Thursday, February 19, 2009

Small Steps - Table Talk for Mishpatim 5769

It's gotten so bad that I can't even listen to the news anymore.
If you thought that new elections in Israel would break the political gridlock and move the country forward, you thought wrong. We don't even know who won. Likud? Labor? Lieberman. Who knows? Even Shimon Peres said that he was wrong this week. I think moshiach really might be coming!
And if we thought that we could record some progress on our end, our enemies certainly aren't going anywhere. Gilad Shalit remains in the blood-stained hands of Hamas, who hold him to extort the release of still more murderers. Hizballah and Iran continue to mass weapons and technology. Arab citizens in Israel supported Hamas during our last war. It just doesn’t seem to end, leading to a sense of weariness – and despondency.
That's where a pasuk in this week's parshah can help. Describing the process of entering the Land of Israel, Hashem tells Moshe that,
אֶת-אֵימָתִי, אֲשַׁלַּח לְפָנֶיךָ, וְהַמֹּתִי אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם, אֲשֶׁר תָּבֹא בָּהֶם; וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-כָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ אֵלֶיךָ, עֹרֶף. וְשָׁלַחְתִּי אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה, לְפָנֶיךָ; וְגֵרְשָׁה, אֶת-הַחִוִּי אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְאֶת-הַחִתִּי--מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.
I will send My terror before you, and will confus all the people to whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send the hornet before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before you. (Shemot 23:27-28)
Sounds good. I like the idea of my enemies, confused and dazed, running away from me chased by a swarm of hornets. If only. But then we read on:
לֹא אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ, בְּשָׁנָה אֶחָת: פֶּן-תִּהְיֶה הָאָרֶץ שְׁמָמָה, וְרַבָּה עָלֶיךָ חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה. מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ, מִפָּנֶיךָ, עַד אֲשֶׁר תִּפְרֶה, וְנָחַלְתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ.
I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field multiply against you. By little and little I will drive them out from before you, until you increase and inherit the land. (Shemot 23:29-30)
Why not? Why not just get rid of our enemies in one fell swoop, driving them out in an instant? Wouldn't it be easier for the Jewish people to enter an empty land, ready for them to settle and develop? Couldn't we actualize the Zionist Dream if we didn't have to keep fighting the Arabs all the time? Ironically, we could not. Commenting on these pesukim Abarbanel explains,
שלא יחשבו ישראל שפתע פתאום יהיו כל העממים מגורשים מן הארץ, וכאשר לא יהיה כן יאמרו כי מבלתי יכולת ה' לא גורשו משם. לכן אמר: "לא אגרשנו מפניך בשנה אחת", אך "מעט מעט אגרשנו מפני
So that Israel will not think that suddenly all of the nations will suddenly be driven out of the land – and when that did not happen they will say that they were not driven out because God was unable to do so. [For this reason it says] "I will not drive them out in one year" rather, "little by little I will drive them out."
While we would love the redemption and conquest of Israel to be an instantaneous and cataclysmic event, we also want it to be real and lasting. And you can't have both. Life just doesn't work that way. Your wedding day (if you're married) was amazing. Mine sure was terrific – what I remember of it. The chuppah, the dancing, the food. Actually, we didn't have a chance to eat any of the food, but no matter. If you ask yourself whether your wedding was the most significant event in your relationship with your spouse, I hope you'll say no. It's never one specific event, as great as each one may be. Rather, real relationships rise from daily life, from the ongoing joint struggle to succeed and flourish together. Flashy events, while exciting and powerful, don't create lasting impressions, nor do they create facts on the ground. Only the slow, difficult work of growth and inheritance can establish a presence that will endure.
What's true for each of us in our personal lives certainly holds true for the Jewish people as a nation. It won't happen in a day or a year, and not even in sixty. We need to "grow and inherit the land." We're not there yet – physically, spiritually or religiously. But every time I drive to work up a modern highway, dotted with flourishing companies, green farms and growing businesses, I feel that we've taken one step closer to that goal. Every day that we continue to take the small steps each and every day: to build another school, another community, another business, another home, another student and another teacher, we inch ever closer to Hashem's promise in the Torah:
וְשַׁתִּי אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, מִיַּם-סוּף וְעַד-יָם פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וּמִמִּדְבָּר, עַד-הַנָּהָר
And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River.
אמן כן יהי רצון.