Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from parshas Bereishis. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Bereishis 5777
To Veto Reality
After all of the Yomim Tovim, we are once again able to focus on current events, namely parshas Bereishis. A couple of weeks ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to deny the Jewish people’s connection to Har HaBayis – the Temple Mount. Let us therefore study a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a (5 Likutei Sichos p. 4), a tzadik who never set foot in Eretz Yisroel but knew every stream of water and every street corner of the land. He held the deepest, most abiding love for the land of Israel.
As he does so many times, the Rebbe begins his teaching with the first Rashi in Bereishis (1:1):
Why did He begin the Torah with “In the beginning?” It was because of [the passuk] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Tehillim 111:6). If the nations of the world say to the Jewish people, “You are thieves because you conquered the lands of the seven nations [of Kena’an],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out three difficult questions on this Midrash quoted by Rashi. First, why would the “nations of the world” make this accusation of the Jewish people? Ostensibly, the only people affected by our conquest of the seven nations were the seven nations themselves. Why would the other nations of the world care to get involved in something that never affected them and has nothing to do with them?
Second, the military conquest of land is and has always been a recognized form of national land acquisition. Every nation does this and has done this from time immemorial. Even halachah recognizes this as a form of acquisition (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hefker v’hasagas g’vul 63): “A king who conquered some country in war acquires it.” So why would the nations of the world suddenly call us “thieves” for conquering a territory militarily?
Finally, Rashi teaches us (on Bereishis 12:6) that the Kena’anim were not even the original inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel. They conquered the land from the descendants of Shem, from whom the Jewish people are descended! Hashem’s promise to give Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people was actually an assurance that He would restore the land to its original possessors. Given the fact that when the Jewish people conquered Eretz Yisroel, they were actually reclaiming that which was already theirs, it is even harder to understand how the Midrash could say that the nations would call us “thieves” for taking back land that already belonged to us.
The Rebbe therefore explains that normally, military conquest is only recognized as a form of acquisition as long as the conquering country continues to control the land. As soon as it loses the land to some other conquering power, it no longer has any right to the land. Conquest only gives a nation the right to occupy a land. It does not create any lasting, inherent change in the land’s status or nature.
It is in precisely this respect that the Jewish people’s conquest of Eretz Yisroel differs from all other conquests in history with respect to every other territory in the world. From the moment Yehoshua led our people into the land of Israel, it underwent an existential change in its nature. We did not merely acquire the temporary right to live in Eretz Yisroel as long as we were militarily strong enough to hold onto the land. Forevermore, it could never be considered Kena’an, Palestine, Jordan, or the Ottoman Empire. It would always be, to its very core, only Eretz Yisroel.
Therefore, when we conquered Kena’an, and it transformed eternally into Eretz Yisroel, the land became the one place on earth no other nation could ever truly possess. Why would all of the nations of the earth care if the Jewish people dispossessed a couple of little nations on one small strip of land? How does it affect them? The reality is that even if they do not consciously recognize it, deep within themselves they know that they all lost their potential right to the land when we conquered Eretz Yisroel.
Why do Switzerland, Belgium, Venezuela, Egypt, and Jordan care to call us “thieves?” Because deep inside, they know that they lost out on even the potential to ever have any right or privilege over the land. They hate us because it no longer mattered whether some other nation ever became strong enough to dispossess us of the land. Our birthright prevented them from ever truly possessing the land. That is why Eretz Yisroel never gave itself over to any nation which occupied it after most Jewish people were exiled from the land, whether the Romans, Turks, the British, or the Jordanians. It was always barren for them. But as soon as Hashem’s children, the Jewish people, returned to the land, it bore fruit and blossomed once again.
UNESCO’s vote is simply the latest manifestation of this deepest truth. Just last year, the UN adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel for criticism and only three against the rest of the world combined. The rest of the world is a slaughterhouse, with hundreds of thousands of people being butchered by totalitarian and Islamist regimes, yet the United Nations remains virtually silent. But it is simultaneously apoplectic in its complete intolerance for the existence of the Jewish people in its G-d-given home, Eretz Yisroel.
What motivates this? The Jewish people are simply returning to their home from the time of Shem and Yehoshua. It is clearly something much deeper than international law, which the nationsy conveniently rewrite to facilitate their desire to justify their Anti-Semitism, to scream out, “You are thieves because you conquered the lands of the seven nations!” Indeed the word “Semite” originates from the name, “Shem,” our ancestor and the original occupant of Eretz Yisroel. The nations know deep down that because Hashem gave Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people as our eternal home, that it is the only place in the world where they can never stake any true claim.
It is because this is their question that we answer them with confidence, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper.” But why does the Midrash say that we answer them, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem...” Because the focus is on Eretz Yisroel, why do we explain to them that the entire earth belongs to Hashem? Why not focus on the fact that Eretz Yisroel belongs to Hashem?
Perhaps it is not referring to the quantity of land belonging to Hashem, but on the depth and quality of Hashem’s ownership of the land. Hashem’s control over every territory of land in the world is not limited to the who occupies any given piece of land at a certain time, which might imply that He does not exert control over the essential, deepest nature of any part of the earth. Rather, we are telling the nations that the entirety of any piece of land, qualitatively, belongs to Hashem, all the way down to its very essence. That is why Hashem can, when He chooses to do so, transfer not just possession, but even the essential nature, of a piece of land to the nation of His choosing.
Even if the world does not care to listen to or hear the truth, we must know the truth so that we can hold our heads up high and see our G-d-given connection to Eretz Yisroel. Soon, with the coming of Moshiach, the entire world will be forced to recognize Hashem’s reign with the entire people of Israel fulfilling the Torah of Israel in the land of Israel, may it happen soon in our days.
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