Friday, 13 July 2012

Bein HaM’tzarim—the Three Weeks 

Guest Blogger:
Rav Avram Herzog

Bein HaM'tzarim — the Three Weeks

Avram H. Herzog
Tammuz, 5772

The configuration of the Torah reading for the three Shabbatot between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av is comprised of Pinchas, Matot-Mas'ei combined, and D'varim, or alternatively of Matot, Mas'ei, and D'varim.  Pinchas, Matot, and Mas'ei close Sefer B'midbar, and as such can be viewed as a turning point.  With these three parashiyot, the Torah concludes its discussion of our past forty year sojourn in the wilderness, yet with an eye towards the next chapter in our history: our entry into Eretz Yisrael and settling therein.

The following are among the numerous events recorded in these parashiyot: G-d's bestowing His "b'rit shalom", "covenant of peace", upon Pinchas in reward for his zealotry; the order to Moshe to wipe out the Midyanim; the command to Moshe and Elazar (his father Aharon had already passed away) to count B'nei Yisrael and the Torah's subsequent details of this census; the guidelines for dividing Eretz Yisrael into tribal territories; the enumerating of the tribe of Levi (who were counted apart from the rest of the nation);  the claim to land of the daughters of Tzlofchad and G-d's accordingly rewarding them; G-d's bidding Moshe to ascend Har Ha'Avarim and view Eretz Yisrael, as he would not be privileged to enter the land; Moshe's request of G-d to appoint a new leader for the nation and the subsequent appointing and anointing of Y'hoshu'a to fill this lofty position; a detailed description of the various daily, Shabbat and holiday korbanot (sacrifices); the request of the tribes of R'uvein, Gad, and (half of) M'nasheh to settle in Trans-Jordan, Moshe's initial reaction to this challenge and his eventual conditional agreement; the recording of the travel itinerary in the wilderness; Moshe's informing B'nei Yisrael that they are on the cusp of entering, conquering, and settling Eretz Yisrael; a listing of the borders of the land and the tribal leaders appointed to oversee the division of the territory; the setting aside of forty eight cities for the tribe of Levi; the command to erect arei miklat (cities of refuge) as a haven for an unintentional murderer; and finally, the minutiae pertaining to the daughters' of Tzlofchad, thereby providing the framework for future women inheriting land in Eretz Yisrael.

With our introduction in mind, it should come as no surprise that the binding theme of these events, the thread that sews together these individual fragments into a stunningly colorful tapestry, is precisely none other than the focus on looking ahead.  Viewed as a whole, these parashiyot, then, represent nothing short of the key to our survival in the Promised Land.  They in fact form the foundation of the philosophy of Rav Avraham HaKohein Kook: Am Yisrael, b'Eretz Yisrael, al pi Torat Yisrael—our residing as a people in Eretz Yisrael, rooted in the foundations of the Torah laid down for us in parshiyot Pinchas, Matot, and Mas'ei.

We will focus on but one of the items enumerated above: the words of Moshe to B'nei Yisrael regarding the conquering of and residing inEretz  Yisrael.  Moshe tersely states: "V'horashtem et ha'aretz vi'shavtem bah"—"You will conquer the land and dwell therein".  These words are viewed differently by three of the foremost m'farshim (medieval commentators).  To Rashi, Moshe is providing us with a strategy: first, you must wipe out the inhabitants of the land; only then will you succeed in dwelling there securely.  To Ibn Ezra, Moshe is informing us of a divine promise, a reassurance that we will indeed be able to conquer and inhabit Eretz Yisrael.  To Ramban, Moshe is doing so much more: he is instructing, even commanding B'nei Yisrael to both conquer and settle in Eretz Yisrael.  That is to say that not only are we finally about to receive this long-yearned for gift promised to our forefathers, but we are bound, by virtue of our arrival at our destination, to dwell there.  Ramban boldly expounds further that this mitzvah applies to all future generations as well.  In short, to Ramban, these words of Moshe serve as the source for the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, the command, incumbent upon each and every Jew to this day, to settle (in) Eretz Yisrael.

And just as these parashiyot are centered around living in Eretz Yisrael, we too, in our day, to paraphrase Ramban, must redouble our efforts to secure our eternal settling in Eretz Yisrael.  Yes, ideally we would all be living in, or making plans to live in, our homeland.  But for those of us who are not yet able to do so, we dare not view ourselves as exempt from this ever-present mitzvah.  Purchasing a home in Eretz Yisrael; visiting Eretz Yisrael as often as we can; educating our children to always have Eretz Yisrael in their thoughts and hearts; financially supporting the land; meaningfully praying for the welfare of Eretz Yisrael and its leaders, and for the continued restoration of the land in all its glory and splendor; all of these are ways that we can, indeed we must, heed the call of Ramban to do our part in fulfilling this grand mitzvah of "V'horashtem et ha'aretz vi'shavtem bah".

How fitting it is that these parashiyot are read during the Three Weeks, the period in which we are bidden to mourn the loss of the Beit HaMikdash and our subsequent exile.  It is during this time, more than any other of the year, that we, just like these parashiyot, focus on the past, yet do so through the prism of an eye toward the future.  To simply mourn, to be stuck in the past, is not what is requested of us.  A fatalistic approach has no place in a Torah based lifestyle.  Rather, we are to use this time for introspection and reflection—to ask ourselves where we erred, as a nation and individuals, in the past; to learn from our mistakes and thereby improve our behavior and attitude towards G-d, the Torah, our fellow Jews, and Eretz Yisrael.  And finally, to hope for, and proactively plan for, the future of Am Yisrael, b'Eretz Yisrael, al pi Torat Yisrael.  Only then will the Three Weeks be a period worthy of our time and effort.  May we answer the call, and may we in turn be privileged, as we are assured in the Talmud, to witness the transformation of these days of mourning into days of simchah, when we will rejoice together in Eretz Yisrael.
Shalom and Regards,

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