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Home Questions in Judaism Between Israel and the Nations OUR CLAIM TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL
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Question - - 02/28/2013
What is the basis for your claim that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People?
Answer by Arachim
The source of our bond to the Land of Israel is the promise made by G-d to our forefather, Abraham, when he first entered the Land of Canaan, as it was then known. G-d later revealed Himself to Abraham at the time of the Covenant between the Pieces.
On that day the L-rd made a covenant with Abram, saying: 'Unto thy seed have I given this land… '
Genesis 25:18
Ever since then, there has been a deep bond of love between the people of Israel and their land, a love which survived two thousand years of wandering. This bond continued to endure even though the Jewish people were physical cut off from their land for two millennia. Never in that long night of exile did the Jew cease to long for the day when he would be re-united with his homeland. Never did he fail to mention his longing in his prayers and his fondest dreams. From time to time, determined individuals and occasionally, even groups, left behind all that was dear to them - family, friends, wealth and property - and risked their lives to reach the shores of the Land of their prayers.
No sacrifice was too great. The difficult living conditions and poverty that prevailed in Palestine did not discourage them from making the arduous journey by land or by sea.
The Land of Israel is mentioned in our daily prayers and in many blessings. We recall our homeland in times of joy and of sorrow. Not a day goes by in the life of an observant Jew without mentioning Israel several times. Our Sages tell us that our homeland plays an essential role in shaping the personality of the Jew. The Holy Land is far more than a National Home for the Jewish nation, as the Greece is to the Greeks and India to the Indians. The Land of Israel wields an influence on the development of each individual Jew and helps to mold our national character.
The Holy Land is unique in other ways as well. It is composed of many facets. Our human eyes perceive the physical aspect of the Land, but this is not all, nor even the chief of its parts. Man himself comprises not only a body, but also a soul which cannot be seen or grasped in the hand. Nonetheless, his soul is no less real than his body.
So, too, does the Land of Israel have a soul, which is no less important than its physical being.
How do we know this? Abraham our Father was promised:
"For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever."
Genesis 13: 15
When and how was this promise fulfilled? Avraham and his sons led a life of wandering. They were like guests in their own homeland, sojourners who encamped once here, once there.
The explanation is that Abraham had no need to take possession of the Land in a physical sense. His vision was developed spiritually, so much so that he could perceive the non-physical qualities of the land, the Heavenly Land of Israel. This was this spiritual aspect of the Holy Land of which he took possession, and it became his in the fullest sense of the word.
Years later, Abraham's grandson, Jacob had a dream which was recorded for posterity. He was told:
And, behold, the L-rd stood beside him, and said: 'I am the L-rd, the G-d of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed.'
Genesis 28: 13
In his classic commentary to the Bible, Rashi explains that G-d compacted all of the Land of Israel beneath Jacob.
If so, what happened to the towns and villages in the Holy Land? Did they remain hanging in the air? No, they did not. Rashi's comment refers to the spiritual Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael shel Maaleh.
The tribe of Levi, Israel's elite of scholars and priests, seem to have been deprived of their right to an inheritance in the Land when it was divided among those who entered it under the leadership of Joshua. They were allotted only a number of cities, not a vast tract of land comparable to that of the other tribes.
Where is the justice? Why should Levi be disadvantaged?
The truth of the matter is that there was no discrimination here. The tribe of Levi received their fair share of the spiritual aspect of the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael shel Maaleh, and their portion was the finest of all, as the verse tells us:
Happy is he whom Thou choosest, and bringest near; he will dwell in Thy courtyards.
Psalms 65:5
Israel's bond with its homeland differs from that of other nations to their country. The Holy Land belongs to Am Yisrael for all time; it is a historical fact that for the two thousand years of our exile, no other nation managed to establish itself in the Land of Israel. Only when the Jews returned to their homeland in numbers did the land again flourish and yield its rich produce. There is no parallel phenomenon to this observable fact in all world history.
Nonetheless, the Torah stresses again and again that Am Yisrael are not the actual "owners" of the Land in an absolute sense. When the Holy Temple was still standing, the Jewish people observed the fiftieth, jubilee year as commanded in the Torah. All property that had been sold during the previous forty-nine years returned to its previous owner. The Torah adds the following words of explanation:
And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me.
Leviticus 25: 23
In addition, we find that when farmers would bring offerings of their first fruits to the Holy Temple, their standard declaration, as prescribed by the Torah, included the following statement:
And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O L-rd, hast given me.'
Deuteronomy 26: 10
The commandment of presenting the first fruits as an offering in the Holy Temple was observed with much public ceremony and celebration. One of the goals was to enhance the nation's awareness that in the final estimation, the Land is G-d's, and not our own.
This raises an obvious question: Why did G-d declare that He would give this Land to Abraham and his descendants, if, in actual fact, He remained its ultimate owner?
The answer is of the utmost importance for the Jew of today: were the land to belong to us completely, as our un-restricted possession, we would have lost our claim to it when we were forced in exile nearly two thousand years ago. This, indeed, was the fate that befell many other nations who were dispossessed from their national homelands.
However, our situation is different from theirs. We can "purchase" land for only forty-nine years; it then reverts to its original owner. Several reminders are "built into the system" of our commandments to remind us repeatedly that the Land is ours to use, but ultimately belongs to G-d, not to us.
Consequently, we cannot give it away, nor can we lose our entitlement to its use. Its Owner has sole rights over it, and He assigned those rights to His chosen people thousands of years ago. When, in His wisdom, He withdrew our rights temporarily, He faithfully guarded them until He deemed it fit for Israel to return to the Land He has designated as theirs for all eternity.
It is He who is our host in the Land of Israel. He has given the People of Israel, and no other nation, the right to enjoy it to the fullest.
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