For the Love of the Land

This week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, begins with the first commandment G-d ever gave to the first Jew in history which was to go to the Land of Israel.  G-d spoke to Abraham, and said:

Go, from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.

Abraham, his wife Sarah, their extended family and their retinue all came to Israel, then known as Canaan.  They traveled throughout the land, engaged in commerce and, of course, in spreading the idea of monotheism.  At various times, they lived in the mountains of Beit-El, on the west bank of the Jordan; Beersheva in the Negev Desert; and the city of Hebron.  G-d promised Abraham that although his descendants would go into exile and be enslaved, ultimately, He would free them, bring them back to Israel, and make Israel the eternal homeland of the Jewish people.

One of the earliest recorded purchases of land was Abraham’s purchase of the Machpelah cave and field in Hebron for the burial of his wife, Sarah.  The Torah provides us with the details of his protracted negotiations with the Hittites, Abraham’s insistence on paying “full price,” and his concern that the elders of the Hittites should agree to and witness the purchase — for this purchase was the beginning of G-d’s promise turning into reality.

All the patriarchs, matriarchs, and the Children of Jacob (the Twelve Tribes), lived in and were buried in Israel.  Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebecca, Isaac and Leah were all buried in Hebron, in the cave purchased by Abraham. Rachel was buried on the road to Bethlehem9 and even Joseph (who died in Egypt) was buried in the city of Shechem (Nablus).  Joseph had specifically ordered that the Jews should take his remains with them at the time of the Exodus, and bury him in Israel.

Following Joshua’s conquest of Israel, the Jews lived there as an independent commonwealth (and later under a monarchy) for 800 years.  Judges ruled the people for almost 400 years until the coronation of the first king, Saul.  Saul was succeeded by King David, who was followed by his son, Solomon.  King Solomon built the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.  This Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians, who conquered Israel and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq).

Although the Jewish people were in exile they did not forget the Land of Israel.  Their emotions were prophetically described by King David in Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also wept when we remembered Zion.  On the willows within it we hung our lyres.  For there our captors requested the words of song from us, with our lyres [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][playing] joyous music.  “Sing for us from Zion’s song!”  “How can we sing the song of G-d upon alien soil?” If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.  Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy…

After seventy years in Babylon, the prophets, Ezra and Nehemiah led many of the exiles back to Israel where they built the Second Temple.  The Jewish Commonwealth was renewed and the Temple services were once again performed in Jerusalem.  The Jews lived in Israel from the time of their return until the Roman destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile in about 70 CE.

The era of the Second Temple, which lasted approximately 420 years, was a time of great upheaval.  The Jewish state experienced invasion by the Greek Seleucids, which led to the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE (Chanukah). Later came the Roman occupation, the despotic rule of Herod, and the Jewish revolts against Roman rule that ultimately ended in the disastrous events of 70 CE.

Despite all the invasions, exiles and hardship, two Jewish states existed in Israel during this time, the first lasting for 840 years, the second for 420 years.  Even during the long exile that followed the Roman destruction of the Temple a continuous Jewish presence (albeit, sometimes quite small) was maintained in the Land of Israel.  The land was invaded by Arabs, Crusaders, Saracens, Mongols, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks and the British Empire, but through it all Jews not only remained, but produced monumental works of learning and liturgy.  Rabbi Judah the Prince, for example, wrote the Mishnah in the north of Israel in 200 CE; and the Jerusalem Talmud was edited there in 350 CE. Throughout the centuries Jews undertook the dangerous journey to Israel from other lands.  The great scholar Nachmanides came from Spain and established a synagogue in Jerusalem in the 13th century.  In the 16th century, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote the Code of Jewish Law in the city of Safed, and the song Lecha Dodi was composed and first sung there by Rabbi Shlomoh Alkabetz, student of the great Kabbalist of Safed, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria.

In the time of Ottoman rule, in the 19th century, groups of Chassidim came to Israel on the instruction of their leaders in Europe.  The famous Lithuanian rabbi known as the Gaon of Vilna sent many students to settle in Israel. In the late 19th century, the Zionist movement brought thousands of people to Israel to establish agricultural settlements and industry there.  The attachment of the Jews to their land throughout 1900 years of exile culminated in the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, now home to more than six million Jews from all over the world.

Jews of the 21st century take for granted the presence of Jewish communities in Israel.  From an historical point of view, however, the return of a people to their Land after nineteen centuries of exile (in the case of some, 2,500 years of exile); the establishment of an independent Jewish state; and the ingathering of Jews from virtually every country in the world are miraculous and unprecedented events in world history.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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