Sunday, October 3, 2010

Belated Beraishit Post: A Thought from Rav Charlap

Rashi's Israel-focused commentary on the first verse of the Torah is well known. I'll quote it anyway. Thanks to Chabad for saving me a ton of time with the Rashi text and translation.

אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהלים קיא ו) כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב"ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו
Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded, (for the main purpose of the Torah is its commandments, and although several commandments are found in Genesis, e.g., circumcision and the prohibition of eating the thigh sinew, they could have been included together with the other commandments). Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.
First of all, the fact that Rashi chose to focus on the Land of Israel with his first comment on the Torah speaks volumes. Rena and I were discussing the comment on Shabbat, and she pointed out that Rashi was most probably making a historical comment to the people of his times, as they watched Christian hordes pillage Europe on their way to conquer the Holy Land. "Not to worry," he seems to tell them - and us. "They might take it now, but one day it will once again be ours."
How right he was.
On Shabbat, I heard a talk which quoted Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, one of Rav Kook's main students, who asked a very pointed question about the verse that Rashi quotes from Tehillim, "The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations”. If the whole point of the message is for us to convey our ownership of the Land of Israel to the nations of the world, then the verse should say, כח מעשיו הגיד לעמים - "The strength of His work He related to the nations." Why does God first have to tell His nation?
That, said Rav Charlap, is precisely the point. Sadly, too often Jews themselves fail to appreciate our own inherent, intrinsic connection to God's holy land. They think other inhabitants
have as much right to the Land as the Jewish people do , and that while it might be a Jewish homeland, we have no more claim on the Land than other nations.
That's our biggest problem. If we believed fully in our inherent right and connection to the Land of Israel, then the nations of the world would accept our position as well. As long as we waver, the world will as well.

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