Sunday, May 10, 2009

Behar - Bechukotai

A true blessing

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Bechukotai presents the famous admonition (tochacha), which describes the terrible calamities that will hit the children of Israel if they do not follow God's way. The admonition is harsh and suggests exile and the darkest days in the history of the people of Israel.

In the middle of that admonition there is a verse, which may be the syntheses of the spirit of the future curses that will affect the people of Israel. In Leviticus 26, 32 is written: "And I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies that dwell therein shall be astonished at it".

No doubt that this is a hard and bitter prophesy. ChaZaL say that during the Beit Ha-Mikdash era, the land of Israel was a land of milk and honey, contrary to the nature of the land. (Ketuvot 112a). There were no worries and no problems in making a living. A barren land is a real nightmare!

However, if we look at RaSHI's commentary to the Torah we can see that he reads this verse in a different way. RaSHI says that it is a good thing that Israel's enemies won't find pleasure in their land that will be empty of its inhabitants. Also the RaMbaN says that this curse is a blessing ("good news" according in his terms)

How is it possible that someone will understand the bitter news as a "good thing" or as "good news"?

Rabbi Yissachar Frand refers to this question and says that if the land wasn't barren we could never get it back.

I have heard quite a few Jews here in Israel asking cynically "Why was Cnaan promised to our forefathers and not Canada?" or "Why was the Red Sea parted and not the Atlantic Ocean, that way we would have reached America?". Others, more serious ask, "Why are we the only state in the Middle East without oil? We barely have water?"

And I answer those people: Thank G-d we don't have oil. Thank G-d the Red Sea was opened and not the Atlantic. Thank God that the Promised Land was Canaan and not Canada...

If we had oil or if we were in Canada instead of Canaan we would never have returned. No one would have given up the land the way it was given up...

Each nation that ruled Eretz Israel during the exile, referred to it as the back yard of its empire. However, we dreamt about it even during the day as for us (even during the exile) the land of Israel was the centre of the universe. It was barren because each nation that ruled it turned its back on it. We know it was barren because it was expecting us.

The Torah and its interpreters say that from the day the exile starts, the land will not accept any nation. 'The enemies won't find pleasure in the land', says RaSHI.

The RaMbaN is right, RaSHI is right: it is a true blessing.