Parsha Pearls: Parshas Bechukosai

Giving Up the State Saves Lives
Eretz Yisroel Prefers Gentile Rule
The Sin of Questioning the Need for Exile
The Desolate Land

I will place your corpses on the corpses of your idols. (26:30)

The Gemora says (Sanhedrin 63b): “The righteous Eliyahu walked among the people dying of hunger in Jerusalem. He found a child who was swollen from hunger, lying in the garbage heaps. ‘From which family are you?’ he asked. ‘From such-and-such a family,’ he said. ‘Is there anyone surviving from that family?’ ‘No, except for me.’ ‘If I teach you something through which you will live, are you willing to learn it?’ ‘Yes,’ said the child. ‘Say every day, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”’ The child said, ‘Be quiet, do not mention the name of Hashem!’ For his father and mother did not teach him that. Immediately, he took out his idol from his bosom and hugged it and kissed it until his stomach split, and his idol fell on the ground and he fell on top of it, to fulfill the verse, 'I will place your corpses on the corpses of your idols.'"

The Brisker Rav used to repeat this passage often, and he would say, “This is the situation today. People see that rebelling against Hashem will not succeed, and that because of the establishment of the State we are suffering bitterly from our Arab neighbors. Every day people are killed and wounded, may Hashem have mercy. All the arms of the Zionists do not help to stop terror. And still people continue to support the State and think that it is the salvation of Hashem and the redemption of the Jewish people. They do not understand that this is a threat of destruction to the Jewish people!” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4, 191)

In the same vein, the Satmar Rav said, “I heard that the religious Zionists announced that this war [of 1967] was necessary and obligatory according to Torah [in order to save the Jewish people from danger]. But it is obvious and known to all who see truth that all these troubles, including the danger of the war, came upon us only as a result of the existence of that Zionist state…it is the Zionist government that aroused the anger of the Arabs by provoking them in various ways, and if not for the stubbornness of its wicked leaders the danger of the war would never have been. And even now, if they were to give up their state and their government, there is no doubt that they would take Hashem’s anger away from the Jewish people. Had they done this, the entire calamity – the danger of the war and the loss of Jewish lives – would not have come upon them. And for every minute that they hold on to their power they are offending the Creator, blessed be He, with violation of the oaths and rebellion against the nations, which the holy Torah has forbidden and for which we have been warned of a severe punishment… And even naturally speaking, if they were to give up their government and Zionist state, there is no doubt that the United Nations would be able to find some way to prevent war, bloodshed and loss of Jewish lives.” (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapter 44)

And despite this, when they were in their enemy’s lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d. (26:44)

The Gemora in Megillah 11a expounds the verse as follows: “I did not reject them” in the time of the Babylonians, for I sent them Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azariah. “I did not revile them” in the time of the Greeks, for I sent them Shimon Hatzaddik, the Hasmonean and his sons, and Matisyahu the Kohen Gadol. “To destroy them” in the time of Haman, for I sent them Mordechai and Esther. “To annul my covenant with them” in the time of the Persians, for I sent them the house of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and the sages of the generations. “For I am Hashem their G-d” in the future, when no people or tongue will be able to rule over them. The Maharsha explains that the Gemora did not count the redemption from Egypt because then Hashem Himself redeemed the Jewish people with open miracles: “I and not an angel, I and not a messenger…” (Hagadah) The Gemora is only enumerating the times when the Hashem saved the Jewish people through the mask of natural events, through human efforts. Each time they were saved, they continued to live under the rule of the nations. But in the future we will be redeemed by Hashem Himself just as in Egypt, as it says, “I will show wonders like in the days of the Exodus from Egypt” (Micha 7:15). Therefore it will be a complete redemption, and no nation will rule over us.

And they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers, regarding the trespass they committed against Me, and their acting as if everything happened by chance. I, too, will act as if everything were chance, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies, for then their hard heart will be humbled, and then they will atone for their sins." (26: 40-41)

The Ohr Hachaim asks two questions here: 1) Why will they have to confess the sins of their fathers? Once a person repents on his own sins, he is not punished for his father's sins, as the Targum says on Shemos 20:5. 2) After they have already repented, why will Hashem act as if everything is chance and bring them into the land of their enemies?

He explains that G-d is merciful and often lets sins go unpunished for many generations, allowing the sinners numerous opportunities to repent. In the final years of the First Temple, the prophets rebuked the people, warning them of the exile and the other punishments detailed in the Torah. But the people did not listen, for they said, "Our fathers sinned and none of these punishments came upon them, so what we are doing cannot be so wrong." Even as their situation became worse and worse, they refused to believe that their misfortunes were punishments, and instead attributed them to chance. Therefore, when they finally repented many years after the destruction, they were required to admit their mistake and say, "Yes, we were wrong to attribute all these things to chance. These were punishments for our sins and our fathers' sins. We suffered this punishment because we continued in the ways of our fathers."

The second verse, "I, too, will act as if everything were chance, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies" is actually part of their words of confession. At the time Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were sent into exile, they grumbled, "Why did G-d do this to us? If He had to punish us, why didn't He punish us in our land?" And they added a pious complaint: "If the purpose of the punishment was so that we should repent, sending us out among the nations of the world is counter-productive. We will only get worse there by learning from the ways of the gentiles." But it was wrong of them to doubt G-d's wisdom and justice, and therefore when they repented they had to admit this mistake as well, saying, "Since we sinned by attributing our misfortunes to chance, G-d acted measure for measure and brought upon us more punishments that seemed purposeless, such as exile."

Later on, says the Ohr Hachaim, the Torah gives us a different answer to the question of why the Jewish people had to leave their land – a question which "troubles everyone who has a wise heart". Verse 44 reads: "And also this: when they were in their enemies' lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d." The Ohr Hachaim explains: And also this – an additional answer to the question – is that by virtue of their being in their enemies' lands, I did not destroy them. I took my anger out on the land, sparing the Jews themselves.

This is similar to the idea expressed in the Midrash on Eichah 4:11, that G-d took out His anger on the wood and stones of the Temple and the Jewish people were thereby spared. That is why it says (Tehillim 79:1), "A song of Assaf: G-d, the gentiles entered your property, they have defiled Your holy sanctuary, they have made Jerusalem into rubble.' This chapter is called a song, not a lamentation, because through the destruction of the Temple the Jewish people were saved. This is also the meaning of Eichah 4:11, "Hashem used up His anger."

Moreover, says the Ohr Hachaim, when G-d sees such an exalted and noble people degraded, serving their enemies, His mercy is aroused and He does not exact full punishment from them. Their degradation thus saves them from further punishment.

The Satmar Rav (Vayoel Moshe 1:15) points out that here the Ohr Hachaim calls those who question the purpose of exile "wise of heart" whereas earlier he wrote that they were wrong for asking the question. He answers that the wise man is bothered by the problem but at the same time accepts the decree as just and righteous. For the sinner, on the other hand, this unanswered question leads him to a rejection of exile.

The Ohr Hachaim spoke with a prophetic spirit, and his words outline the events of our time. The Zionists enjoyed success in their early years, and so they conclude that G-d must be on their side. Even today, as their situation deteriorates, they say, "What we are doing cannot be wrong, since our fathers were not punished." They cannot believe that current events are punishments, and instead attribute them to other factors.

And among some religious Jews who claim not to be Zionists, we hear the argument that living in Eretz Yisroel is really exile. Like the sinful Jews mentioned by the Ohr Hachaim, they argue that the punishment of exile can be fulfilled even while living in the Holy Land, adding that it is actually better not to live among the gentiles lest we learn from their ways. Unlike the "wise of heart", they reject the Divine decree under which we were expelled from the Holy Land, and they support the military efforts of the Zionists to maintain a Jewish government in the Holy Land. These people will eventually be forced to confess their sin and the sins of their fathers, admitting that their ways were wrong and that G-d's decree was just. They will eventually see that, as the Ohr Hachaim says, living under the nations is our best guarantee to merit G-d's mercy and protection.

And I will lay the land desolate, and your enemies who live in it will find it desolate. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw out a sword after you; and your land will be desolate, and your cities waste. (26:32-33)

The Ohr Hachaim explains these words as a reference to the oaths which G-d made the Jewish people swear in exile. “I will scatter” refers to the first oath, which mandates that the Jews remain scattered and not come up as a wall to resettle Eretz Yisroel. “Among the nations” refers to the second oath, which mandates that the Jews remain submissive to the nations and not rebel against their authority. “I will draw out a sword after you” means that G-d will enforce the oaths: if the Jews violate them, they will die by the sword, G-d forbid, as the Gemara says (Kesubos 111a), “If you keep the oaths, good, but if not I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and deer of the field.” The final words “and your land will be desolate…” are the reason for the oaths: G-d wants the Holy Land empty in order that it should rest and make up for the Shmittah years that were not observed.

We see here that the Ohr Hachaim did not understand the first oath the way some Zionists have understood it: that the prohibition on mass immigration is only because this is a form of rebellion against the nations, and that therefore if the nation ruling over the Holy Land gives permission to Jews to immigrate the oath no longer applies. Rather the Ohr Hachaim says that the purpose of the oath is that the land be desolate and empty. The oath has nothing to do with the nations, and so the nations’ permission makes no difference.

The previous verse – “and I will lay the land desolate, and your enemies who live in it will find it desolate” – seems like an unnecessary repetition of the same idea. But if we look at what Chazal say, we see that these two verses compliment each other. The Sifra says: “This is a kindly measure, so that Israel should not say, ‘Since we have gone into exile from our land, now the enemies are coming and finding satisfaction on it.’ Therefore it says ‘And your enemies who live in it will find it desolate’ – even the enemies who come afterwards will not find satisfaction in it.” From the Sifra it sounds as though the kindness is that if we can’t use our land, at least it gives us some comfort that no one else can use it either. But it seems strange that the Torah would endorse such a selfish attitude - the attitude of the wicked Sodomites (Bava Basra 12b).

But the Ramban (on v. 16) explains more: “This is a good prophecy, foretelling that during every exile, our land will not accept our enemies. And this as well is a great proof and promise to us, since you will not find in all the inhabited world a land that is so good and accommodating, and that was once settled, that is now as destroyed as it [the Holy Land] is. For since we left it, it has not accepted any nation or language; all of them are trying to settle it but cannot.”

These words of the Ramban are often quoted by Zionists as a proof that their state is the long-awaited redemption. The land miraculously did not accept any other nation, and now it is accepting the Zionists with open arms, they say. Usually they quote this in conjunction with the Gemara in Sanhedrin 98a, which says that Eretz Yisroel producing fruit is a signal of the beginning of redemption. The problem is that the Gemara refers to the land miraculously producing new fruit every day (Maharsha). Regular fruit is not a sign of anything, and indeed the land produced regular fruit throughout the centuries of exile. We see that the Kesef Mishneh (Hilchos Terumos 1:11) tells the story of a practical dispute among the rabbis of his time over the issue of taking maaser from produce grown on gentile-owned land in Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramban as well never says that the land will not produce fruit when gentile nations plant it. He says that they will not be able to settle it, meaning that no nation will live long there before they are conquered, killed and expelled. A quick look at the historical record shows us what the Ramban means. The Holy Land was conquered by the Romans, the Persians, the Byzantines, and then the Muslims. For over a thousand years following the Muslim conquest, the land underwent a series of devastating invasions, followed by massacres of the existing population. Seljuk Turks and Fatimids were followed by Crusaders, who were followed by waves of Mongol tribes, who were followed in turn by Tartars, Mamluks, Turks and continual Bedouin raiders.

In this history of a land plagued by incessant wars and conquests, Zionist history is no exception. In a mere 61 years, the Zionists have fought eight wars and confronted two prolonged uprisings. Just as the troubles encountered by the gentile nations who tried to settle the land were a fulfillment of v. 32 “and your enemies will find it desolate,” so too the troubles encountered by the Zionists are a fulfillment of v. 33 “and I will draw out a sword after you,” as the Ohr Hachaim explained – that these words refer to the punishment for violating the oaths.

The Ramban explains that the “kindness to Israel” mentioned in the Sifra is that it is “a great proof and promise to us” i.e. a proof that G-d has not abandoned us and will still keep His promise to redeem us. Now we can understand the connection between v. 32 and v. 33. In v. 33 G-d warned the Jewish people with an oath not to return to Eretz Yisroel before the proper time. But He knew that there would be some Jews who would think He had abandoned them in exile, and they would feel they had no choice but to take the initiative and redeem themselves by force. Therefore He prefaced the oaths with the promise that the gentile nations will never be able to settle the land permanently. The fulfillment of this promise will serve as our sign that G-d is still with us and we must keep the oaths, and wait patiently for the time when He sees fit to redeem us.