Parshat Matot-Masei-Focussing on Eretz Yisrael

Aug 19, 2017

Parshat Matot-Masei 5777-Focusing on Eretz Yisrael

The two Parshiot that we read today are primarily focused on the arrival ,laws  and definition of Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish people.It is no coincidence that these parshiot always fall during the 3 weeks,and I will develop this major theme to gain some inspiration for the 3 week period.

נג  וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וִישַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ:  כִּי לָכֶם נָתַתִּי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ.

53 And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it.

The Ramban( Nachmanides-13th Century: Spain/Israel) comments here that this is the main source for the Mitzva of ‘yishuv Eretz Yisrael’-living in the Land of Israel.

והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה כי לכם נתתי את הארץ לרשת אתה על דעתי זו מצות עשה היא יצוה אותם שישבו בארץ ויירשו אותה כי הוא נתנה להם ולא ימאסו בנחלת ה'

And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land for you to possess: In my opinion, this is a positive commandment. He commands them to settle in the land and inherit it; He gave it to them and they should not abhor Hashem's inheritance.


Maimonides(12th Century:Spain/ Israel) seems to disagree and his view is that once you are there you are fulfilling a Mitzva(mitzva kiyumit), but there is no absolute directive to get up and go.

Whichever way you analyze these opinions it is clear that Eretz Yisrael plays a central part in the life and aspirations of every Jew.We have witnessed in the last 70 years the fulfilment of many prophecies and prayers to restore Israel to its former glory and this is a miracle which must be recognized and appreciated every single day.

And yet……. I am conflicted when I see the negativity expressed towards Israel in the press and in the international community. I am even further conflicted when I see Jewish youth being influenced against Israel by such groups as the BDS movement, which is shown by many to be both anti Israel and anti Semitic in its goals and propoganda.I am dismayed when I see the Jews proporting to appear in Chassidic dress, who attend the Israel parade in New York with the sole purpose of denigrating everything Israel stands for.I once proposed in a sermon a few years ago that Mashiach comes to our world every day and is waiting for us to give him the ‘green light’.And yet he sees our behavior towards our fellow Jews and particularly that of religious people who create terrible spectacles of ‘chillul Hashem’ in the eyes of the world. Mashiach just says:’Not today!’ and he returns, to try again tomorrow.

With all this conflicted emotion, I ask a simple question: who can inspire me at this difficult time and give me the strength not to lose hope but to continue to strive for the future redemption and the promises of peace?

I am inspired by two Rabbinic leaders who were in very different circumstances but never lost the hope which I am aspiring to achieve.Rabbi Yisachar Teichtal zal(d.1944-Hungary) came from the very anti Zionist world of Satmar Chassidut before the war. As his sufferings increased in the war years he changed his views completely. He felt that it was our lack of supporting the new Yishuv in Israel that brought about the terrible calamities of the Jewish people. While he was holed up in a bunker in Budapest, without seforim, he composed his ‘shir Hashirim’ to Eretz Yisrael, called ‘Eim Habanim Semaicha’.In this book he quotes extensively (from memory) hundreds of sources which extol the virtues of Eretz Yisrael. He bemoans the way in which religious(Chareidi) Jewry abandoned, in the main, this amazing development in Israel, with the belief that our home will always be in Europe, which was not to be. He inspires me with his incredible optimism in the darkest hours of our history.

The other inspiration comes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook zal(d.1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine.His optimism is summed up in the following story which describes a conversation he had with Rabbi Y.C. Zonnenfeld zal, the head of the Eda Chareidit in Jerusalem. The two Rabbis seemed to have had a close rapport(much to the consternation of subsequent generations who have not abated in  their critique of Rav Kook).Rav Zonnenfeld pointed out that there is an interesting form of the word ‘anachnu’ in this week’s parsha, which appears without the ‘aleph’(nuchnu).

לב  נַחְנוּ נַעֲבֹר חֲלוּצִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וְאִתָּנוּ אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ, מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן

Rav Zonnefeld pointed out that the same word appears in the Book of Eicha, read on Tisha B’Av:

מב  נַחְנוּ פָשַׁעְנוּ וּמָרִינוּ, אַתָּה לֹא סָלָחְתָּ.  {ס}

42 We have transgressed and have rebelled; Thou hast not pardoned. {S}

The connection is made that the ‘chalutzim(early pioneers) are being linked to the word ‘

meaning that the settlers must be seen for what they are-impure and sinful.  ,פָשַׁעְנוּ

Rav Kook responded that this unusual form of the word appears a third time in the Bible, in the story of Joseph and his brothers.

יא  כֻּלָּנוּ, בְּנֵי אִישׁ-אֶחָד נָחְנוּ; כֵּנִים אֲנַחְנוּ, לֹא-הָיוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ מְרַגְּלִים.

11 We are all one man's sons; we are upright men, thy servants are no spies.'

Rav Kook’s reply was that even though we may seem different, we are all Jews “the sons of one father’. It is not for us to criticize any section of our people especially those who are busy with building the land, even if they do not have a religious lifestyle.

This is their ‘Mitzva’ and we must not denigrate them.

Again I am inspired by a leader who understood deeply the true meaning of ‘Klal Yisrael’  and he gives me strength for the future.I pray that those of our people who are not attuned to the great miracles taking place today will change their view and also become inspired by these incredible leaders and role models in our recent history.I pray for the day that Mashiach will arrive and decide to stay and find us in a situation of unity and purpose, which is where our strength really lies.I pray for the day when the Temple becomes our holiest site again, with the 3rd Bet Hamikdash  being built, speedily in our days. Amein.

Rabbi Ian Shaffer Camp Emanuel in the Berkshires  July 5777

Venue: Stern College Stern College



This is the sermon I gave at Camp Emanuel in the Berkshires.2 inspirational leaders who give us hope for the future.

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