Thursday, 25 February 2016

Jews argue: “We are thieves. We stole their Land!”

  At the beginning of his commentary on the Torah, Rashi opens with the words: ‘Rabbi Yitzchak says the Torah need not have begun in this way... why then does the Torah begin with the account of creation?’ The response is in a verse of Psalms (111.6) ‘He makes known to His People the might of His hand in giving to them the inheritance of Nations (the Land of Israel)’. 

The entire world belongs to G-d. It was He who created it and gave it to whom He saw fit

When the Nations of the world will say to Israel: “You are thieves.... You conquered the Lands of the Seven (Canaanite) Nations”, they (the Jewish people) should respond: “The entire world belongs to G-d. It was He who created it and gave it to whom He saw fit. According to His will did He give it to them, and according to His Will did He take it from them and give it to us”. Rashi quotes “He makes known to His People the might of His hand in giving them the inheritance of Nations” (a message to His People). 

 At this point we are not yet speaking of any contention by Gentiles. But rather to a situation whereby there are Jewish people who will come and argue (even before the conquest of the Land of Israel), “how was it that G-d permitted that we conquer the land of Israel? They argue: the Land belongs to the Nations!” The response is: He shows the might of His creation to His people. The Land of Israel (and indeed the entire world) is an act of creation by G-d. He is Master over the Land of Israel given (at one point in time) as an inheritance to the nations. Therefore He is entitled to subsequently grant it to the Jewish People. 

Rashi continues his comment: “If the Nations will contend”. Here there arises a difficulty. We can readily understand that before the conquest of Eretz Israel there is a need to explain how could the conquest of the Land of Israel take place? It belonged to the Nations! But after the conquest – what need is there for this explanation? Rashi explains that it is quite conceivable that Gentiles will come with a claim against the Jewish Nation – you are thieves! How do you justify holding on to the Land of Israel? Therefore, in order to respond to the Gentile, the Torah opens with the account of Creation to tell him that it was G-d who created the Land and “by His will did He initially give it to the nations, and subsequently it was by His will that He took it from them and gave it to us.

There remains a question: How do we know that a Jew is obliged to respond to a Gentile to his accusation “you are thieves!” The answer lies in the name Rabbi Yitzchak. In tractate Brachos (7.2) Rabbi Yitzchak says that when things are going well for the gentile, it is forbidden to taunt or provoke him. One should take note of him and not be overwhelmed when he comes with a storm of contentions. When however the gentile accuses you – “you are thieves”, the very same Rabbi Yitzchak quoted by Rashi, states that the verse stipulates that you are obliged to respond to the gentile with the greatest force! Only then will all their claims become null and void. 

Public talk Shabbos Bereishis 1971