Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vaeschanan

Those who are in exile against their will
The Right Way to Consult a Rabbi
Don’t Break in Like a Burglar!
Selling Land and Giving Up Sovereignty
No Strategies or Diplomacy

“And Hashem will scatter you among the nations, and you will be left few in number in the nations where Hashem will lead you. And you will worship there man-made gods of wood and stone, who do not see, hear, eat or smell.” (Devarim 4:27-28)

Rashi explains that the Torah does not mean that the Jews will actually worship idols; rather, since they will serve the gentiles who serve idols, it will be as if they were worshipping the idols.

Rabbi Hillel of Kolomaya asks: Why does the second verse follow from the first? Only because the Jews will be few in number they will be considered as if they worshipped idols? And why is serving those who serve idols tantamount to serving idols?

He answers that there are two types of Jews in exile: there are those who, despite their suffering under other nations and paying taxes to them, feel in their hearts like free men. They serve only Hashem, and therefore they are always happy and enjoy their lives. When they learn Torah and do mitzvos, they are singing to Hashem and rejoicing over His words.

Then there are others who really feel the yoke of exile and pay their taxes grudgingly. They cannot stand servitude, and they cannot enjoy life. They do mitzvos sadly. They pay lip service to Hashem but their heart is not in it.

The reason for this disparity among Jews is that although all Jews are generally called “believers the children of believers,” over the centuries the strength of their belief has declined, and there are many levels of belief among Jews.

Now, acceptance of our exile is a matter of belief. On the verse, “Their rock has sold them and Hashem has given them over” (Devarim 32:30) Chazal say that Hashem told Avraham Avinu to choose exile for his descendents instead of Gehinom. And Chazal say (Kesubos 111a) that Hashem made the Jewish people swear not to leave the exile en masse and not to rebel against the nations until moshiach comes. Furthermore, Chazal say (Bava Basra 9a) that when Jews pay taxes to the gentile nations, it is considered like giving tzedaka.

Therefore, Jews who believe that the entire Torah, written and oral, was given to us by Hashem, know that even if a time comes when the Jewish people grows numerous and powerful, and they have fabulous wealth, and they become experts at warfare, such that they know with certainty that if they fight against the nations they will win, still they will have fear of Hashem and they will not lift a finger against their masters. Shlomo Hamelech warned against this in three places: “Fear Hashem, my son, and the king, and do not mingle with rebels” (Mishlei 24:21). “I will heed the command of the king, because of the oath of G-d” (Koheles 8:2). “I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired” (Shir Hashirim 2:7).

So when these believing Jews continue to serve their governments and pay taxes as always, even when they have the power to free themselves, they are not considered “serving those who serve idols.” They have the ability to leave exile, and only out of obedience to Hashem’s command do they refrain from doing so. Thus although it may seem to the untrained eye that they are subservient to the nations, in truth they are serving only Hashem. If not for Hashem, they would be free men.

However, the second type of Jews mentioned above, whose faith is not so strong, do not believe that Hashem exiled them from their land for their sins. Rather, they think it is merely the way of the world: nations rise and fall, depending on their luck. Long ago the Jews had power, and now they are downtrodden. For such Jews, if a time comes when they have the ability to rise up from exile and fight back, they would definitely do so.

It follows that as long as they are unable to free themselves and are subservient to the nations, they are serving only the nations – not Hashem. And when they serve the nations, it is as if they served the idols worshipped by the nations, because they are in effect saying that it was not Hashem who made them serve this nation, but rather that the god of that nation prevailed.

Accordingly, our verses are to be read as follows: “There will be few Jews left who believe that they are among the nations only because Hashem led them there. Most Jews will unfortunately lose their faith and feel that they are in exile due to natural causes. Therefore, when they serve the nations, it will be considered as if they are serving man-made gods. But the believing Jews, wherever they live, will be serving only Hashem.” (Maskil El Dal, 3:3:2)

Do not make a covenant with them and do not give them a resting place. (7:2)

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 20a) derives from this verse that it is forbidden to sell land to a gentile in Eretz Yisroel. The Rambam brings this as practical law in Hilchos Avodah Zarah 10:3, and the Shulchan Aruch brings it in Yoreh Deah 151:8. Nowhere is it stated that this law applied only during the time when the Jewish people ruled their own land. On the contrary, the Rambam says explicitly (10:6), “All these things were said only when Israel is in exile among the nations or the nations are in power over Israel…”

However, we know that during exile Hashem wants Eretz Yisroel to be in non-Jewish hands. He sent us into exile, and even prohibited us under oath from taking over Eretz Yisroel (Kesubos 111a). Certainly, then, if we already have, in violation of the Torah, gained sovereignty over the land, we should give up that sovereignty. How is this consistent with “lo sechanem” - the prohibition to sell the land?

The answer is that the prohibition only refers to sale of personal property, not transfer of political sovereignty. Jews can own land under a non-Jewish state just as well as they can under a Jewish state. Throughout the world, Jews own houses and land, and Eretz Yisroel under a non-Jewish government would be no exception. No one is asking anyone to sell any of their land.

But some ask: the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 10:4) writes, "Why are we forbidden to sell them land? Because the Torah states that one may not give them a resting place in the land. If they do not have land then their residence will be temporary." If this is the reason for the prohibition to sell personal property, then it should certainly be forbidden to give away sovereignty, which would allow them to have more of a “resting place in the land.”

Let us take a moment to see how this Rambam has been understood by the poskim. The proponents of the temporary sale of land to a non-Jew in order to exempt it from Shmittah restrictions (heter mechirah) argue that it is unusual for the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah to offer the reason for a mitzvah. The Rambam presents the reason for this prohibition, they argue, because the prohibition applies only when the reason applies. Thus, since the sale for Shmittah is only temporary in nature and the non-Jew is not given the opportunity to reside permanently in Eretz Yisroel, the prohibition does not apply. But the Chazon Ish (Shviis 24:4) flatly rejects these arguments and writes, "The Torah was not given with these distinctions; any time one sells to a gentile he transgresses this prohibition, even if it seems to us that he is not taking up residence in it."

Thus according to the Chazon Ish, the reason given by the Rambam plays no role in determining halacha. One is forbidden to sell land even if it does not lead to non-Jews settling permanently, and by the same token one is permitted to give away political sovereignty even if it does lead to non-Jews settling permanently. And even according to the proponents of heter mechirah, who understand the Rambam as taama dikra (a reason that modifies a law), we know that taama dikra can only work to limit the application of a prohibition; it cannot create a new prohibition. For example, Rabbi Shimon holds that when the Torah forbids taking the garment of a widow as collateral, it means only a poor widow (Bava Metzia 115a). But he does not use his reasoning to extend the prohibition to all poor people. Here too, limiting the prohibition to permanent sales and thus permitting the sale of land for Shmittah is one thing, but claiming that the prohibition applies to something that is not a sale at all is quite another thing.

Some Zionists bypass the entire issue of “lo sechanem” by saying that holding onto Eretz Yisroel and fighting for it is justified on the grounds that this is an obligatory war (milchemes mitzvah) to defend Jewish lives. They find support in the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:1-2), who says that in an obligatory war the king may go to war without consulting the Sanhedrin, at any time he wishes. “And which wars are considered obligatory wars? The war against the seven Canaanite nations, the war against Amalek, and a war to defend the Jewish people from an enemy attack.” Furthermore, these people argue, even in our times, during exile, when we have no king or Sanhedrin at all, it is sometimes allowed for Jews to fight such a war. The Shulchan Aruch states in the laws of Shabbos, Orach Chaim 329:6: "If gentiles are besieging Jewish cities, if they are coming to take money, we may not violate Shabbos to fight them, but if they are coming to kill, or if they are coming without any stated purpose, then we may go out and fight them with weapons and violate Shabbos. And if the city is near the border, even if they come only to steal straw, we may violate Shabbos to fight them. Rema: Even if they have not yet come but are planning to come, we may prepare ourselves."

It can be proven that this law applies even during exile, because its source is in Eiruvin 45a, and there the Amoraim, who lived during exile, explain how it applies to their cities in Babylonia. Babylonia contained a large area that was full of Jewish cities and villages, and the city Nehardea was near the border of this area. If gentiles invaded Nehardea for any reason, say the Amoraim, it would be permitted to fight them on Shabbos because it is a border city.

But this argument misses two fundamental points: 1) The gentile nations who fight the Zionists are fighting because they wish to control the land instead of the Zionists. Thus the Zionists are fighting not to defend Jewish lives, but to defend their statehood and their political control of the land. Unlike the straw mentioned in Shulchan Aruch, statehood and political control over the land are forbidden to us under the Three Oaths, so it follows that any war fought to maintain that statehood is also a violation of the Oaths. 2) The Shulchan Aruch is talking about Jews fighting to defend their host country, a gentile country (such as Babylonia in the Gemara’s case), against outside attackers. They are defending a Jewish city that is part of a non-Jewish country, and thus they are fighting not as Jews but as citizens of that country. In other cases, they are defending themselves against criminals in a non-Jewish country whose government would like to control crime. Thus they fight as a service and assistance to their government. But there is no permission for Jews during exile to fight on their own against the gentile nations among whom they live; that is a violation of the Oaths.

Furthermore, the entire issue of "lo sechanem" cannot apply to the Zionist state returning lands it has conquered, because the land was acquired illegitimately, through stealing, and on the contrary there is a mitzvah to give back a stolen item. If this is true of movable objects, which are somewhat acquired by the thief, how much more is it true of land, which can never be acquired by the thief (Succah 30b). Although we hold that conquest is different from regular theft and does change the land's legal ownership (as we see that Amon and Moav's land became permitted to the Jewish people after it was conquered by Sichon - Gittin 38a), it is still not permitted to conquer land. This is clear from the first Rashi in the Torah, which states that when the nations argue, "You are thieves for stealing the land of the seven Canaanite nations," the Jewish people can answer that the entire world belongs to Hashem and He give it to whomever He chooses. The implication is that only in this case, where there was an explict prophecy to Moshe that we should get Eretz Yisroel, we have this answer, but in the absence of prophecy (for example, when the Zionists conquered Palestine in 1948) the argument "you are thieves" remains true.

I call to witness against you today heaven and earth that you will surely perish from upon the land which you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (4:26)

The Yalkut Meam Loez (p. 296) mentions the oaths in his commentary to this verse, in the course of a lengthy section on the destruction of the Temple and Tisha B'av: “The Holy One, blessed is He, made Israel swear that one part of them should not arise and go to Eretz Yisroel and rule over it and build Jerusalem and its walls. Additionally, He made them swear not to rebel against the kingdoms; they are not to rely on their own strength. He also made them swear not to pray excessively to Him that He bring moshiach, not to reveal the secrets of the Torah and the rules of seasons and constellations to the nations of the world. He made the nations of the world swear not to make their yoke too heavy upon us, for if they make their yoke too heavy Hashem will send moshiach even before his time. And the Holy One, blessed is He, said, ‘I adjure you…’ (Shir Hashirim 2:7). If you listen to My oath, good, but if not ‘by gazelles or by the deer of the field’ – your flesh will be food for animals like the gazelles or the deer of the field.”

We see here that the author of this part of Meam Loez (Rabbi Yitzchak Bechor Agruiti) understood that the words “as a wall” do not mean only a conquest by force. They refer rather to the building of the walls of Jerusalem, and this is prohibited even if a part of the Jewish people (not the whole or even the majority) does it.

A recently published commentary on Shir Hashirim written by an anonymous Yemenite Jew in the times of the Rishonim says as follows: “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem…” This is a command that when the Jews are in exile under a foreign power, they must not burst forth with deeds and actions (מעשים ופעולות) before the time comes, lest they bring upon themselves harm or even destruction, instead of the good they thought would come of it. But when G-d wills it and the time is up, they will not need their own actions, nor will they need to use any strategy (תחבולה), but rather G-d will cause things to happen to bring about His will, in a way that no human being can imagine. This is what Yishaya the prophet (40:2) said, “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her, for her time is up and her sin is atoned.” This verse (“I adjure you, daughter of Jerusalem”) is written three times to hammer in the concept, and also to correspond to the three exiles: Egypt, Babylonia, and the current lengthy exile, may Hashem show us its end soon. (Peirush Ksav Yad Kadmon Miyotzei Teiman)

We see here that this Yemenite commentator did not hold that the oaths become permitted when the gentiles give us permission to return to Eretz Yisroel. For if he did, he would have written only that military conquest is forbidden. Instead he writes that any deeds, actions and strategies to bring the end are forbidden. The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate and the 1947 U.N. vote did not come by themselves. The Zionists used a lot of diplomacy, political threats and arm-twisting to get them.

Rabbi Shmuel Aripol, talmid of the Mabit (Rabbi Moshe ben Yosef Di Trani, 1505-1585), wrote in his commentary Sar Shalom to Shir Hashirim 2:7: I adjure you, daughters who once lived in Jerusalem, and have now gone out and become scattered in a place of gazelles and deer of the field, i.e. in uninhabited places – still, you must not wake up and arise before the End. (In order words, even if you live in exile in places where the gentiles have relatively little control over you, do not arise from exile.)

He explains the double expression אם תעירו ואם תעוררו (“do not arise and do not arouse”) as follows: You yourselves must not arise, and you must not arouse a king or an official with you, to arise with you.

This prophetic reference to Balfour and his declaration should not surprise us, because Rabbi Shmuel Aripol was simply interpreting the words of Shlomo Hamelech, who was a prophet and certainly foresaw exactly what would happen. Remember how the Rambam puts it in Iggeres Teiman: “And when Shlomo, peace be upon him, made known with his holy inspiration, that this nation when it is sunk into exile will try to arouse itself not at its proper time, and they will die because of this and travails will come upon them – he warned against this, and made an oath against this in an allegorical way…” Zionism is the very reason why the oaths were written.

And Rabbi Shmuel Aripol continues: Alternatively, if we understand the words “gazelles and deer of the field” as being the anchor of the oath, the object by which He made them swear (שהשביעם בהם), then we can explain the choice of these animals as follows: A gazelle sleeps with one eye open. A deer runs while looking back at its pursuer. G-d warned the Jewish people: Even when you are asleep in exile, keep an eye out for the evil that will come upon you if you rise up before the time.

The Gemara and Midrashim about the oaths were written 1500 years ago and since then, Jewish scholars have studied them and written about them. This was all so that when our era arrived and the violation of the oaths became a practical reality, we would be prepared and we would know what the Torah wants of us.

And Hashem will scatter you among the nations, and you will be left few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you. (4:27)

The Malbim explains based on Pesachim 87b that this is a kindness Hashem does for us: to scatter us among the nations so that if some of the nations make decrees against us or destroy us, those of us living under other nations will survive. This is the connection between the two parts of the verse: since you will be scattered, you will be left, even if you are few in number, that is to say, even if the gentiles destroy some of you.

Console, console My people, says your G-d. (Yishaya 40:1)

When the Brisker Rav would be called up for the Haftorah during the Seven Weeks of Consolation, he would always cry. He explained, "Throughout history, the hope of every Jew was always hanging on the words of the prophet, "Console, console My people" and "It is I, it is I, Who consoles you" (51:12) – and all the other verses of consolation spoken by Hashem through His true prophets, promising that Hashem Himself will redeem us. This promise breathed life into every Jew. But now, the Zionists have come and created a new vision, claiming that there is a natural solution to the "Jewish problem." Jews must take their fate into their own hands, they say. They think that their state somehow saves the Jewish people, when in reality it is the worst exile of all." (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 4 p. 189)

Go up on a high mountain, announcer of Zion; lift up your voice with strength, announcer of Jerusalem; lift it up, do not fear, say to the cities of Judah: here is your G-d. (Yishaya 40:9)

Rashi notes that the word "announcer" is in the feminine, while later on (52:7) the word "announcer" is used in the same sense, but in the masculine. Rashi explains that if the Jewish people deserves it, the redemption will come quickly like a man, but if not, it will be weak like a woman and will be delayed until the End.

Based on this, Rabbi Yonasan Eybeshutz explains the verse in Shir Hashirim (2:7), "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken the love before she desires." Here too, the word "techpatz" – she desires – is in the feminine. The meaning is that the Jewish people, who is the speaker in this verse, cries out to the nations (the "daughters of Jerusalem") with a curse and an oath: "Do not arouse and do not awaken the love towards the ingathering of Israel!" Even if all the Jews are ready to go to Jerusalem, and all the nations agree, still she cries out that, G-d forbid, she will not go there. For the end is hidden, and perhaps now is not the true time, only a temporary moment of favor. In a short time they will sin, and be forced into exile again, G-d forbid, and that exile will be worse than the previous one. Therefore she requested that they not go until "she desires," that is, until the time arrives when the earth is filled with knowledge. After that time, the Creator promises that the Jewish people will never lack anything, for that is the true time. Therefore, the prophet Yishaya calls the announcer feminine, for the end of the exile will be slow in coming, but once it comes, "Lift up your voice with strength" – for there will be nothing to fear. There will never be, G-d forbid, another exile, for "say to the cities of Judah, here is your G-d" – He Himself will come and redeem you. (Ahavas Yonasan)