July 25, 2024
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This Land Is Our Land! Bayamim Haheim, Bazman Hazeh

לא ארץ נכריה לקחנו, ולא ברכוש זרים משלנו.

כי אם נחלת אבותנו שנכבשה בלא משפט,

וכאשר היה לקל ידינו השיבונו אותה לנו (ספר המכבים א:טו:לג–לד בשם שמעון המכבי)

“We have not taken a foreign land; we do not hold the property of others.

Rather, the land is our ancestral inheritance taken from us lawlessly.

When God gave us the strength, we returned it to ourselves (Maccabees 1:15:33–34).”

This was Shimon HaMaccabee’s response to Antiochus’s demand that the Maccabees cede territory to him.

We, like Shimon, face similar challenges to our right to the Land of Israel. Let’s study his response.


Where It Began

Hashem’s first words to the first Jew direct him to move to Israel. Though Avraham’s religious quest and commitment began decades earlier, the Torah skips those stories and begins with his move to Israel. Judaism begins with the arrival of the first Jew in Israel.

Throughout Avraham’s life, Hashem continuously promised him and his children the land as their inheritance. This is why Avraham insisted that Yitzchak’s wife move to Canaan (Bereishit 24:7 with Rashbam). He understood that Hashem did not want Yitzchak to leave the Promised Land.

After Yaakov and his family were forced to leave the land, the rest of the Torah is about their struggle to return and settle there.

The return from the Babylonian exile and the Maccabean struggle for independence reinforced the eternal nature of our relationship with the Holy Land. Like our Avot, even after being removed from the land, we continued returning to it. This is when and why the land became known as the “Land of Israel.”


Nachalat Avoteinu

Though we were exiled, and others took control of our land, it remained ours because it is our ancestral inheritance. When we were still slaves in Egypt, Hashem said: “V’natati lachem morashah, I have given the land to you as an inheritance.” (Shemot 6:5) Even before arriving in Israel, the Jewish people already owned it.

This is why we own the land of Israel even when we are in exile (Tosafot to Bava Batra 44b). Even when conquered by others, the land remains ours because it continues to be associated with us (it is called Judea, etc.) (Rav Nachshon Gaon quoted by Shu”t Maharam 536).


When God Gives Us Strength

Ultimately, what makes the land our ancestral inheritance is the fact that Hashem designated it for us. Shimon HaMaccabi hints at this by emphasizing that the retaking of the land was not the result of mere might or political opportunity, but Hashem enabling us to take it back.

Rashi’s first comment on the Torah’s very first pasuk reinforces this idea:

Rabbi Yitzchak explained: Why did the Torah begin with Bereishit and not with the first commandment (Hachodesh hazeh lachem)?

Because of the verse, “The basis of His actions, He explained to His people to give them the land inhabited by others” (Tehillim 111).

If other nations accuse the Jews of being thieves for taking the land of the seven nations, they should respond by explaining that all the land belongs to God. He created it all and gives it to whom He sees as deserving. Just as He once gave it to them, He now took it from them and gave it to us.

Living in a period when Jews were scattered around the world and Muslims and Christians controlled Israel, Rashi foresaw a time when our return to the Land would be met with accusations of thievery. The Torah’s creation narrative aims to rebuff these claims. We are here because of an act of God; our mandate comes from Him.

Despite Rashi’s anticipation of these accusations centuries ago, we know that much of the world does not accept his response.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, zt”l explained that Rashi’s words aim not to convince others but to fortify our own confidence. This is implied by the verse Rashi quotes: “The basis of His deeds, He tells His people.” Though we may not be able to convince others of our Heavenly-ordained ancestral home, our recognition of this fact should bolster our confidence in the face of such accusations.


Bayamim Haheim, Bazman Hazeh

This message has never been more relevant or essential. The Hamas massacre and subsequent war have unleashed the hatred of those who deny our rights to the Land of Israel. Enemies who do not care that the biblical promise of the “river to sea” was given to the Jewish people seek to remove us.

We should not be intimidated by this. We should remember that Rashi predicted this situation almost a millennium ago and that Shimon HaMaccabi faced these claims over two millennia ago. We should use their response to these claims to answer the similar ones we face.

May Chanukah remind us of the Divine basis of our return to and relationship with our land and give us the strength to continue fighting to defend it.

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

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