“Likhvod Yom Ha’Atzmaut” – Happy Birthday, “Eretz Yisrael
“Kedushah,” Holiness, is a thread running through the parashiot that we read this Shabbat. The first reference is to the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon who, intoxicated with holiness, over-stepped the boundary between HaShem and humanity on the day of their inauguration as Priests, and were slain by HaShem as a consequence. Parashat Acharei Mot then describes the activities of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, to secure atonement for the People of Israel.
The parashah contains a warning by HaShem not to behave according to the decadent moral standards of Egypt, that had been a world empire until the destruction of its society by ten monumental catastrophes, and the drowning of their army in the Sea of Reeds. Nor according to those of the Canaanite nations, which they would come to observe in the near future. Then a catalog of those moral failures in the sexual arena is presented.
Finally, the parashah puts forward a personification of the Holy Land, “Eretz Yisrael,” as capable of being rendered ritually unclean by such behavior, and of taking action against its immoral inhabitants. “The Land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the Land disgorged its inhabitants... For the inhabitants of the Land before you committed all the abominations described, and the Land became contaminated. Let not the Land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you.” (Vayikra 18:25, 27-28) And Rashi cites Midrash Torat Kohanim regarding “a parable of a prince who was fed some disgusting food, which could not remain in his delicate digestive system, but he immediately vomited it out. So ‘Eretz Yisrael’ does not tolerate the presence within it of sinners...”
Parashat Kedoshim then provides examples of holy behaviors that the Jewish People is called upon to perform, in order to emulate HaShem, “You shall be holy, for I, your G-d, am holy.” (VaYikra 19:2) And not to behave in an unholy manner – for you live in a holy place, “Do not profane your daughter, to make her a harlot, lest the Land become lewd, and the Land become filled with depravity...” (Vayikra 19:29) Do not observe the unholy rituals of Molech, “But if the people of the Land avert their eyes from that man when he gives from his offspring to Molech, not to put him to death... ” (Vayikra 20:4) “So I said to you, ‘You shall inherit their Land, and I will give it to you to inherit it, a Land flowing with milk and honey – I am HaShem, your G-d, Who has separated you from the other nations.” (Vayikra 20:23-24)
This also reminds us of the first Rashi in the Torah, which speaks to the legitimacy of our “claim” to the Land of Israel: “Rabbi Yitzchak said, ‘The Torah should have started with ‘This is your month...’ (Shemot 12:2), which refers to the first Commandment that Israel was commanded; why then does it start with Bereshit? The reason is that which is stated in Tehilim (111:6), ‘The strength of his deeds did He tell to His People, to give them the inheritance of the nations.’ For if the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations,’ Israel can respond, ‘All of the earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed is He. He created it and gave it to those who pleased Him. By His Will, He gave it to them, and by His Will, He took it from them and gave it to us.” (Bereshit Rabbah 1:2)
Almost the entire world seems to be against us these days, with the possible exception of the United States. Yet forces are at work even within this country that are not in our favor, such as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion...,” and continuing assimilationist pressures. On the other hand, the “Kiruv” Movement is alive and well, and all we need is a “critical mass” of Jews, and the help of the Holy One.
My father-in-law, a long-time strong supporter of Israel, recently returned from a month-long 7th-time revisit. The last Shabbat he spent in the company of a family nephew who had recently made “Aliyah,” together with his wife and children (they already have a Sabra). They live in Beit Shemesh, and my father-in-law remarked that that town sounded like Monsey, what with all the English spoken by “Olim Chadashim.” To which I responded, “How wonderful that is! Americans who could have stayed home, and not uprooted their families, chose to go to Israel.” This is nothing less than a fulfillment before our eyes of “Aliyah B’Kommemiut,” out of free-will, standing tall, as the Jews left Egypt on the way to Sinai and the Promised Land of Israel.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel