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This Week In Torah

Shabbat Mase’ei 5774

Numbers 33:1-36:13

Jeremiah 2:4-2:28, 3:4


Children ask: “If God wants us to have the Land of Israel, why didn’t God just give it to us?”  And, with 36 out of 40 years, 90% of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land left unreported, it is very likely that, over three and a half decades, the same question occurred to at least one of our Hebrew ancestors.

It is a good question to be asking now, as the soldiers of the IDF are once again placed in harm’s way in order to stop the rockets, end the infiltrations and safeguard our people in the Land of Promise, indeed, throughout the world. 

The classic answer is that while God’s Covenant with the People of Israel is eternal and unbreakable, the promise of residency in the Land is intermittent and dependent on our actions.  Even if, by our behavior, we stretch and strain our relationship with God, the Brit (covenant) is a continuous commitment.  It is something that both we, and God, own.  However, The Land, like all lands, is owned only by God and we are granted the right to live there as leaseholders rather than owners.  There is no commitment saying that our tenancy will remain either uninterrupted or unchallenged.      

At Sinai, when the Covenant with the People Israel was made, we were largely passive recipients, instructed to stand back from the mountain and watch.  Other than the verbal acceptance indicated by having said “na’aseh v’nishma” (we will do and observe) we were not required to do very much. 

This week, the concluding passages of the Book of B’midbar, (literally: In the Wilderness) finds the Hebrews preparing to cross over the Jordan and become Israelites.   The text makes it clear, as it has for the past couple of weeks, that possessing The Land is going to be a difficult and dangerous task.  Our history, Biblical and beyond, makes demonstrates that holding onto The Land depends on the commitment of our people both in Israel and around the world.

Once we are secure in the Land, then it is our responsibility to there build a peaceful and just society.  Today, after two millennia of the most recent wandering, God has, just a short time ago, renewed our lease.  Clearly, there is much work yet to be done!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Steve Denker