The Torah: The Story of Eretz Yisrael
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The development and building of Eretz Yisrael stands at the forefront of today's national agenda. The importance of this issue is expressed strongly in Chazal's comment, "Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to the entire Torah." Furthermore, it seems that no other topic is repeated so many times in the Torah as that of Eretz Yisrael. This importance of the idea of Eretz Yisrael is already evident in the beginning of the Torah, as Rashi quotes from the Midrash:
R. Yitzchak says: The Torah should have begun with, "This month shall be for you" (Shemot 12:1), which is the first mitzvah that Yisrael were commanded. Why, then, did it begin with, "In the beginning?" Because of, "The strength of His deeds He declared to His people, to give them the heritage of the nations." (Tehillim 111:6) If the nations of the world should say to Yisrael, "You are thieves, because you captured the land of the seven nations," they say to them, "The entire world is G-d's! He created it and gave it to those that He wants. He desired to give it to them, and He desired to take it from them and give it to us."
While this explains the need to first relate Parshat Bereishit, which is the parsha of creation, Parshat Noach, which deals with the separation of the nations, and Parshat Lech Lecha, which deals with the inheritance of the land, what need is there for the subsequent parshiyot? Afterall, the question was that the Torah should have begun with "This month...", implying that everything until there is superfluous?
In the Pesach Haggadah we read the pesukim from Yehoshua (24:3-4), "I took your forefather Avraham from beyond the [Euphrates] River and led him throughout all the land of Canaan; I multiplied his seed and I gave him Yitzchak. To Yitzchak I gave Yaacov and Esav. To Esav I gave Mount Seir to inherit, and Yaacov and his sons went down to Egypt." What is the relevance of Esav in the Haggadah?
The Brisker Rav answers that in the Brit Bein Habetarim is says, "Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own -- and they will serve them, and they will oppress them -- four hundred years ... The fourth generation shall return here." (Bereishit 15:13,16). It is not clear who is "your offspring" who will inherit the land? Although Yishmael is the son of the maidservant, and is certainly excluded, but which of Yitzchak's descendants will merit it? "Was not Esav the brother of Yaacov -- the word of Hashem" (Malachi 1:2), and both are worthy!
Furthermore, in the Yalkut Shimoni (Parshat Yitro) it says: G-d says, "Note in which month I gave the Torah, in the constellation of Gemini (twins). If Esav desires to convert, repent and learn Torah, let him come and learn, and I will accept him." If so, why did Yaacov merit to inherit the land?
"Esav took his wives, his sons his daughters ... and went to a land because of his brother Yaacov." (Bereishit 36:6) Rashi comments: "Because of the document of debt of 'Your offspring shall be aliens' that was placed upon the descendants of Yitzchak. He said, 'Let me leave here. I will have no part neither in the gift of the land nor in the payment of the debt.'"
Similarly, on the pasuk in Parshat Chukat, "Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to the king of Edom: 'So said your brother Israel: ... We dwelled in Egypt many years'" (Bamidbar 20:14-15), Rashi comments: Why did [Moshe] see fit to mention brotherhood here? Rather, he said to him, "We are brothers, the children of Avraham, to whom it was said, 'Your offspring shall be aliens,' and this debt was upon both of us to pay ... Therefore, your father separated from our father, 'and went to a land,' because of the debt that was incumbent upon them, and he placed it on Yaacov." The discussion was about the inheritance of the Land.
This is why Parshat Vayishlach concludes with the chiefs of Esav, who reached their place of permanent settlement, and the Torah continues immediately afterwards, "Yaacov sat etc." that he sought to sit in tranquility, and G-d let him know that this is not the purpose.
With this we understand the Haggadah: "I took your forefather Avraham from beyond the River ... To Esav I gave Mount Seir to inherit" -- and thereby he forfeited his right to inherit the land -- "and Yaacov and his sons went down to Egypt." Only one who undergoes the refining process through the exile of Egypt merits to inherit the land. Only one who is an alien and fulfills, "and they will serve them, and they will oppress them" also fulfills, "The fourth generation shall return here."
Thus, all of Sefer Bereishit is the story of Eretz Yisrael, and its connection to Bnei Yisrael specifically. Therefore, the Torah relates not only the story of creation, the separation of the nations, and the promise of the land, but also of the conflict between Yaacov and Esav, their separation, the quarrel between Yosef and his brothers, until the exodus from Egypt, to teach that Eretz Yisrael belongs to that chosen nation that underwent the refinery of the exile in Egypt.
Just as the Torah begins with the topic of Eretz Yisrael, so too, it ends with it (Devarim 34:1-4):
Moshe ascended from the plains of Moav to Mount Nevo ... and Hashem showed him the entire Land: the Gilad as far as Dan; all of Naphtali ... Hashem said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaacov, saying, 'I will give it to your offspring.' I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over to there."
Anyone who reads these pesukim wonders, why was it necessary to taunt Moshe, when he came within grasp of Eretz Yisrael, and to tell him, "I have let you see it with your own eyes?"
It seems that Rashi answers this question, by pointing to the word "saying". The word "saying" usually implies saying to others, and therefore Rashi explains: "So that you should go and tell Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, the oath the G-d swore to you He fulfilled. This is 'saying;' for this I showed it to you, but it is a decree before me that you will not cross there. Otherwise I would have kept you alive until you saw them planted and established in it, and [then] you should go and tell them.
Thus, the conclusion of the Torah is rooted in its beginning. The entire time the forefathers are waiting for the fulfillment of the oath, until the Torah concludes that G-d shows Moshe the land and commands him to go to the forefathers and tell them, "I have fulfilled my oath, and Yisrael are entering the land!"
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