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Sukkos, the UN, Ben Gurion & Bob Dylan

The Huts in the Desert, the Huts in Europe & Rabbi Lau’s Challenge to Israel’s Architect

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • October 13, 2016
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  • 11 Tishrei 5777
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Class Summary:

Imagine the reaction of the media and of the world if the UN or Israel’s chief Rabbis were to deny that there is connection between Mecca and Muslim; or between Christianity and the Vatican? Rage, disgust, demonstrations, probably in the former case—some beheadings too.

But no major uproar erupted when the UN passed the first stage of a resolution this Thursday, October 13, 2016.

Grammatically, there is a problem in one verse of Haazenu. The Torah states: “and [He will] appease His land, His people” as though they were one and the same. The Torah should have stated: “And [He will] appease His land, AND His people!”

47 years ago, during a public address on the 6th of Tishrei 5730 (1969), the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a moving insight. It seems like it was said for this very week.

The Klausunberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam (1905-1994), lost a wife and 11 children in Auschwitz. He survived a lone man. Once, in 1947, he went to visit a yeshiva that he built in one of the DP (Displaced Persons) camps, for children and youth who survived the war. When he arrived, he observed the dire living conditions in the DP Camps. The space was meager. He gathered the survivors, and explained to them how we can understand the holiday of Sukkos according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, that the Jew simply built huts in the desert. What, then, was the reason for this holiday?

He explained that according to Reb Akiva the miracle of Sukkos was the Jewish miracle that we did not give up even as we sat in miserable huts in the desert. 

Why are we defined as “children of Israel,” rather than “friends of Israel?” What did Bob Dylan sing about Israel? Finally, how can the UN have such chutzpah to deny the link of Jews to the Western Wall? Perhaps it has to do with a deeply tragic question that Rabbi Lau asked the first Prime Minister of Israel David ben Gurion back in 1972.

Why the Jews?

A Jewish man is sitting on a bench reading his newspaper when an anti-Semite approaches him and says, "You know, all the world's problems are because of the Jews."

The Jewish man looks up and replies, "And the bicycle riders."

The anti-Semite replies befuddled, "Why the bicycle riders?"

The Jewish man responds, "Why the Jews?"

Creation

On the sixth day G-d turned to the angel Gabriel and said, "Today I am going to create a land called Israel. It will be a land of outstanding natural beauty. It will have rolling hills and mountains full of goats and eagles, a beautiful, sparkling, clear ocean full of sea life and high cliffs overlooking white sandy beaches." G-d continued, "And I shall make the land rich in oil to allow the inhabitants to prosper. I shall call these inhabitants "Jews" and they shall be known as the friendliest people on the earth."

"But," asked Gabriel, "Don't you think you're being too generous to these Jews?" "Not really," replied G-d, "just wait and see the neighbors I am going to give them."

The Land, the People

There is a fascinating and enigmatic verse in the portion of Haazenu, where Moses quotes an oath by G-d:

האזינו לב, מג: הַרְנִ֤ינוּ גוֹיִם֙ עַמּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י דַם־עֲבָדָ֖יו יִקּ֑וֹם וְנָקָם֙ יָשִׁ֣יב לְצָרָ֔יו וְכִפֶּ֥ר אַדְמָת֖וֹ עַמּֽוֹ.

Sing out praise, O you nations, for His people! For He will avenge the blood on of His servants, inflict revenge upon His adversaries, and appease His land, His people.

Grammatically, there is a problem in this verse. The Torah states: “and [He will] appease His land, His people” as though they were one and the same. But they are not. The nation can exist in other lands as well, and the land is a particular geographical region in the world? The Torah should have stated: “And [He will] appease His land, and His people!”

47 years ago, during his address on the 6th of Tishrei 5730 (1969), during the Parsha of Haazenu, the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a moving insight. It seems like it was said for this very week.

The UNESCO Vote

Imagine the reaction of the media and of the world if the UN or Israel’s chief Rabbis were to deny that there is connection between Mecca and Muslim; or between Christianity and the Vatican? Rage, disgust, demonstrations, probably in the former case—some beheadings too.

But no major uproar erupted when the UN passed the first stage of a resolution this Thursday, October 13, 2016.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known in short as UNESCO, adopted a resolution which basically denies there was evert a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. We are the newcomers, intruding into Muslim sacred space.

It is the theater of the absurd. Twenty-four countries backed the document, while only six voted against and 26 abstained, at a meeting in Paris. (UNESCO’s executive board is expected to approve it next week. The tally was a slight improvement over a similar vote in April, which was supported by 33 countries, with six nations opposing and 17 abstaining.)[1]

The resolution accuses Israel — which it consistently calls “the occupying power” — of a long list of wrongdoings. The text “firmly deplores the continuous storming” of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif — Muslim names for the Temple Mount compound and the mosque located there — by Israel.

It also decries Israeli works in the Western Wall Plaza, which it terms the al-Burak plaza after the Muslim name for the site.

Not once does it refer to any of these sites by any Jewish name.

The UNESCO resolution urges Israel “end its aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths.”

Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Thursday: What's next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, who unexpectedly won this week the Noble Prize for Literature, got it right in his fantastic song, "Neighborhood Bully."


Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,

His enemies say he's on their land.

They got him outnumbered about a million to one,

He got no place to escape to, no place to run.

He's the neighborhood bully.


The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,

He's criticized and condemned for being alive.

He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,

He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,

He's wandered the earth an exiled man.

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,

He's always on trial for just being born.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,

Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.

Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.

The bombs were meant for him.

He was supposed to feel bad.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim

That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,

'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back

And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

He got no allies to really speak of.

What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.

He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied

But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,

They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.

Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.

To hurt one they would weep.

They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,

Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.

He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,

In bed with nobody, under no one's command.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,

No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.

He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,

Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

What's anybody indebted to him for?

Nothin', they say.

He just likes to cause war.

Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,

They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.

He's the neighborhood bully.

 

What has he done to wear so many scars?

Does he change the course of rivers?

Does he pollute the moon and stars?

Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,

Running out the clock, time standing still,

Neighborhood bully.

In the DP Camps

I am reminded of a remarkable story.

The Klausunberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam (1905-1994), lost a wife and 11 children in Auschwitz. He survived a lone man.

Incredibly, this man set to rebuild Jewish Chassidic life in the DP camps. Later he would remarry, build a new family, create a large and impressive community, create Laniado hospital in Israel, and many other Jewish institutions.

Once, in 1947, he went to visit a yeshiva that he built in one of the DP (Displaced Persons) camps, for children and youth who survived the war. When he arrived, he observed the dire living conditions in the DP Camps. The space was meager (sometimes a family of seven were given one bedroom), and the conditions very lousy.

The Klausunberger Rebbe gathered the people, and this is what he told them.

The First Sukkos

The Torah explains the rational for celebrating Sukkos each year, five days after Yom Kippur:

אמור כג, מב-מג: בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת. לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

You shall dwell in thatched huts for seven days. Everyone included in Israel must live in such thatched huts. This is so that future generations will know that I caused the Israelites to live in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your G-d.

But what does this mean? Which “sukkot,” or huts, did the Jews dwell in when they left Egypt? We never heard of any Sukkot in which the Jews lived?

On this there is a disagreement between two great teachers of the Mishnaic era, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva, who lived during the second century CE, in the decades following the destruction of the Second Temple.

סוכות יא, ב: דתניא (ויקרא כג, מג) כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל ענני כבוד היו דברי ר' אליעזר. רבי עקיבא אומר סוכות ממש עשו להם.

Rabbi Eliezer held that the sukkah represents the clouds of glory that surrounded the Israelites during the wilderness years, protecting them from heat during the day, cold during the night, and bathing them with the radiance of the Divine presence. (Rashi in his Torah commentary takes it as the “plain sense” of the verse.) These are the “sukkot” in which G-d placed the Jews after leaving Egypt.

Rabbi Akiva on the other hand says “sukkot mammash,” meaning a sukkah is a sukkah, no more and no less: a hut, a booth, a temporary dwelling. Jews constructed huts in the desert to protect them from the scorching desert sun.[2] If you know what a summer in the Sinai desert feels like you understand the purpose of these huts.

Now, if we follow Rabbi Eliezer then it is obvious why we celebrate by making a sukkah. It is there to remind us of a miracle. All three pilgrimage festivals are about miracles. Pesach is about the miracle of the exodus when G-d brought us out of Egypt with signs and wonders. Shavuot is, the

Talmud says,[3] about the miracle of the revelation at Mount Sinai when, for the only time in history, G-d appeared to an entire nation. Sukkot is about G-d's tender care of his people, mitigating the hardships of the journey across the desert by surrounding them with His protective cloud as a parent wraps a young child in a blanket. Long afterward, the sight of the blanket evokes memories of the warmth of parental love.

Rabbi Akiva’s view, though, is deeply problematic. If a sukkah is merely a hut, what was the miracle? There is nothing unusual about living in a hut if you are living a nomadic existence in the desert. It’s what the Bedouin did until recently. Some still do. Why should there be a festival dedicated to something ordinary, commonplace and non-miraculous? They lived in huts. Great. So why is that a reason to create a holiday?

According to Rabbi Eliezer, Sukkot fits the scheme of all Jewish holidays. It recalls the miracles in the wilderness, the forty years during which they ate mannah from heaven, drank water from a rock, and were led by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night (In 1776, Thomas Jefferson chose this image as his design for the Great Seal of the United States). But on the view that the sukkah is not a symbol but a fact – a hut, a booth, nothing more – what miracle does it represent?

And the Klausunberger Rebbe offered this answer.

The Jewish Miracle

According to Rabbi Akiva, this was not a Divine miracle, as much as it was a Jewish miracle! The Jews were in exile for 210 years. They were enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. At last, they were set free. They imagined that “the world”—the UN of the time—would welcome them in their lands, and offer them some comfort after years of suffering. Instead, they discovered that no one really cared. The nations around would not even offer them bread or water. They were wandering in a desert, as a solitary people, building huts to protect them from a burning sun, nomads without a home.

But nonetheless, despite the profound disappointment, they did not give up hope. They trusted G-d. 

This is what the prophet Jeremiah means when he says (2:2):

Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:

“I remember the devotion of your youth,

how, as a bride, you loved me

and followed me through the desert,

through a land not sown.

Throughout Tanach, most of the references to the wilderness years focus on the graciousness of G-d and the ingratitude of the people: their quarrels and complaints, their constant inconstancy; their lack of faith and appreciation. But Jeremiah does the opposite. To be sure, there were bad things about those years, there were many debacles and setbacks; but against them stands the simple fact that the Israelites had the faith and courage to embark on a journey through an unknown land, fraught with danger, and sustained only by their trust in G-d. despite their complaints and revolts, they took their families and entered a desert, simply because Moses told them to go. They entered “a land not sown”, not knowing what would befall them on the way, but trusting in G-d to bring them to their destination.

The Huts of 1947

And the Klausunberger Rebbe continued:

We have been cast into the Nazi inferno for five years. We suffered untold agony. At last, we have been liberated by the Allies. We thought the world would embrace us with tender care and provide us finally with comfort.

But, alas, that was not to happen. The path of the refugees is difficult and challenging. Many countries are not even allowing us into their borders (at the time the British Mandate over Palestine blocked the entry of most refugees, which led to the revolt of Jewish groups and the ultimate departure of the British from the Holy Land in 1948.) Look at your DP camps; look at these horrible “huts.” After all we have been through, do we not deserve better?

Yet, the Klausunberger Rebbe said, my dear brothers, do not despair! This is exactly what happened to our forefathers in the days of yore. They left the Egyptian bondage after 210 years, and all they had were these miserable huts. Here was an entire nation without a home or houses; they were like nomads without a place of refuge. Exposed to the elements, at risk from any surprise attack, they none the less continued on their journey in the faith that G-d would not desert them.

And because of that, they became G-d’s people; they experienced G-d’s presence; and they became the kingdom of princes and the holy nation, the ambassadors of G-d to the world, an eternal and timeless people. They were given the greatest gift of all time: the Torah.

So, he said to them, do not be dejected over our European huts. You are just like your fathers who gave us the holiday of Sukkos, in celebration of the great Jewish miracle of faith.

Back to the Huts

And now, 70 years later, in October of 2016, days before Sukkos, the UN wants us back in our old huts. They cannot get themselves to say that we own a homeland, and we own its capital.

Where are Jews supposed to live? In huts. In the desert. Though there is not even a desert that belongs to us…

Unbelievable. There are 193 United Nations (UN) member states. In many of them, the most horrific violations of human rights are common. Think of Syria. Iran. Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia. Sudan. The Congo. 400,000 slain in Syria over a few short years. But from all 193 member states, there is only one country whose very legitimacy to exist is in question every single day. We have only one homeland. But even that is too much!

Where are we to live? In huts!

This, according to Rabbi Akiva is the miracle of Sukkos: the world wants us in huts, but we will not stop celebrating, with our faith in G-d and in our destiny as His people in His homeland. It is astonishing how Israelis have been able to live with an almost constant threat of war and terror since 1948, and not give way to fear. Even in the most secular Israelis one can sense a profound faith, not perhaps “religious” in the conventional sense, but faith nonetheless: in life, and the future, and hope. It is an incredible testimony to the Jewish people.

The Story of History

And it is the story of Jewish history. Following the destruction of the second Temple, Jews were scattered throughout the world. Almost nowhere did they have rights. Nowhere could they consider themselves at home. Wherever they were, they were there on sufferance, dependent on a ruler’s whim. They were given not much more than huts, literally or figuratively. At any moment without forewarning they could be expelled, as they were from England in 1290, from Vienna in 1421, Cologne, 1424, Bavaria 1442, Perugia, Vicenza, Parma and Milan in the 1480s, and most famously from Spain in 1492. These expulsions gave rise to the Christian myth of “the wandering Jew” – conveniently ignoring the fact that it was Christians who imposed this fate on them. Yet even they were often awestruck at the fact that despite everything Jews did not give up their faith when (in Judah Halevi’s phrase) “with a word lightly spoken” they could have converted to the dominant faith and put an end to their sufferings.

This is what Reb Akiva is teaching us. Sukkot is the festival of a people for whom, for twenty centuries, every house was a mere temporary dwelling, every stop no more than a pause in a long journey. This is the greatest miracle of history—the miracle of the Jewish people, who despite living in huts, continued to sing, dance, love and trust G-d.

We call this time zeman simchatenu, “the season of our joy.” It is the greatness of the Jewish spirit that, with no protection other than their faith in G-d, Jews were able to celebrate in the midst of living in simple, humble, and frail huts, and affirm life in the full knowledge of its uncertainty. That is the faith of a remarkable nation, knowing that despite all the huts, we will one day return to our authentic and eternal homeland, and our authentic and eternal capital, Jerusalem.

Indeed, today, six million Jews live in our eternal homeland. And speedily, in our days, with the coming of Moshiach, our entire nation will return to our homeland.

A Couple in Romance

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once explained why the festival of Nissan has two names, Pesach and “Chag haMatzos.” We call it Pesach, but the Torah calls it “Chag HaMatzos.” He said it was all about romance. When a couple is in love, she sings his praises, and he extolls hers. The name Pesach represents the greatness of G-d who “passed over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. The name Chag haMatzot represents the greatness of the Israelites who were willing to follow G-d into the wilderness without provisions. In the Torah, G-d calls the festival Chag haMatzot in praise of Israel. The Jewish people, however, called it Pesach to sing the praise of G-d. That what a couple madly in love does.

That, it seems, is the argument between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva about Sukkot. According to Rabbi Eliezer, it represents G-d’s miracle, the clouds of glory. According to Rabbi Akiva, however, it represents the miracle of Israel – their willingness to continue the long journey to freedom, vulnerable and at great risk, led only by the call of G-d.

Nesenoff and Thomas

This truth came out glaringly clear a number of years ago.

David Nesenoff is a videographer and webmaster of RabbiLive.com. In May 2010, he interviewed one of the most prominent American journalists and columnists, a member of the White House Press Corps, 91 year old Helen Thomas, as she was leaving the White House.

“Any comments on Israel?” he asked her.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… and go home to Poland and Germany…”

Helen probably never heard of the fact that when the Jews were at “home,” in Poland and Germany, six million of them were sent to gas chambers. (She was forced to resign her position following these remarks.)

The video clip went viral. Millions watched within hours. David Nesenoff shared his tale: “Every media outlet in the world converged on me. I received thousands of threatening hate emails. Law enforcement and private agencies got involved. My son said, ‘You can speak to anyone in the world; who do you want me to call?’ I thought for a moment and then I said one name; and sure enough within seconds I was on the phone with Eli Wiese (who just died three months ago, in July 2016).

“I knew I was going to be on CNN, Fox, CBS, local, international, TV, print, radio, blogs… ‘Professor Wiesel, what is my message?’ He said that he had read in a newspaper that I pray with Chabad each morning and he suggested that I should find out what the Rebbe of Chabad would have wanted me to say.

“I remember I couldn’t figure out what I was more confused and amazed about. The fact that Ele Wiesel was giving me advice to find out what the Lubavitcher Rebbe would have me say, or that I was now in a surreal world where Eli Wiesel actually knew which minyan I attend.

“I mentioned to my local dear Chabad Rabbi, Chaim Grossbaum of Long Island that Eli Wiesel told me to find out what the Rebbe would want me to say. Without much hesitation he said, “Okay, let’s find out.”

“We contacted Rabbi Abraham Shemtov (chairman, American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington D.C.; representative of Chabad to Philadelphia, and chairman of Agudas Chasidei Chabad) for some insight as to what message should be shared. I listened for an hour. He was crying.

If you have a friend and you don’t see him for a few years, you can’t be sure he is still your friend,” Rabbi Shemtov said. “But if your child goes away for years, he is still your child. We are not friends of Israel. We are the children of Israel (Benei Yisroel). Sometimes we are away for a while in exile; sometimes we are away for long periods of time in the diaspora; but we are still the Children of Israel. Israel and the Children of Israel are one.[4]

“They exist because of each other. The Jew walking on the street in New York, whether or not he even knows or cares about Israel, exists because of Israel and Israel is alive because of him.”

David continued his story:

“Two days later I was on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’ with Howard Kurtz. I can’t remember what he asked me, but I know the answer was that the children of Israel and the land of Israel are one, and that is what Helen Thomas and those who want to de-legitimize Israel don’t get.

“A few months later I was the keynote speaker at Yale University’s inaugural symposium on global anti-Semitism. Before I spoke, the chairman of the symposium, Professor Charles Asher Small, introduced me, but paused to explain to the audience of international professors as to why I was the keynote speaker. He explained that he never watches television, but had been visiting his parents who happened to have on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources.’ And he heard this person say that ‘the children of Israel and the land of Israel are one and that they only exist because of each other.’ He said those words specifically caused him to ask me to speak.

An Organic Connection

All of this is expressed in the verse we quoted in the onset. This is why the Torah states, “and [He will] appease His land, His people,” not “His land AND His people.” The Torah is intimating that His land and His people are one and the same.

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is deeper than the connection between any other nation in the world and their native country. As Americans [name your country] we are connected to America, because we live here, we are devoted and grateful citizens, law-abiding members of the nation, part of its culture and working force. Yet the relationship is not essential and intrinsic. We could have been born elsewhere and lived elsewhere.

The relationship between the people of Israel and the land of Israel is organic. The Creator of the world “married” one small piece of land to one small nation and it is an eternal relationship, not subject to “divorce,” even if there is a temporary “separation.” The Jew is etched in Israel; Israel is etched in the Jew. They mirror each other. They reflect each other.[5] They are interlaced with each other. The soul of the people and the soul of the land are one.

If I leave America for 2000 years and I live elsewhere, you can hardly call me an American. But the Jews left Israel for 2000 years, yet none of them lost their connection. They breathed the land, they spoke of the land, they dreamt of the land. In every synagogue and yeshiva for 2000 years they studied the Talmudic tractates about the laws of the land.  [For a more Torah crowd scream with passion: Mesechta Zevachim, Menachos, Temurah, Meilah. We never stopped analyzing the laws of karbanos, zerikas hadam, pegul, nosar, kedshei kadashim, kadshim kalim, terumos, massros, shvieis, kedushas mechitzos, etc.] Each day in our prayers we study and reflect on all the daily sacrifices the Jewish people brought in the Temple, 2000 years ago!

Three times a day during prayers Jews turned their faces toward the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. And the UN has the chutzpah to say we are occupiers. In every single prayer of Judaism, during Grace after Meals, and at every Jewish ceremony, Jews spoke of Jerusalem and the Temple. At every wedding and, G-d forbid, at every shiva call they spoke of Jerusalem. At the end of each seder and just three days ago at the end of Yom Kippur we declared “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Eretz Yisrael is G-d’s chosen land which He gave to His chosen people, as an inheritance to the Jewish people forever. This is stated in the Bible—embraced by billions of Christians and Muslims as the word of G-d—hundreds of times. [6] It is the organic, natural home for the Jewish soul.

The Land Was Waiting

And that’s why you might notice an unbelievable fact: For 2,000 years, any nation or power that conquered Israel could never do anything with it successfully. The soil wouldn’t produce for them; the streams wouldn’t flow for them. Despite numerous attempts by the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Turks and Arabs to civilize the land and turn it into a fertile powerhouse, it never worked. It remained for them a place of marshes, swamps, disease, and desolation. A dead country. No nation ever shined here, none of their talents came out here. Despite many efforts by the Greeks and the Romans they never managed to convert the country into a world-center for Rome or Greece. In blunt words: the Land rejected them; the land “spit” them out.

Suddenly, the Jews come back to it, and it’s flourishing. Fertile fields, lush orchards, productive farms, robust vineyards, vibrant cities, flourishing villages, a powerful economy, major inventions, tremendous centers of learning and study. Why is that?

The Torah predicted it 3,000 years ago. In Leviticus, Moses says black and white, that when the Jews will be exiled from Israel, the earth will remain desolate. And history has proven this in the clearest fashion. Do your research, you will not find a single nation who in the last 2000 years has successfully settled the land and made it blossom for them.

Because this land is orphaned without its children; it is “depressed” without its children; this land awaits its children.[7]

Whence the Chutzpa?

But now I want to ask one final question. Whence the Chutzpa? How can 24 nations living in 2016 declare such a blatant lie? If they would make a resolution that the earth is flat they would be mocked; how could they get away with such a horrific blood libel? Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem a millennium and half before Mohammad was born! The second temple was built 1000 years before Islam. How can 26 counties abstain?

And for this, I am afraid, we have to look deep into our own hearts. Let me share this story, shared by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau in Oxford University.

Rabbi Lau and Ben Gurion

I was privileged once to meet David Ben Gurion, the architect of the State of Israel. On April 13, 1972, I received a telephone call from Ben Gurion. At the time, he was living in Sde Boker, the desert kibbutz. He was a great admirer of the Tanach, and he called to ask some questions regarding two passages in the Torah which he did not understand. He asked if we could meet up to discuss these issues at Sde Boker, as rheumatism had made it difficult for Ben Gurion to walk. I considered this a great honor indeed. When we met up, we discussed his questions for several hours, but I had one question of my own.

“David”, I asked, “For years I have been telling a story that I had heard about you during the Period of the British Mandate of Palestine. I would like to confirm if this story is true or not”.

“What is the story in question?” asked Ben Gurion.

I proceeded to tell him what I had heard. It happened in 1937, at the time that the Peel Commission was presiding over the British mandate of Palestine, as Israel was then known, trying to decide what to do about the Arab-Jewish conflict. The Peel Committee was the only committee to suggest cancelling the British mandate, the same decision that the UN came to in 1947. At the time of the Peel Commission, Ben Gurion was the head of the Jewish Agency, and was the last witness to appear before the Peel Committee to appeal in favor of a Jewish state. Ben Gurion spent over three hours explaining the linkage between the Jews and the Land of Israel, stating, “This is our home”.

Everybody was impressed by Ben Gurion’s testimony. Everyone, that is, except for Lord Peel. By the way, “Peel” means “Elephant” in Hebrew.

“Mr. Ben Gurion, may I ask you a question?” said Lord Peel.

“Of course you can, that is why I am here”, replied Ben Gurion.

“Where were you born?”

“Plonsk” came the reply.

“Where is Plonsk?”

“Poland.”

A large period of silence came after the reply. Finally, Lord Peel said in the barest whisper, “Very strange indeed. All of the Arab leaders who have appeared before me were born in Palestine. Most of the Jewish leaders who have appeared before me were born in Eastern Europe.”

Lord Peel spoke up, saying “Mr. Ben Gurion, the Arab people have a Kushan entitling them to this land.” A Kushan was an Ottoman land deed. “Do you have a document saying that Palestine belongs to you?”

At that point, Ben Gurion became aware of the Tanach in his hand that he swore upon while taking the oath to be witness to the commission, and he held it up triumphantly exclaiming. “Here is your Kushan, here is the document that you are asking for. It is the world’s most highly respected book, and I believe that you British regard it with much respect too!”

Back in 1973, I asked Ben Gurion in his desert home, “Is this story really true? Did you hold up a Tanach and say ‘Here is your document?”

Ben Gurion smiled and said “Emet Veyatziv”, it is true and it is certain.

I had another question to ask Ben Gurion. I asked, “Imagine you have a document that entitles you to a land. Then you destroy it. You crumple it up, shred it and teat it.  Try and present this document to a committee as proof of entitlement for a piece of land. The committee will not accept it in its torn and tattered condition. But look at the Jewish people. We pick and choose certain laws. We consider some laws archaic. In effect, we are destroying our own document. How can we therefore use it as entitlement to the Land of Israel?”

David Ben Gurion was a very smart man. So smart, in fact, that he refused to answer the question.

This, I believe, is a major part of the problem. The reason so many of these countries have the chutzpa to utter such a lie is because many of us do not have the spine to embrace who we really are and what we really believe. The moment we “crumple” the Torah, we are virtually destroying our “kushan,” our greatest proof that this land is ours, and that the Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount are all Jewish. When we do not give every Jewish child in Israel and abroad a deep appreciation and education of Torah we are depriving them also of the ability to love Israel, to believe in our right over Israel, to stand up to the scores of politicians, leaders, professors, journalists, activists, and essayists who constantly define us as criminals and occupiers.  

And that is why it is so critical to give your children a Torah education, even if you consider yourself a secular Jew. It is our only “Kushan” for Israel. And if we would have the courage to speak it, with full dignity, unwavering pride, and profound conviction, these countries would not have the chutzpa to question it.

When we are embarrassed of the truth, we allow lies to fester. When we are proud of the truth, we silence them. Let’s not step on that most precious document that can once and for all silence all the critics.


[1] Voting in favor were: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.

Voting against were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstaining were: Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, Saint Vincent and Nevis, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Ukraine.

Absent were: Serbia and Turkmenistan.

[2] Rashi Talmud ibid.

[3] Shabbos 86

[4] I verified the story with Rabbi Avraham Shemtov in a telephone interview, September 21, 2011. He shared with me that he learnt this perspective from the many talks of the Rebbe about the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The Rebbe actually said this very idea and explained it at length in Sichas 6 Tishrei 5730 (1969), quoted below.

[5] Balaam said this: Marosh Tzurim Erenu, when I gaze at the mountains in the land I see the people of Israel. The image of the Jewish souls is mirrored in every mountain of the Land.

[6] See Likkutei Sichos vol. 18 Maasei and the many references noted there.

[7] An anecdote: The commanding officer at the Russian military academy (the equivalent of a 4-star general in the U.S.) gave a lecture on Potential Problems and Military Strategy. At the end of the lecture, he asked if there were any questions. An officer stood up and asked, "Will there be a third world war? And will Russia take part in it?" The general answered both questions in the affirmative. Another officer asked, "Who will be the enemy?" The Russian general replied, "All indications point to China." Everyone in the audience was shocked.

A third officer remarked, "General, we are a nation of only 150 million, compared to the 1.5 billion Chinese. Can we win at all, or even survive?"

The general answered, "Just think about this for a moment: In modern warfare, it is not the quantity of soldiers that matters but the quality of an army's capabilities. For example, in the Middle East we have had a few wars recently where 5 million Jews fought against 150 million Arabs, and Israel was always victorious."

After a small pause, yet another officer—from the back of the auditorium—asked, "Do we have enough Jews?"

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    Sukkos 5777

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • October 13, 2016
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    • 11 Tishrei 5777
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    Class Summary:

    Imagine the reaction of the media and of the world if the UN or Israel’s chief Rabbis were to deny that there is connection between Mecca and Muslim; or between Christianity and the Vatican? Rage, disgust, demonstrations, probably in the former case—some beheadings too.

    But no major uproar erupted when the UN passed the first stage of a resolution this Thursday, October 13, 2016.

    Grammatically, there is a problem in one verse of Haazenu. The Torah states: “and [He will] appease His land, His people” as though they were one and the same. The Torah should have stated: “And [He will] appease His land, AND His people!”

    47 years ago, during a public address on the 6th of Tishrei 5730 (1969), the Lubavitcher Rebbe offered a moving insight. It seems like it was said for this very week.

    The Klausunberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam (1905-1994), lost a wife and 11 children in Auschwitz. He survived a lone man. Once, in 1947, he went to visit a yeshiva that he built in one of the DP (Displaced Persons) camps, for children and youth who survived the war. When he arrived, he observed the dire living conditions in the DP Camps. The space was meager. He gathered the survivors, and explained to them how we can understand the holiday of Sukkos according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, that the Jew simply built huts in the desert. What, then, was the reason for this holiday?

    He explained that according to Reb Akiva the miracle of Sukkos was the Jewish miracle that we did not give up even as we sat in miserable huts in the desert. 

    Why are we defined as “children of Israel,” rather than “friends of Israel?” What did Bob Dylan sing about Israel? Finally, how can the UN have such chutzpah to deny the link of Jews to the Western Wall? Perhaps it has to do with a deeply tragic question that Rabbi Lau asked the first Prime Minister of Israel David ben Gurion back in 1972.

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