Almost everyone is familiar with the famous first Rashi on the Torah. He asks why does the Torah begin with the account of Creation? After all, since the Torah contains the commandments which Hashem gave to Am Yisrael, it should have begun the precept concerning Rosh Chodesh – the first commandment given to the Israelite Nation.
Rashi answers his question by quoting a Midrash of Rabbi Yitzhak which explains that if the nations of the world claim that we stole the Land of Israel from them, we can answer that since the Holy One Blessed Be He created the world and appointed different countries to different peoples, He can take Eretz Yisrael away from them if He chooses and give it to us.
Did Rashi have political savvy? Did he foresee the day when the Arabs, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, the Chinese, and the Zulus in Africa, would callIsraelthieves, claiming that we stole Eretz Yisrael from the Palestinians? Maybe, but I don’t think he was meaning to tell Bibi what to answer in one of his UN speeches.
Furthermore, the Land of Israel isn’t even mentioned in the first verse of the Torah, or in the second, or the third. Why does Rashi talk about it here? True, Adam was born on the Temple Mount and only later placed in the Garden of Eden, but that’s learned from different source, and not from the very first verse of the Torah. So why talk about the Land of Israel here in a commentary, in Rashi’s own words, that deals with the straightforward meaning and pashat of the text?
The answer to our question is that Rashi is coming to inform us that without Eretz Yisrael there is no Torah, no Am Yisrael, nor Kiddush Hashem in the world. Eretz Yisrael is the foundation of the entire Torah. The Torah was given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish People can only be a Nation in Eretz Yisrael. And theKingdomofGod– the goal of the Torah – can only be established in the world when Am Yisrael dwells in their Land.
Yes, I know, the geniuses in the peanut gallery will jump up and protest, “Am Yisrael survived in exile for 2000 years without Eretz Yisrael, with only the Torah!”
First of all, fellas, the Jewish People are not meant to survive. We are meant to live. Without Eretz Yisrael, we can only survive from one pogrom to the next. Or we can assimilate ourselves into extinction. That isn’t living. That isn’t the ideal of the Torah which promises us, again and again, a good and peaceful life in our Land.
“The Torah protected the Jewish Nation, not Eretz Yisrael!” they continue to holler.
Protected the Jewish Nation? You call individuals scattered all over the world, without a country or Jewish government of their own, a nation? That’s not a nation. A ghetto in Brooklyn orLakewoodisn’t a nation. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Jews are defenseless minorities in other peoples’ lands, dependent on the goyim for everything. That’s not a Sanctification of God – it’s the opposite!
“Torah! Torah! Torah!” they scream.
Well, my dear friends – what you call Torah isn’t Torah. The Torah of the exile is the remnant of Torah, the shadow of Torah, the dry bones of the Torah, a reminder of what the Torah really is, as our Sages have explained by the verse, “Set yourself waymarks,” telling us to continuing to keep whatever few precepts we can while in exile, so we don’t forget them, lest they seem new to us when we return to Eretz Yisrael, because the Torah is meant to be kept in the Land of Israel, the only place it can be observed in all of its fullness, with its many laws relating to the Land of Israel, the Kingship of Israel, the army of Israel, the justice system of Israel, and the Beit HaMikdash which you can’t build in Lakewood. Yes, Orthodox Judaism in America is much better than conservative Judaism, and reform Judaism, and yoga, but it isn’t the Torah as the Torah was meant to be kept. That can only take place in Israel.
That’s what Rashi is coming to tell us at the very start of the Torah.
You’re welcome. I thought you’d want to know.Tzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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