give them."

There is a fascinating, enigmatic verse in the portion of Ha’azinu, where Moses quotes an oath by G-d:

Sing out praise, O nations, for His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, inflict revenge upon His adversaries, and appease His land, His people.

Grammatically, there is a problem in this verse. The Torah states: “and [He will] appease His land, His people” as though they were one and the same. But they are not. The nation can exist in other lands as well, and the land is a particular geographical region in the world! The Torah should have stated: “And [He will] appease His land, and His people!”

Imagine the media’s and the world’s reaction if the UN or Israel’s chief rabbis would deny a connection between Mecca and Muslim, or Christianity and the Vatican. Rage, demonstrations, disgust, and with the former—probably some beheadings, too.

But no major uproar erupted when the UN passed the first stage of a resolution on October 13, 2016.

The United Nations Educational Organization, known as UNESCO, adopted a resolution which basically denies there was ever a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. We are the newcomers, intruding on Muslim sacred space.

It is the theater of the absurd. 24 countries backed the document, while only six voted against and 26 abstained at a meeting in Paris. The resolution accuses Israel—which it consistently calls “the occupying power”—of a long list of wrongdoings. The text “firmly deplores the continuous storming” of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque—by Israel. Not once does it refer to any sites by their Jewish names.

The UNESCO resolution urges Israel to “end its aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths.”

Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, What's next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?

Bob Dylan, who unexpectedly won the Noble Prize for Literature that week, got it right in his fantastic song, "Neighborhood Bully:"

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

 

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully. 

 

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers?
Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
Running out the clock, time standing still,
Neighborhood bully.

The Klausunberger Rebbe lost his wife and 11 children in Auschwitz. He survived alone. Incredibly, this man set out to rebuild Jewish Chassidic life in the DP (Displaced Persons) camps.

In 1947, he visited a yeshiva he had built in a DP camp for youth who had survived the war. When he arrived, he saw the dire living conditions in the camp. Space was meager and the conditions were lousy.

The Rebbe gathered the people, and told them this:
The Torah explains the rationale for celebrating Sukkot each year five days after Yom Kippur:

You shall dwell in huts for seven days. Everyone included in Israel must live in such thatched huts. This is so that future generations will know that I caused the Israelites to live in Sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord, your G-d.

What does this mean? Which “Sukkot,” or huts, did the Jews dwell in when they left Egypt? We never heard of any Sukkot where the Jews lived.

Two great teachers of the Mishnaic era, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva, disagree about the answer.

Rabbi Eliezer held that the Sukkah represents the clouds of glory that surrounded the Israelites during the wilderness years, protecting them from heat during the day, cold during the night, and bathing them with the radiance of the Divine presence. Rabbi Akiva said a Sukkah is a Sukkah, no more and no less: a hut, a booth, a temporary dwelling. Jews constructed huts in the desert to protect them from the scorching desert sun. If you know what a summer in the Sinai desert feels like, you understand the purpose of these huts.

Now, if we follow Rabbi Eliezer, it is obvious why we celebrate by making a Sukkah. It is there to remind us of a miracle. All three pilgrimage festivals are about miracles. Rabbi Akiva’s view, though, is deeply problematic. If a Sukkah is merely a hut, what was the miracle? Why should there be a festival dedicated to something ordinary, commonplace and non-miraculous? According to Rabbi Eliezer, Sukkot fits the scheme of all Jewish holidays. It recalls the miracles in the wilderness during the 40 years when the Jews ate Mannah from heaven, drank water from a rock, and were led by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. But on the view that the Sukkah is not a symbol but a fact–a hut, a booth, nothing more–what miracle does it represent?

The Klausunberger Rebbe offered this answer:
According to Rabbi Akiva, this was not a Divine miracle, as much as it was a Jewish miracle! The Jews were in exile for 210 years. They were enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. At last, they were set free. They imagined that “the world”—the UN of the time—would welcome them in their lands, and offer them some comfort after years of suffering. Instead, they discovered that no one really cared. The nations around would not even offer them bread nor water. Nonetheless, despite the profound disappointment, they did not give up hope. They trusted G-d. 

This, said the Rebbe, is what the prophet Jeremiah meant when he said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved and followed Me through the desert, through a land not sown.”

Throughout Tanach, most of the references to the wilderness years focus on the graciousness of G-d and the ingratitude of the people: their quarrels and complaints, their constant inconstancy, their lack of faith and appreciation. But Jeremiah did the opposite. There were many debacles and setbacks, but against them stands the simple fact that the Israelites had the faith and courage to embark on a journey through an unknown land, fraught with danger, and sustained only by their trust in G-d.

The Klausunberger Rebbe continued: We were cast into the Nazi inferno for five years and suffered untold agony. At last, we have been liberated by the Allies. We thought the world would embrace us with tender care and finally provide us with comfort.

Alas, that did not happen. The path of the refugees is difficult and challenging. Look at your DP camps; look at these horrible “huts.” After all we have been through, do we not deserve better?

Yet, the Klausunberger Rebbe said, my dear brothers, do not despair! This is exactly what happened to our forefathers in the days of yore. They left Egyptian bondage after 210 years, and all they had were miserable huts. Here was an entire nation without homes; they were like nomads without a place of refuge.  Exposed to the elements, at risk for surprise attacks, they continued on their journey with faith that G-d would not desert them.

And because of that, they became G-d’s people, they experienced G-d’s presence, and they became the kingdom of princes and the holy nation, the ambassadors of G-d to the world, an eternal and timeless people. They were given the greatest gift of all time: The Torah.

So, he said to them, do not be dejected over our European huts. You are just like your fathers who gave us the holiday of Sukkot in celebration of the great Jewish miracle of faith.

70 years later, last October, days before Sukkot, the UN wanted us back in our old huts. They cannot admit that we own a homeland, and its capital.

Where are Jews supposed to live? In huts. In the desert. Though not even a desert belongs to us….

This, according to Rabbi Akiva, is the miracle of Sukkot: The world wants us in huts, but we will not stop celebrating our faith in G-d and in our destiny as His people in His homeland. It is astonishing how Israelis have been able to live with an almost constant threat of war and terror since 1948, and not give way to fear. Even in the most secular Israeli’s one senses a profound faith. They may not be “religious” in the conventional sense, but have faith in life and the future. This is an incredible testimony to the Jewish people.

This truth became glaringly clear a few years ago.

David Nesenoff is a videographer and webmaster of RabbiLive.com. In May 2010, he interviewed one of the most prominent American journalists and columnists, a member of the White House Press Corps, 91-year-old Helen Thomas, as she was leaving the White House.

“Any comments on Israel?” he asked her.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… and go home to Poland and Germany…”

Helen probably never heard of the fact that when the Jews were “home,” in Poland and Germany, 6 million of them were sent to gas chambers. (She was forced to resign her position following these remarks.)

The video clip went viral. Millions watched it within hours. David Nesenoff shared his tale: “Every media outlet in the world converged on me. I received thousands of threatening hate emails. Private agencies and law enforcement got involved. My son said, ‘You can speak to anyone in the world; who do you want me to call?’ I thought for a moment and then said one name. Sure enough, within seconds I was on the phone with Eli Wiesel.

“I knew I was going to be on CNN, Fox, CBS, local and international TV, print, radio, blogs…. ‘Professor Wiesel, what is my message?’ He said that he had read in a newspaper that I pray with Chabad each morning and he suggested I find out what the Rebbe of Chabad would have wanted me to say.

“After calling his rabbi to get some insight as to what message should be shared, my Chabad rabbi told me: ‘If you have a friend and you don’t see him for a few years, you can’t be sure he is still your friend. But if your child goes away for years, he is still your child. We are not friends of Israel. We are the children of Israel! Sometimes we are away for a while in exile; sometimes we are away for long periods of time in the diaspora; but we are still the Children of Israel. Israel and the Children of Israel are one.

“‘They exist because of each other. The Jew walking on the street in New York, whether or not he even knows or cares about Israel, exists because of Israel, and Israel is alive because of him.’”

David continued his story:
Two days later I was on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’ with Howard Kurtz. I can’t remember what he asked me, but I know the answer was that the Children of Israel and the land of Israel are one, and that is what Helen Thomas and those who want to de-legitimize Israel don’t get.

“A few months later I was the keynote speaker at Yale University’s inaugural symposium on global anti-Semitism. Before I spoke, the chairman of the symposium, Professor Charles Asher Small, introduced me, but paused to explain to the audience of international professors why I was the keynote. He explained that he never watches television, but had been visiting his parents who happened to have on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’ and he heard this person say that ‘the Children of Israel and the land of Israel are one and that they only exist because of each other.’ He said that those words specifically caused him to ask me to speak.’”

This is all expressed in the verse quoted in the onset. This is why the Torah states, “and [He will] appease His land, His people.” The Torah is intimating that His land and His people are one and the same.

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is deeper than the connection between any other nation in the world and their native country.

When we are embarrassed of the truth, we allow lies to fester. When we are proud of the it, we silence them. Let’s not step on that most precious document that can once and for all silence the critics, but let’s treasure it and celebrate joyfully in our faith in G-d.

Chag Sameach & Happy Sukkot,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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