"Come and possess the good land which HaShem swore to your forefathers"
Av 15, 5778/July 27, 2018
The Torah reading of Va'etchanan begins with Moshe's impassioned plea to G-d to allow him to enter into the land of Israel with his people:
"Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon." (Deuteronomy 3:25)
Despite Moshe's entreaties, (and tradition has it that Moshe directed five hundred and fifteen separate prayers toward G-d concerning the matter), G-d turns down Moshe's request and instructs him to desist from his petitions and accept his fate. Indeed, Moshe will not plead with G-d about this ever again, but this does not in any way diminish his concern for his people's future in the land G-d promised them. In fact, Moshe immediately turns his thoughts to the nation, saying, "And now, O Israel, hearken to the statutes and to the judgments which I teach you to do, in order that you may live, and go in and possess the land which HaShem, G-d of your forefathers, is giving you." (Deuteronomy 4:1)
The connection which Moshe makes between hearkening to G-d's statutes, that is, faithfully fulfilling the Torah commandments, and entering into, living in and possessing the land is not a casual connection. It's the entire connection. Fulfilling G-d's commandments and being sovereign in the land of Israel is the entire Torah. And this intrinsic and vital connection is one that Moshe will continue to repeat and emphasize and stress and state and underscore throughout the remainder of the book of Deuteronomy, that is, till the very day that he dies.
The children of Israel inherited G-d's promise to their forefathers that they shall dwell forever in the land of Israel, and they also received in the wilderness, at the foot of Mount Sinai, the eternal Torah covenant with G-d. What Moshe is teaching them is that the two are intrinsically intertwined. It is not simply that more than half of the Torah commandments can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. It is much more than that: the land of Israel is the children of Israel's soulmate. The land is a living, breathing partner in Israel's livelihood and well-being, spiritual, as well as physical, and in Israel's intimate connection with G-d, who Himself has chosen to dwell in the heart of the land.
The Torah is not a creed that one can fully observe wherever he may be in G-d's world. The Torah, whose full name is the Torah of Israel, is not just the Torah of the people of Israel and the G-d of Israel, but also the Torah of the Land of Israel. The nation of Israel can only be the nation of Israel in the land of Israel, and to fully achieve this objective the nation of Israel needs to adhere to the Torah of Israel. It is within the context of this knowledge that Moshe goes on to re-convey to the people the Ten Commandments received at Sinai, to emphasize that these commandments, universal as they are, must be observed by the people of Israel as a nation, within the boundaries of the land of Israel. The nation of Israel lives and thrives in the land of Israel, by the Torah of Israel, bequeathed to Israel by the G-d of Israel.
Moshe cannot emphasize this essential equation enough, and he will repeat it over and over again as he prepares his people to enter and possess the land. As obvious as this connection may seem, apparently it just cannot be emphasized enough. Just this week the Israeli Knesset approved what is known as the Nationality Law, in which it is stated that, among other things,
"A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people."
While this new law is basically a repetition of Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence, and while it may simply be restating what to many of us is obvious, the new law, nevertheless caused a wave of protest among some of Israel's Jewish citizens, who, perhaps, didn't want to be reminded of what it means to be the nation of Israel in the land of Israel. And while the new law falls short of directly mentioning the need to, as a nation, adhere to the Torah of Israel, it does further remind us that:
"Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel... The state’s language is Hebrew... The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles... The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation... The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state... [and] The Sabbath and the festivals of Israel are the established days of rest in the state; Non-Jews have a right to maintain days of rest on their Sabbaths and festivals.. "
Moshe himself knew that Israel needed to be reminded from time to time of its purpose and destiny and why this destiny can only be pursued as a sovereign nation in the land of Israel. Indeed, at the close of Va'etchanan, Moshe again, states it, simply and succinctly:
"Diligently keep the commandments of HaShem, your G-d, and His testimonies. and His statutes, which He has commanded you. And you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of HaShem, in order that it may be well with you, and that you may come and possess the good land which HaShem swore to your forefathers." (ibid 6:17-18)