Sunday, August 30, 2009

Feeling the Pressure - Devar Torah for Ki Tavo

As American pressure on Israel to get serious about peace talks with the Palestinians continues, the Obama Administration continues to insist on a total freeze of construction in the West Bank. (We call it Yehudah V'shomron). Even as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu officially balks at the prospect of freezing all construction, that's exactly what he's done. Listen to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (from the AIPAC website).
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel had effectively frozen construction in West Bank settlements, The Jerusalem Post reported. Lieberman's comments substantiated earlier reports that the Israeli government had not issued a single tender for building in West Bank settlements, including large settlement blocs, since March.
So, while Netanyahu complains about the pressure for a settlement freeze, and declares that he cannot agree to such a freeze, he has in fact totally frozen any and all construction over the Green Line. No new apartments, no schools, no nurseries. Nothing. Our parshah has a word for this type of pressure.
Ki Tavo begins with with the ceremony of Bikkurim, presenting the declaration that every Jew would make as he presented his first fruits to the Kohen in the Beit Hamikdash. As part of the declaration that a Jew would make as he brought his bikkurim to the Beit Hamikdash he would say,
וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ
and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression (Devarim 26:7)
What is the meaning of the term לחצנו - our oppression? In what way did the Egyptians "oppress" the Children of Israel? Clearly they oppressed us in numerous ways including enslavement, torture and murder. But which specific way do we allude to in this verse? The Midrash points us back to Shemot which also speaks about this very same לחץ. There God says to Moshe,
וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה צַעֲקַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָה אֵלָי; וְגַם-רָאִיתִי, אֶת-הַלַּחַץ, אֲשֶׁר מִצְרַיִם, לֹחֲצִים אֹתָם
And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto Me; moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. (Shemot 3:9)
Again we wonder: what specific oppression does He refer to? Rabbeinu Chananel (in Shemot) offers the following explanation:
שנכנסו למצרים בשבעים נפש, והושיבם יוסף בארץ גושן ולא היתה הארץ מכילה אותם כי היתה הברכה בהם. והמצרים לא היו מניחים אותם להתרחב בארץ, אבל היו לוחצים ודוחקים אותם
When they entered Egypt with seventy souls, Joseph settled them in the Land of Goshen, but the land could not contain them for blessing was within them. Yet, the Egyptians would not permit them to spread out in the [Goshen], but instead pressured them and crushed them.
Communities grow. People, thank God, have babies. Kollel families looking for reasonably priced housing in either Beitar Illit or Kiryat Sefer are watching real estate prices slowly climb out of their price range, asdwindling supply of apartments in those Chareidi cities inevitably leads to rising prices. (That's right: when the meshulach knocks on your door asking for money for a poor kollel family in Israel that can't pay the rent, there's a good chance that some part of the reason they can't pay that rent is that Barack Obama has made it more expensive to rent an apartment in Israel precisely where those kollel families live.) Children, after finishing college and starting families of their own, often want to move back into the communities were they grew up and raise their children. Only right now they can't, because the government of Israel, under tremendous pressure from the United States, refuses to let anyone build so much as a tool shed in Yehuda or the Shomron.
That's לחץ - "pressure." And Barack Obama should remember that while the Jewish people suffer under לחץ in the short-term, he who applies that pressure never ends up better off in the end.