Thursday, October 11, 2012

The First Rashi - Thorny Theological Territory

Rashi's very first comment on the Torah quotes the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Bo), which says the Torah should have started in Shemot 12, where the mitzvot instruction of the Torah gets underway:
Said Rabbi Yitzchak: It was only necessary to begin the Torah from “This month is to you,” since this is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded in. And what is the reason [the Torah] opened with "Bereshit"? Because of [the verse], "The strength of His works He told to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations" (Tehillim 111:6).
End of the Midrash citation. Rashi then adds his own words:
For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, "You are robbers, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations," they say [back] to them, "All the earth belongs to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. He created it, and gave it to whomever was fitting in His eyes. By His will He gave it to them, and by His will He took it from them and gave it to us."
Clearly, Rashi felt this would be an effective retort. He was coming from 11th Century France, at the time of the First Crusades. The Crusaders were people who held of the divinity of the Bible, and yet as evidenced by the fact that they laid siege to Jerusalem, slaughtering Jews and Muslims alike in their quest for control of holy sites, they contested Jewish claims of being the "rightful inheritors" of the land. But how can one believe in the Bible and dispute what's written in black and white, the theme that runs throughout the entire Torah, and especially the book of Bereshit, that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews? That's how I interpret Rashi here.

Two comments on this:
  1. Even in Rashi's time, would this really have been an effective response? Wouldn't Christians have simply said in reply: "Well, once again, God took it away from you and gave the land to people more fitting in His eyes - the ones who accept His one and only Son, our Lord and Savior!"
  2. In our time, this response would be considered circular reasoning, a laughable line of argumentation. A person hears this today and says: "So what? Your ‘proof’ that the land belongs to you is in your own religious text? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
When I look at this Rashi, while I understand the desire to underscore our connection to Eretz Yisrael, historically and emotionally, what I dislike is the language of theological justification. Ironically, it is precisely Rashi's "retort" to the nations that provides the justification for the Crusades. Even the most horrific bloodshed can be justified if it's deemed as being in accordance with "God's will," whether that "will" is identified in Scripture, commentary, by clerics or prophets. As soon as we go down this road, what results is a battle of justifications, what my god says vs. what your god says.

Regarding the land of Israel, of course there is a legitimate Jewish claim on the land. Do we have to defend that claim? Unfortunately yes. Is it an "exclusive" claim? No, and that's part of what makes it a tricky issue to work out. But if we have any hope of working it out, we have to stop using language about what God "wills", who God "likes" better and wants to give the land to. It's a conversation that holds no possibility of different sides coming to an agreement. It's a line of discussion that necessarily ends in killing. It's just a question of which one thinks their Messiah will come and magically work everything out, and which one thinks the way to bring the Messiah is to start the slaughter.

To sum up, using theological reasoning to feel an attachment to Eretz Yisrael - if that's your thing, fine. But to brandish theological justifications about our "God-given right" to a piece of real estate - this is an exceedingly bad idea. It's what I'd call "anti-TED", an idea definitely not worth spreading.

1 comment:

  1. Breishis 13:15, "ki et kol haaretz asher ata roeh lecho etneno ulzaracho AD OLAM". Hashem had his promise not only verbally, but with a deed and documentation to have and to hold forever and ever AD OLAM. This document, the Bible, the Five Books of Moses is the most popular Book ever printed in history, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
    When Hashem punished and sent the Jewish Nation to galuth of bavel for seventy years" al asher ozvu et brith hashem...", he then redeemed them, as stated in dvarim:30:2,3,4,5 "veshavta ad H' elokecha...vekibetzcha mikol ha'amim...misham yekabetzcha", stipulating (30:20) lishmoa bekolo uldovko vo ki hu chayecha veorech yamecha LASHEVET AL HAADAMA.... Therefore, galuth is only temporary, until yisrael does tshuva, but in no way does it abrogate the Deed. Indeed, after 2,000 years we are back again having and holding strong be'ezer hashem yitbarach, so much for a track record. Hashem will never trade the Jewish nation for any other nation, period, as promised.