Approximately 1,000 years after the destruction of the Second Temple and Israel’s exile from its homeland – deep in the depths of the harsh exile and 1,000 years before the beginning of the return to Zion – the great Torah commentator Rashi opens his monumental commentary on the Torah with the question of the ownership of the Land of Israel. What with all the hardships and troubles facing European Jewry at the time, with the Land of Israel but a vague and distant memory, the most pressing problem demanding Rashi’s attention is what we will answer the non-Jewish world when it will claim that we are robbers in our own land – usurping its ownership from the local Canaanites.
Rashi explains that the Torah opens with the story of creation to establish the fact that God created the world. “If the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers – you have conquered the lands of other nations,’ Israel can answer as follows: The entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He. He created it and gave it to whom He pleased.”
During the Sunday Manhigut Yehudit Sukkot event in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzchak Brand gave me a paper with some of his Torah thoughts. “With all due respect to Rashi,” writes Rabbi Brand, head of a large faction of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Manhigut Yehudit, “wouldn’t it have been better if we had received the Land of Israel empty of previous residents? Why did the Creator of the world choose to bring us to a land that was already occupied? Why didn’t He give us the Land of Israel first – just like he gave France to the French? Why do we first have to conquer and then look for excuses?”
Rabbi Brand answers that if we had not been forced to conquer the Land of Israel, nobody could have accused us of robbery. But then we would not have been able to answer with the irrefutable facts that Rashi points out in his commentary on Parshas Bereishis. (And, after all, the reason for our presence in the Land of Israel is specifically so that we may give this answer.) When it drives out its enemies and settles the Land of Israel, the Nation of Israel is living testimony to the existence of the Creator of the world. He created the world and He determines the path that it will take. The only reason that we merit to live in Israel is so that we may proclaim that God is King of the World.
When I read what Rabbi Brand had written, I remembered a short article that Manhigut member Meyer Goldmintz had sent me. The State of Israel expelled Goldmintz from his home in Yad Yair, destroyed it and turned the place into an Arab garbage dump. Today, Goldmintz lives with his family in the settlement of Harasha. In his article, he asks a simple question:
How is it that we, the settlers – who have taken the utmost care not to settle lands privately owned by Arabs, who searched for strictly state-owned lands to settle, and were sure to distance ourselves from even the slightest hint of robbery of Arab-owned land – are nevertheless constantly accused of robbing Arab lands, while the kibbutzim of the leftist Shomer Hatzair, almost all of which were built on lands that had belonged to Arab villages that were conquered and destroyed in 1948, are considered bastions of “peace”?
Goldmintz answers that it is specifically the fact that the settlers are careful not to build on Arab land that has brought about their dismal reputation. Very simply, they (we) have betrayed our mission and cannot give the answer that Rashi gives at the beginning of the Torah.
The leftist kibbutz member, who had ostensibly disassociated himself from the Torah, did not deny the fact that he was a Jew. As a Jew, he drove out the non-Jew living in his land and settled in his place. By doing so, even though he likely did not intend to, our leftist fulfilled the essence of the reason for the return of the Jews to their land. He showed the world that there is a Creator, and that He decides when non-Jews will live in His land and when His children will live in their place. Thus, the borders of Israel in the places from which the Arabs were forcibly expelled are not questioned today. But we, the settlers, who strive to fulfill God’s commandments, have not yet fulfilled the basic reason for settlement of the land. On the contrary, we have avoided it. We were careful not to drive the Arabs out – the complete opposite of the sanctification of God’s Name accomplished by the leftist kibbutzim.
Today, we are suffering the consequences of our actions.