Parsha Pearls: Behar-Bechukosai

Can Living in the Zionist State Be Considered Exile?
Giving Up the State Saves Lives
Eretz Yisroel Prefers Gentile Rule
The Sin of Questioning the Need for Exile
The Desolate Land

And if his hand was not able to produce enough [money] to return to him, then his field will be in the buyer’s hand until the Yovel year. (25:28)

The word “matz’ah” – meaning found, or was able – occurs only a few times in Tanach. The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam (1874-1940) explains a hidden level of meaning in our verse, based on a comparison with one of the other places where the word occurs: “Also the bird found a house, and the wild bird a nest for itself” (Tehillim 84:4). The bird is a metaphor for the Jewish people, as Rashi explains there. When the time of redemption arrives, the Jewish people will go up to Jerusalem and find a house, a Beis Hamikdash already built by Hashem and brought down from Heaven. But the wild bird will make a nest for itself. The wild bird is a metaphor for the wicked Jews who want to be wild and free from the mitzvos. They force the end and wish to build a nest, a sovereign state, on their own, pretending that this is the ultimate redemption. But it is obvious and known that they speak falsely, and that their way is the complete antithesis of the Torah. See the Targum on Shir Hashirim 8:4: “The king Moshiach will say, I adjure you, my people, house of Israel, why do you fight with the people of the land, to leave the exile? Wait a little more until the nations who ascended to war in Jerusalem are destroyed, and after that the Master of the World will recall the love of the righteous ones and it will be His will to redeem you.” And this is based on the Gemora in Kesubos (111a), that Hakadosh Baruch Hu made the Jewish people swear not to force the end.

The Torah needed to warn the Jews not to follow these people, not to be influenced by their false beliefs. Therefore it says, “And if his hand was not able” – if the Jewish people did not yet merit the complete and true redemption, then they should not think of doing as the wild bird does, building a nest for themselves, but rather “it is enough to return to him” – it is enough that they do complete teshuva. For the redemption is only dependent on teshuva (Sanhedrin 97b), and if they will only do teshuva then “also the bird will find a house,” for Hashem will redeem us and reveal the Beis Hamikdash from Heaven. (Kedushas Tzion on Tanach, p. 92)

And if your brother becomes poor and is sold to you, you shall not make him do slave labor. Like a worker and like a resident he will be with you; until the jubilee year he will work with you. And then he will go out from you, he and his sons with him, and he will return to his family, and to his ancestors’ land he will return.” (25:39-41)

The Ohr Hachaim explains this as a metaphor for the Jews in exile. G-d is addressing Esav and commanding him not to treat his brother Jacob badly in exile. He will only be in exile until the jubilee – the final redemption – when he, together with his sons, will return to his ancestors’ land. The sons symbolize the sparks of holiness that are scattered around the world. In every place where Jews live, the sparks are sorted out through the Jews’ suffering, Torah, and mitzvos. And this is one of the reasons for the exile – for if the reason were only for punishment, G-d could have punished the Jews while still in their land.

And what if the Jewish people had never sinned and never gone into exile? Who would have sorted out the sparks in all the lands of the Jewish exile? The Ohr Hachaim answers that if the Jewish people had not sinned, they would have had the power to sort out the holy sparks from afar, without ever leaving the Holy Land.

Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Fano writes that the purpose of every exile, beginning with Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, is to purify the places to which the exiled are sent. This explains why the Jews of Samaria were exiled only to one place, whereas the exiles of Judea were scattered in all directions. The Jews of Samaria were not Torah scholars, and therefore they could only sanctify one corner of the world; but the Jews of Jerusalem were sent everywhere, so that their wellsprings could benefit all of mankind. (Asarah Maamaros 4:13)

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 10b) relates that there was once a king who hated the Jews. He said to his ministers, “If a man has a painful scab on his foot, should he cut it off and heal, or leave it and suffer?” They said, “Cut it off and heal.” But one minister, named Ketia bar Shalom, spoke up and said: “First of all, you will not be able to kill them all, for they are scattered all over the world, as it says, “For like the four directions of the world I have scattered you” (Zechariah 2:10). Secondly, those Jews who remain will call you a murderous kingdom.

The Gemara later comments on the wording of the verse in Zechariah: seemingly, it should read “to the four directions of the earth I have scattered you” and not “like the four directions”. The Gemara explains that the word “direction” can also mean “wind” and the prophet was comparing the Jewish people to the wind: just as the world cannot exist without wind, so too it cannot exist without the Jewish people.

But according to this, why does the prophet mention scattering at all? The Maharsha answers that the world exists not just because the Jewish people are in the world somewhere, but because they are scattered around the world, making known the existence of G-d and His Torah.

With all of the above in mind, one cannot say that Jews gathered together in their own country in Eretz Yisroel are truly in exile, fulfilling the purpose of exile.

Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef Yabetz (d. 1507) in his work Chasdei Hashem explains the words of Yishaya 53:8, “He was removed from power and judgment” as a reply to the nations who question the greatness of Israel for suffering their exile. “After all,” argued these nations, “Israel is not the only nation in exile. Many Muslims live under Christian governments and many Christians live under Muslim governments.” The prophet replies that the non-Jews, even when they live in exile, do not suffer true exile since they know that they have a government of their own people in another part of the world to whom they can turn in time of need. For example, when King Manuel of Portugal decreed in 1496 that no Jews or Muslims could remain in his country, he did not actually enforce the decree against the Muslims, for fear of reprisals against Christians living in Muslim countries. Thus the Muslims in Portugal were saved by their own governments in other places. By contrast, the Jews are removed from power completely, not relying on any government somewhere else. According to this, if Jews have their own country, even those Jews living under other governments, if they rely on the Jewish country for help in times of need, are not truly living in exile.

When you come to the land that I give you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to Hashem. (25:2)

The Kli Yakar quotes some of the reasons given by the commentators for the mitzvah of Shmittah, rejects them, and then gives what he holds is the real reason. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim says that the purpose of Shmittah is to let the earth rest, so that it will produce more in the working years. The Kli Yakar argues: 1) If so, why did the Jewish people deserve exile for not keeping Shmittah? The punishment should have been the simple result of their actions: that the land would grow tired and stop producing. 2) Why is this called a “Sabbath to Hashem,” if it is for the sake of the land? 3) Why does the Torah say (26:34) that during exile the land will rest and make up its missed Sabbaths? When the gentiles take over Eretz Yisroel, they will certainly not keep Shmittah, and it will not rest at all.

The Akeidah says that Shmittah is a reminder of the creation of the world. The Kli Yakar argues: For that we already have Shabbos. If a reminder every week won’t help, how will a reminder once every seven years be any better?

But the true reason for Shmittah, he says, is to teach the Jewish people emunah and bitachon in Hashem. Hashem feared that upon coming into the land, working it and reaping its fruits, the Jews would begin to feel that everything was natural and they need not rely on Him. They would feel that they were the owners and masters of the land. Therefore He commanded that they work six years straight, not letting the land rest every three years, as farmers usually do, and promised that not only would the land not tire – it would produce extra in the sixth year, enough to last until the ninth year. They would rest in the seventh year, rely on miracles and know that the entire land belonged to Hashem. They would depend only on Him for their food, just as the Jews in the desert depended on Him for the manna.

The Kli Yakar’s reason is really explicit in the Gemara, Sanhedrin 39a: “A student asked Rabbi Avahu: What is the reason for Shmittah? He said: The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel: Plant for six years and let the land rest in the seventh, so that you may know that the land is Mine.”

Their failure to keep Shmittah showed that they lacked faith and felt the land was theirs, continues the Kli Yakar, and for that they were exiled. Furthermore, the Holy Land was angry at them: it had hoped to be used as a vehicle to teach the Jewish people trust in Hashem, that all Jews should know that Hashem is the true Owner of the Land, and they are mere sharecroppers. The Land, wanting to be under the ownership of Hashem alone, threw them out. During exile, the Land does not mind when gentiles live on it and farm it naturally, for the gentiles are not expected to live lives based on faith. The Land prefers this situation to the Jewish people living on it and not learning the proper lessons in emunah.

All the more so that the Holy Land prefers to be under gentile rule than to be a vehicle to actively uproot emunah from the Jewish people. Our gedolim always viewed a Jewish state before the coming of moshiach, even a religious state, as an inherent contradiction to our emunah in Hashem’s redemption through moshiach. In 1937, the Knessiah Gedolah of Agudath Israel first placed the question of a Jewish state before the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. The periodical Hapardes describes the reaction of the members of the Moetzes: “Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg of Antwerp, and the Hungarian and Czech rabbis opposed the proposal for a Jewish state, no matter what the borders would be and even if it would be religious, because it would be like a denial of the coming of moshiach.”

And the Brisker Rav said on another occasion: “The Rambam (Melachim 12:2 and Teshuva 9:2) says that moshiach will redeem the Jewish people from their subjugation to the nations. Anyone who believes that it is possible to be redeemed from subjugation to the nations without moshiach is lacking in full belief in moshiach.”

The movement to bring Eretz Yisroel under Jewish rule before the coming of moshiach was named Zionism, after the word Zion, which is used throughout Tanach as a synonym for Jerusalem and as symbolic of all of the Holy Land. But according to the above, their movement is an affront to Zion and its purpose. Those who advocate waiting passively for the redemption of Zion should really be called Zionists, while those who use the land of Zion to uproot emunah should be called anti-Zionists.

“And of Zion it will be said: every man is born in it” (Tehillim 87:5). The Gemara (Kesubos 75a) explains that even those Jews who are not born in Zion are considered its children if they looked forward to seeing it.

On Hoshana Rabba, we say, “Hoshana Tzion Hametzuyenes” – save Zion, the designated one. The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam (1874-1940), asks: What is the meaning of this extra word “hametzuyenes” – the designated one? What is this designation or indication that Zion must have? He answers that the author of the Hoshanos saw with holy inspiration that there would come a time when wicked Jews would take the name Zion for themselves, to use for their movement to conquer Eretz Yisroel by force before the proper time. Then, whenever the simple Jewish masses would see the word “Zion” mentioned in the prayerbook, for example, “May you cause a new light to shine on Zion,” they would think that it refers to this new movement, G-d forbid. Therefore he wrote in the Hoshanos, “The designated Zion” – the Zion that has the mark and indication that it is the right one. What is that mark and indication? The Hoshanos continues, “Hoshana kodesh hakadashim” – it must be a Zion that is holy of holies, with the holiness of Eretz Yisroel – not, G-d forbid, the movement of these wicked men who call themselves Zionists. They have no connection to holiness. (Kedushas Tzion, Moadim, Hoshana Rabba p. 45).

I will place your corpses on the corpses of your idols. (26:30)

The Gemora says (Sanhedrin 63b): “The righteous Eliyahu walked among the people dying of hunger in Jerusalem. He found a child who was swollen from hunger, lying in the garbage heaps. ‘From which family are you?’ he asked. ‘From such-and-such a family,’ he said. ‘Is there anyone surviving from that family?’ ‘No, except for me.’ ‘If I teach you something through which you will live, are you willing to learn it?’ ‘Yes,’ said the child. ‘Say every day, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”’ The child said, ‘Be quiet, do not mention the name of Hashem!’ For his father and mother did not teach him that. Immediately, he took out his idol from his bosom and hugged it and kissed it until his stomach split, and his idol fell on the ground and he fell on top of it, to fulfill the verse, ‘I will place your corpses on the corpses of your idols.’”

The Brisker Rav used to repeat this passage often, and he would say, “This is the situation today. People see that rebelling against Hashem will not succeed, and that because of the establishment of the State we are suffering bitterly from our Arab neighbors. Every day people are killed and wounded, may Hashem have mercy. All the arms of the Zionists do not help to stop terror. And still people continue to support the State and think that it is the salvation of Hashem and the redemption of the Jewish people. They do not understand that this is a threat of destruction to the Jewish people!” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4, 191)

In the same vein, the Satmar Rav said, “I heard that the religious Zionists announced that this war [of 1967] was necessary and obligatory according to Torah [in order to save the Jewish people from danger]. But it is obvious and known to all who see truth that all these troubles, including the danger of the war, came upon us only as a result of the existence of that Zionist state…it is the Zionist government that aroused the anger of the Arabs by provoking them in various ways, and if not for the stubbornness of its wicked leaders the danger of the war would never have been. And even now, if they were to give up their state and their government, there is no doubt that they would take Hashem’s anger away from the Jewish people. Had they done this, the entire calamity – the danger of the war and the loss of Jewish lives – would not have come upon them. And for every minute that they hold on to their power they are offending the Creator, blessed be He, with violation of the oaths and rebellion against the nations, which the holy Torah has forbidden and for which we have been warned of a severe punishment… And even naturally speaking, if they were to give up their government and Zionist state, there is no doubt that the United Nations would be able to find some way to prevent war, bloodshed and loss of Jewish lives.” (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapter 44)

And despite this, when they were in their enemy’s lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d. (26:44)

The Gemora in Megillah 11a expounds the verse as follows: “I did not reject them” in the time of the Babylonians, for I sent them Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azariah. “I did not revile them” in the time of the Greeks, for I sent them Shimon Hatzaddik, the Hasmonean and his sons, and Matisyahu the Kohen Gadol. “To destroy them” in the time of Haman, for I sent them Mordechai and Esther. “To annul my covenant with them” in the time of the Persians, for I sent them the house of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and the sages of the generations. “For I am Hashem their G-d” in the future, when no people or tongue will be able to rule over them. The Maharsha explains that the Gemora did not count the redemption from Egypt because then Hashem Himself redeemed the Jewish people with open miracles: “I and not an angel, I and not a messenger…” (Hagadah) The Gemora is only enumerating the times when the Hashem saved the Jewish people through the mask of natural events, through human efforts. Each time they were saved, they continued to live under the rule of the nations. But in the future we will be redeemed by Hashem Himself just as in Egypt, as it says, “I will show wonders like in the days of the Exodus from Egypt” (Micha 7:15). Therefore it will be a complete redemption, and no nation will rule over us.

And they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers, regarding the trespass they committed against Me, and their acting as if everything happened by chance. I, too, will act as if everything were chance, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies, for then their hard heart will be humbled, and then they will atone for their sins.” (26: 40-41)

The Ohr Hachaim asks two questions here: 1) Why will they have to confess the sins of their fathers? Once a person repents on his own sins, he is not punished for his father’s sins, as the Targum says on Shemos 20:5. 2) After they have already repented, why will Hashem act as if everything is chance and bring them into the land of their enemies?

He explains that G-d is merciful and often lets sins go unpunished for many generations, allowing the sinners numerous opportunities to repent. In the final years of the First Temple, the prophets rebuked the people, warning them of the exile and the other punishments detailed in the Torah. But the people did not listen, for they said, “Our fathers sinned and none of these punishments came upon them, so what we are doing cannot be so wrong.” Even as their situation became worse and worse, they refused to believe that their misfortunes were punishments, and instead attributed them to chance. Therefore, when they finally repented many years after the destruction, they were required to admit their mistake and say, “Yes, we were wrong to attribute all these things to chance. These were punishments for our sins and our fathers’ sins. We suffered this punishment because we continued in the ways of our fathers.”

The second verse, “I, too, will act as if everything were chance, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies” is actually part of their words of confession. At the time Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were sent into exile, they grumbled, “Why did G-d do this to us? If He had to punish us, why didn’t He punish us in our land?” And they added a pious complaint: “If the purpose of the punishment was so that we should repent, sending us out among the nations of the world is counter-productive. We will only get worse there by learning from the ways of the gentiles.” But it was wrong of them to doubt G-d’s wisdom and justice, and therefore when they repented they had to admit this mistake as well, saying, “Since we sinned by attributing our misfortunes to chance, G-d acted measure for measure and brought upon us more punishments that seemed purposeless, such as exile.”

Later on, says the Ohr Hachaim, the Torah gives us a different answer to the question of why the Jewish people had to leave their land – a question which “troubles everyone who has a wise heart”. Verse 44 reads: “And also this: when they were in their enemies’ lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d.” The Ohr Hachaim explains: And also this – an additional answer to the question – is that by virtue of their being in their enemies’ lands, I did not destroy them. I took my anger out on the land, sparing the Jews themselves.

This is similar to the idea expressed in the Midrash on Eichah 4:11, that G-d took out His anger on the wood and stones of the Temple and the Jewish people were thereby spared. That is why it says (Tehillim 79:1), “A song of Assaf: G-d, the gentiles entered your property, they have defiled Your holy sanctuary, they have made Jerusalem into rubble.’ This chapter is called a song, not a lamentation, because through the destruction of the Temple the Jewish people were saved. This is also the meaning of Eichah 4:11, “Hashem used up His anger.”

Moreover, says the Ohr Hachaim, when G-d sees such an exalted and noble people degraded, serving their enemies, His mercy is aroused and He does not exact full punishment from them. Their degradation thus saves them from further punishment.

The Satmar Rav (Vayoel Moshe 1:15) points out that here the Ohr Hachaim calls those who question the purpose of exile “wise of heart” whereas earlier he wrote that they were wrong for asking the question. He answers that the wise man is bothered by the problem but at the same time accepts the decree as just and righteous. For the sinner, on the other hand, this unanswered question leads him to a rejection of exile.

The Ohr Hachaim spoke with a prophetic spirit, and his words outline the events of our time. The Zionists enjoyed success in their early years, and so they conclude that G-d must be on their side. Even today, as their situation deteriorates, they say, “What we are doing cannot be wrong, since our fathers were not punished.” They cannot believe that current events are punishments, and instead attribute them to other factors.

And among some religious Jews who claim not to be Zionists, we hear the argument that living in Eretz Yisroel is really exile. Like the sinful Jews mentioned by the Ohr Hachaim, they argue that the punishment of exile can be fulfilled even while living in the Holy Land, adding that it is actually better not to live among the gentiles lest we learn from their ways. Unlike the “wise of heart”, they reject the Divine decree under which we were expelled from the Holy Land, and they support the military efforts of the Zionists to maintain a Jewish government in the Holy Land. These people will eventually be forced to confess their sin and the sins of their fathers, admitting that their ways were wrong and that G-d’s decree was just. They will eventually see that, as the Ohr Hachaim says, living under the nations is our best guarantee to merit G-d’s mercy and protection.

And I will lay the land desolate, and your enemies who live in it will find it desolate. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw out a sword after you; and your land will be desolate, and your cities waste. (26:32-33)

The Ohr Hachaim explains these words as a reference to the oaths which G-d made the Jewish people swear in exile. “I will scatter” refers to the first oath, which mandates that the Jews remain scattered and not come up as a wall to resettle Eretz Yisroel. “Among the nations” refers to the second oath, which mandates that the Jews remain submissive to the nations and not rebel against their authority. “I will draw out a sword after you” means that G-d will enforce the oaths: if the Jews violate them, they will die by the sword, G-d forbid, as the Gemara says (Kesubos 111a), “If you keep the oaths, good, but if not I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and deer of the field.” The final words “and your land will be desolate…” are the reason for the oaths: G-d wants the Holy Land empty in order that it should rest and make up for the Shmittah years that were not observed.

We see here that the Ohr Hachaim did not understand the first oath the way some Zionists have understood it: that the prohibition on mass immigration is only because this is a form of rebellion against the nations, and that therefore if the nation ruling over the Holy Land gives permission to Jews to immigrate the oath no longer applies. Rather the Ohr Hachaim says that the purpose of the oath is that the land be desolate and empty. The oath has nothing to do with the nations, and so the nations’ permission makes no difference.

The previous verse – “and I will lay the land desolate, and your enemies who live in it will find it desolate” – seems like an unnecessary repetition of the same idea. But if we look at what Chazal say, we see that these two verses compliment each other. The Sifra says: “This is a kindly measure, so that Israel should not say, ‘Since we have gone into exile from our land, now the enemies are coming and finding satisfaction on it.’ Therefore it says ‘And your enemies who live in it will find it desolate’ – even the enemies who come afterwards will not find satisfaction in it.” From the Sifra it sounds as though the kindness is that if we can’t use our land, at least it gives us some comfort that no one else can use it either. But it seems strange that the Torah would endorse such a selfish attitude – the attitude of the wicked Sodomites (Bava Basra 12b).

But the Ramban (on v. 16) explains more: “This is a good prophecy, foretelling that during every exile, our land will not accept our enemies. And this as well is a great proof and promise to us, since you will not find in all the inhabited world a land that is so good and accommodating, and that was once settled, that is now as destroyed as it [the Holy Land] is. For since we left it, it has not accepted any nation or language; all of them are trying to settle it but cannot.”

These words of the Ramban are often quoted by Zionists as a proof that their state is the long-awaited redemption. The land miraculously did not accept any other nation, and now it is accepting the Zionists with open arms, they say. Usually they quote this in conjunction with the Gemara in Sanhedrin 98a, which says that Eretz Yisroel producing fruit is a signal of the beginning of redemption. The problem is that the Gemara refers to the land miraculously producing new fruit every day (Maharsha). Regular fruit is not a sign of anything, and indeed the land produced regular fruit throughout the centuries of exile. We see that the Kesef Mishneh (Hilchos Terumos 1:11) tells the story of a practical dispute among the rabbis of his time over the issue of taking maaser from produce grown on gentile-owned land in Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramban as well never says that the land will not produce fruit when gentile nations plant it. He says that they will not be able to settle it, meaning that no nation will live long there before they are conquered, killed and expelled. A quick look at the historical record shows us what the Ramban means. The Holy Land was conquered by the Romans, the Persians, the Byzantines, and then the Muslims. For over a thousand years following the Muslim conquest, the land underwent a series of devastating invasions, followed by massacres of the existing population. Seljuk Turks and Fatimids were followed by Crusaders, who were followed by waves of Mongol tribes, who were followed in turn by Tartars, Mamluks, Turks and continual Bedouin raiders.

In this history of a land plagued by incessant wars and conquests, Zionist history is no exception. In a mere 61 years, the Zionists have fought eight wars and confronted two prolonged uprisings. Just as the troubles encountered by the gentile nations who tried to settle the land were a fulfillment of v. 32 “and your enemies will find it desolate,” so too the troubles encountered by the Zionists are a fulfillment of v. 33 “and I will draw out a sword after you,” as the Ohr Hachaim explained – that these words refer to the punishment for violating the oaths.

The Ramban explains that the “kindness to Israel” mentioned in the Sifra is that it is “a great proof and promise to us” i.e. a proof that G-d has not abandoned us and will still keep His promise to redeem us. Now we can understand the connection between v. 32 and v. 33. In v. 33 G-d warned the Jewish people with an oath not to return to Eretz Yisroel before the proper time. But He knew that there would be some Jews who would think He had abandoned them in exile, and they would feel they had no choice but to take the initiative and redeem themselves by force. Therefore He prefaced the oaths with the promise that the gentile nations will never be able to settle the land permanently. The fulfillment of this promise will serve as our sign that G-d is still with us and we must keep the oaths, and wait patiently for the time when He sees fit to redeem us.