Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Kislev 5761 - December 6, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Torah and History

By HaRav Leib Heiman

History is one of the greatest of educators for the wise. Whoever disregards the events of the past may be compared to a blind man walking alone, risking his life by stumbling on stones and into pits. This person, too, errs in his path of life, stumbling and sometimes even endangering himself. Moshe Rabbeinu warned us about this very tersely: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations, ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will relate to you" (Devorim 32:7).

Let us consider for a moment the history of our nation. For thousands of years we have been exiled from country to country, experiencing one calamity after another. However, each period of destruction was invariably followed by a process of renewal. The remnants of the nation always found themselves fortified, ready to overcome obstacles, and drawing hope and vitality from the eternal Torah, its mitzvos and the unique way of life of the Jewish people.

Of course, it goes without saying that, during each period of our history, and especially during difficult times, there were many who did not manage to stand up to the challenge, distancing themselves from Jewry and eventually assimilating among the nations. They rejected their Judaism for themselves and future generations, becoming apostates to their religion.

This phenomenon itself proves the relationship between the continued existence of the Jewish nation and the Torah, since there is no trace left of the descendants of those assimilated Jews. If everybody would, chas vesholom, stop observing the Torah, the whole nation would necessarily disappear R"l. The anusim of Spain are a case in point: they and their Judaism have virtually vanished.

Therefore, the answer to the question, "What is the secret of this nation's continued existence?" is clear and simple. The unified Jewish nation's existence, characterized by its wisdom, fine character traits, and all those other outstanding qualities which are responsible for our honorable status amongst the nations (and also for the jealousy and hate towards us), is based solely on the observance of Torah and mitzvos and on the nature of our deeds, which resemble those of our holy ancestors, the founders of the nation, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, who serve as a light unto all the nations.

Fundamental to the transmission of the Torah is the education of our sons and daughters. < i>Hakodosh Boruch Hu has warned us about this in Krias Shema, "And you shall teach them to your children and you shall talk about them" (ibid. 6:7), to tell our children how we were chosen to be Hashem's nation, as it says (Shemos 13:8), "And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: `It is because of that which Hashem did for me when I came out of Egypt,' and also `by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm'" Devorim 4:34).

As we know, the Christian church disseminated the Torah amongst millions of people who consider it a holy book, and it has been translated into all languages. Many people believe in it, and ever since it was given to us, the scholars amongst the nations have become familiar with it.

All this gives us an appreciation of the Divine Providence in history. After the terrible churbon of the last World War, most world leaders met in 1947 in New York, the biggest and most famous town in the world and the home of the United Nations, and decided to return Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people. This was a truly remarkable event. When the extent of the destruction wrought by the Nazis became well- known, the world's conscience knew no rest, since the nations had looked on as the reshoim yemach shemom vezichrom made us suffer intolerably. Consequently, the nations of the world came up with the declaration: "The Creator promised the Land of Israel to the Jewish nation; let us give them back their homeland."

According to all the rules of war and conquest, the conqueror becomes the owner and ruler of the vanquished territory. The loser loses everything. At least, that was the situation before the twentieth century. (The fact that this has changed in recent times is another matter, which we will not go into now.) This is also the Torah's view, as it says, "The territory of Ammon and Moav became `purified' [for acquisition by the Jewish people] through [the occupation] of Sichon" (Gittin 38a). In other words, Sichon acquired ownership of territory he had taken possession of through war and conquest.

Regarding Eretz Yisroel too, Chazal state (Megilla 10a), "The first holiness was conferred at the time [of Yehoshua's conquest] but not for all future generations," and when the Jewish nation was exiled after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdosh, the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel expired.

The same process should, on the face of it, have taken place after we were exiled for the second time by the Romans (even though the halocho is not like that, and the second kedusha was conferred at the time and for all future generations: see Rambam Hilchos Terumos 1:5). Our land was taken over by the conquerors and we lost any rights we had in it, especially taking into account the fact that two thousand years have passed since then. In the light of history, then, the U.N. decision seems absolutely astonishing. Which document or other source served as a basis for their resolution? (Obviously, they would not admit that their conscience was motivating them.)

The answer is obvious. The Torah is the only eternal document! The Torah which contains Hashem's promise to Avrohom Ovinu (Bereishis 17:8): "And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession."

This promise is repeated later to Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe Rabbeinu and the whole Jewish people about thirty times! The nations of he world are well aware of this, and they also realize that "an everlasting possession" means that even after being exiled from this country, this people will return and possess it (See the Ramban's commentary on Lech Lecho 15:18). In fact, the declaration of the United Nations states: "The Torah is the eternal testimony for the eternal right of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine."

Incidentally, this is an indication of the mysterious workings of Providence. I remember how people were saying during the dark days of the destruction of European Jewry during the last war, that Hashem had abandoned His people and was "sleeping" R"l. In the end, however, Dovid Hamelech had the last word: "The Guardian of Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps." After the terrible churbon, and actually because of it, we returned to our land, and Hashem's Providence was revealed to all, when His promise to Avrohom Ovinu four thousand years ago was fulfilled.

A student of history should immediately be struck by the fact that the nations of the world, in their declaration, determined, beyond any doubt, that the Jews of today are the descendants of those people who were exiled from Eretz Yisroel almost two thousand years ago! The members of this weak nation, who have passed through almost every country and have maintained their identity in spite of many attempts to destroy them through all these years, these people of today are the certain heirs of their ancestors' homeland, being the descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov.

Let us pause a moment to consider what this means. Is there another nation to be compared to this one, that can trace its lineage with certainty over a period of two thousand, or even one thousand years? Can the Greeks of today proclaim that they are the descendants of the ancient Greeks? Can the Egyptians, the Italians, or any other nation in the world today prove their ancestry? They cannot, because Sancheriv mixed up all the nations, and since then countless wars and other events have taken place, resulting in constant movement of peoples between countries and consequent "intermarriage" between different national and racial groups. (Of course, we are not talking here about groups with obvious external features such as black-skinned or Chinese people).

What is it that connects so many generations and countries? What identifies the Jew and shows him clearly to be the descendant of the "original" Jews? We say in the Haggodo, " `And he became there a nation,' which teaches that the Jews were distinguished there." What is it that to this day distinguishes us from the non-Jewish world?

The answer is simple. The eternal Torah, which we have always kept, has shaped us and our way of life, and has been proof throughout our history of our lineage.

The Rambam, at the end of hilchos Sefer Torah, after delineating the laws pertaining to the kedusha of a sefer Torah and the duty to honor it, concludes as follows: "Anyone sitting near a sefer Torah must be in a serious frame of mind and full of awe, for it is the faithful witness for the whole world, as it says, `And it shall be there for you as a witness.' "

In other words, the Torah is our proof to the world that we are the nation who received the Torah, that we observe it, and that we exist by virtue of it.

In short, it is clear beyond doubt that our right to this land is rooted in the holy Torah. It is the only document which confirms our eternal acquisition of Eretz Yisroel, and it served as the basis of the U.N. decision to authorize our return to it. Therefore, if a government of the State of Israel which was established with the encouragement of this declaration, asserts in front of the whole world that this is a country governed by the rule of law and not by the Torah, this constitutes not only a rebellion against the Torah which we received at Sinai, but also a denial of thousands of years of history, and even a contradiction of the foundations of the U.N. declaration.

These people, the leaders of the first post-destruction Jewish State in the Holy Land (as it is known by everybody, after the holy Torah, which sanctifies us and our land), to our sorrow and shame, have cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. Their whole philosophy consists of imitating all the other nations.

This may be compared to a son who has received everything from his parents. When he grows up, he turns his back on them and, ignoring everything they have done for him, pretends not to know them. Is there anything more terrible than that? Is it not cruel to repay evil for good?

In this country there are more than one million Jewish children who do not know the Shema Yisroel! Is it possible that State schools in this country do not teach the entire Chumash? How long can a government last which alienates itself from the fundamental values for which our ancestors gave up their lives?

This State, which was founded on such weak and distorted foundations, has not known a day of rest or peace with its internal or external neighbors. Thousands of Jews have been murdered and many more wounded by our Arab enemies. There is always talk of peace with the Arabs, but it has not come. They make an alliance with murderers and are willing to hand over large territories of the country. The Torah has already foretold this (Bamidbor 33:55): "Those that you let remain of them shall be as thorns in your eyes, and as pricks in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land wherein you dwell."

There is no possibility of peace being established if we do not keep the whole Torah and all its commandments. That is what the Creator warned us about in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, "If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them, then I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid." Similarly, we say every Thursday at the end of the tefilloh: "But My people listened not to My voice, and Israel was not willing towards Me. So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart, that they might walk in their own counsels. Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries."

All that is left for us is to strengthen our emunoh and our Torah, and to pray to our Father in Heaven that He may have pity on His nation, that He may say, "Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near," and that He may send us His Moshiach and redeem us fully, so that we may see fulfilled the time when "Hashem will reign forever, Your G-d, O Tzion, unto all generations, Hallelukoh."

HaRav Leib Heiman is the rav of the Gra Shul in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem.

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