THE ONLY CURE
Regrettably, the past year has been marred by violence and terror for the Jews of Israel, the impact of which has reverberated in the hearts of every Jew throughout the four corners of the world.
Regrettably, the past year has been marred by violence and terror for the Jews of Israel, the impact of which has reverberated in the hearts of every Jew throughout the four corners of the world. Irrespective of national origin and religious observance, we have all been affected by the unforgettable images of tragedy. It has reached the point where the uncertainty and barbarism of daily life in Israel have become commonplace and expected. Our control over the holy land appears to be slipping away, and many voices have been heard openly questioning whether the Jews of Israel have any future there. And worse yet, there appears to be no end in sight to the violence. With frayed nerves and our energy spent, many have despaired of finding a respite to our suffering; in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “We are exhausted but are allowed no rest” (Lamentations 5:5).
Despite all that has transpired, many of our Jewish brothers and sisters respond in the all-too-predictable manner saying, “If we can only find the right mix between diplomacy and military muscle and elect the right government, then we’ll finally achieve peace.” It is clear to even the most stubborn of observers that this approach has caused us to “struggle in vain” and “produce for futility” (Isaiah 65:23). On the other hand, those among us who are more religiously-oriented search for clues in the Torah, the eternal instruction book, as to how we can ameliorate our suffering. Can the Torah shed light on this time of darkness? Yes — and we need look no further than this week’s Torah portion.
A recurring theme in Parshat Vaetchanan, mentioned at least a whopping ten times (4:1, 4:5, 4:14, 4:25-27, 4:40, 5:28, 5:30, 6:1, 6:3, 6:17-19), is the lone condition upon which G-d, Israel, and the Jewish people will inherit the land of Israel. Again and again, Hashem reiterates that the ability of the Jewish people to successfully possess and endure in the land of Israel is entirely dependent on our observing the commandments of the Torah. As the Torah states in unambiguous language, “You shall observe His decrees and His commandments that I command you this day, so that He will do good to you and to your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days on the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, for all the days” (4:40). Stated simply, if we collectively keep the Torah, we’ll be allowed to stay in the land, and if we do not live up to our end of the bargain, we will awaken from our spiritual slumber to find Hashem abruptly escorting us out.
It is interesting to note that analyzing the above principle from a purely objective and historical perspective, this phenomenon has not-so-coincidentally held true throughout the ages. It should come as no surprise that the periods prior to the destruction of the first and second Temples and the subsequent exiles were marked by rampant neglect of Hashem’s Torah. Conversely, the periods preceding the destruction, which featured peaceful Jewish dominion over the land, were characterized by extraordinarily high levels of mitzvah observance. Unfortunately, the passage of time and our inability to look at Jewish history as a unified whole render it almost impossible for the layperson to take notice of and appreciate this trend on their own, for if it were, this “coincidence” would certainly impress and shock the hearts of even the most spiritually detached members of our nation.
Most certainly, the notion that the successful establishment of a Jewish presence in the land of Israel is wholly predicated on Torah observance is a foreign concept to some ears. However, a deeper understanding of the relationship between G-d’s Torah, the Jewish people, and Israel reveals why this is the case.
Even Jews who do not consider themselves to be “religious” know that G-d gave the land of Israel as a gift to the Jewish people. However, what most fail to realize is that Israel is not a “gift” in the conventional sense of the word. As a general rule, there are two ways one can give a gift: 1) unconditionally, such that receipt and possession of the gift is entirely independent of the recipient’s conduct, and 2) conditionally, where receipt and possession of the gift are linked with the fulfillment of certain conditions on the part of the recipient. The land of Israel, G-d’s gift to the Jews, most certainly falls into the category of the latter; our receipt of Israel is solely conditioned upon our fulfillment of His will as expressed in the Holy Torah.
Consider the following analogy: There once was a man who suffered from a grave illness. By a stroke of great fortune, this sick individual discovered that the world’s leading doctor had recently published an essay detailing how to cure the very same ailment from which he was suffering. In his research, the doctor concluded that there is only one form of treatment that is effective in dealing with this malady. Astonishingly, the sick man, possessing no expert knowledge of medicine, chose to ignore the doctor’s wisdom and instead attempted to cure himself by whatever remedies he could dream up. As we could expect, ignoring the doctor’s sage advice resulted in a deterioration of his condition and an exponential increase in his suffering. His friends pleaded with him, “Take the true cure! It is the only thing that can save you!” Humbled and in failing health, the man finally conceded that all other remedies were fruitless. When he relented and heeded the doctor, the illness quickly disappeared and the man was miraculously restored to complete health.
The above parable, adapted from Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s classic work “The Path of the Just,” succinctly describes our current dilemma in Israel and why the majority of efforts at rectifying the situation are misguided. It is wholly absurd to imagine that if G-d Himself has told us the one and only thing that will bring us the peaceful existence in the land we so desperately seek, that we should achieve the object of our desires by alternative means. We are humbled and in failing health, for ignoring Hashem’s prescription has imperiled our very existence.
Over 50 years have passed since Hashem gave the Jewish people a fresh start in our ancestral homeland. Although there is a high level of Torah observance among segments of the Israeli population, the overwhelming majority has not kept the Torah — the very condition upon which our existence in the land ddepends. The Torah describes this phenomenon: “When you beget children and grandchildren and will have long been in the land, you will grow corrupt ... and you will do evil in the eyes of Hashem ... you will surely perish quickly from the land ... you shall not have lengthy days upon it, for you will be destroyed” (4:25-27). As we are witnessing the fulfillment of this nightmarish prophecy on a daily basis, now is the time for a collective call to action for all Jews to strengthen our observance of Torah.
The road to recovery can begin only after we have honestly diagnosed the illness. We’ve tried every other strategy and to no avail. Let’s experiment with the Torah for a few years; certainly Hashem will come to our aid. If it feels as though Israel is slipping away, it is only because we are allowing our Torah observance to slip away. In the merit of strengthening our own commitment to Torah and gently encouraging others to do the same, may we witness the fulfillment of the verse, “You who cling to Hashem, your G-d you are all alive today.” May we live in times of Torah observance, now and forever.
Sammy Bregman is a third-year student at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia.
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