Friday, January 19, 2007

Parshat Va'era

"Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it, for to you I shall give it." (Bereshit 13:7)

The Talmud (Bava Batra 100a) says that Avraham was consummating his acquisition of God's gift by hazaka. A declaration alone without a physical presence is not enough to possess the land. The Targum Yonatan translates the verse word for word, except for a small addition: "Arise, walk through the land to make a hazaka in the length of it and in the breadth of it..."

"And I shall bring you to the land that I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzhak and to Ya'akov, and I shall give it to you as an inheritance..." (Shmot 6:8 )

Since the land was already acquired by Avraham, what need was there for Hashem to again bequeath this gift? We can find an answer in the Yerushalmi, which notes that the verse uses both "ve-natati", I shall give, from the root "matana", a gift, and also "morasha", an inheritance:

"If a gift, why an inheritance? If an inheritance, why a gift? After He gave it to them as a gift, he gave it to them again as an inheritance." (Yerushalmi Bava Batra 8:2 )

What is the difference between a gift and an inheritance? A gift is passed from one to another through a willful action; an inheritance is acquired by default. Legal status changes without any outside involvement.

The Torah is also an inheritance: "Torah was commanded to us by Moshe, an inheritance to the community of Ya'akov." (Devarim 33:4 ) We learn in Sukka 42a that this verse is the first that a father teaches his child when he learns to speak. From the moment the Jewish infant begins his education he learns that Torah is his inheritance. His ties to it are unrelated to acceptance or rejection on his part.

Likewise, Eretz Yisrael belongs to Am Yisrael as an inheritance. Avraham received a gift and accepted it joyously; however, Am Yisrael received it in a way that is not dependent on their acceptance.

"Thus shall you do to them: their altars you shall shatter, and their pillars you shall break, and their Asherot you shall chop down, and their idols you shall burn with fire." (Devarim 7:5 )

An Asherah is a tree that was tended in honor of or as the object of idolatry. The Talmud (Avoda Zarah 53b) asks why such a tree in Eretz Yisrael must be chopped down, since this would seem to contradict the Talmudic principle that one cannot cause someone else's property to become forbidden for the use of the owner. Since Eretz Yisrael is the inheritance of Am Yisrael and belongs to them by default, how could Cana'anite idolaters cause the trees of Eretz Yisrael to be forbidden for their use? (Altars and the like aren't considered part of the land; a tree that is rooted in the ground is.)

The Talmud answers that when Am Yisrael sinned with the golden calf they revealed that they had accepted idolatry. Doing so was the same as giving their consent to the idolatry of the Cana'anites; hence when at that point in time the idolaters worshiped an Asherah they were in essence acting as proxies for the Israelites. The Asherot were forbidden for use not by the actions of the Cana'anites, but by the consent of the Israelites themselves.

The moral is astounding. Eretz Yisrael belongs to us regardless of our actions. We shall always have the right to the Land; even if we do not want it, we cannot flee from our inheritance, just as we cannot disown our Torah. Therefore, anything the Cana'anites do in our Land, any problems they cause, however difficult they make it for us to be here, is because we have given our consent and have empowered them. The blame lies with us alone, and so does the solution.

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