Ever feel that you don’t know where your destiny lies? You’re not alone. Ever since Avraham, the Jewish people have been on a vulnerable journey to a destination that’s often unknown.
This past April, four days before Pesach, I arrived in Israel. I went to the supermarket, jetlagged, to shop for Pesach. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a young and bustling people. There are so many more baby strollers in Osher Ad than at Fred Meyer!
After two weeks in the country, late at night, I took a Sherut rushing down Kevish Echad from the Jerusalem hills into the coastal plains by Ben Gurion. As we make that mere hour-long drive, I was reminded about how tiny our Jewish country truly is.
What’s more, unlike Israelis, I am going home to the US. Israelis are a people whose home is Israel – a country made up of Jewish refugees from the most far flung places from Poland to Syria. Most of world Jewry sits in this tiny strip of land surrounded by a sea of enemies. When you look at Israel from that perspective, you realize one basic fact: Israel is not America.
Center of the World
The Midrash says that Israel is the center of the world. It has certainly been the heart of Jewish identity for our entire history. In fact, the land of Israel is at the center of the human quest for meaning. How many people look to Israel to understand who we are? The land of Israel is one of the most fraught and dangerous of political situations on the planet. Given how complex life is there, it’s amazing how quickly people jump into the fray with opinions and criticism.
I look around this country of refugees who have been chased from every corner of the world. I wonder how it can be that “respectable people” can advance a hateful agenda like BDS, whose goal is to make Israel an economic outcast. Sadly, we live in a time when hatred of Israel is socially acceptable in nearly every aspect of our society.
As quick people are to pass judgement, the vast majority of the world are profoundly removed from the reality of Israel. Within the Torah lies a hidden perspective about the coveted land. I want to share that perspective with you. It will change the way that you think about the land of Israel and about ourselves.
The Place G-d Will Choose
Jerusalem is referenced many times in our Parsha. That historic site of the Akeida is referenced as the future place of the Temple. And yet, Jerusalem is not mentioned by name even once in the entire Chumash.
Sefer Devarim references it over and over – 21 times – as “the place that G-d will cause his name to dwell.” The city is referenced as “Shalem” in Genesis. But its full name is not given. No geographical coordinates or site markers are noted. It is only referred to as the place where G-d will cause his name to dwell.
At the time Moshe spoke in the plains of Moav, the city was already predestined. Why not mention its name? It’s so much easier to say “Jerusalem” than “the place that G-d will cause his name to dwell there.”
The Rambam asked this question in his Guide for the Perplexed. Jerusalem, he points out, is the city that unites the Jewish people. If its name was openly revealed in the Torah, there could be a sense of rivalry as the tribes ascended into the land. They might fight over which tribe gets to settle in the area with that city. To avoid that, the identity is concealed, only to be revealed later in the book of Samuel.
By the Rain of Heaven
But there is another dimension to this. This is not the first time that Israel is left unnamed. The first mention of the land of Israel is found in Lech Lecha, where G-d tells Avram that he should go “to the land that I will show you.” Later, at the Akeida, G-d tells Avraham to go to the land of Moriah to “one of the mountains that I will show you.” The land and the mountain that G-d “will show” are Israel and Jerusalem.
From the days of Avraham to the moment the Jews crossed the Jordan, Israel and Jerusalem are the places that will be revealed. As long as we have existed, we have been on a journey. The destination in that journey is at times unknown. In that journey, Israel and Jerusalem are the unrealized promise of the future, a place that will be revealed.
In ancient terms, Israel was situated between two major seats of power in Egypt and Assyria. The Torah describes Israel in terms of difference.
It is not like Egypt where you irrigate your fields. It is a land of hills and valleys that drinks by the rain of heaven. It is a land that G-d’s eyes are upon, that seeks it out from the year’s beginning to the year’s end.
In Israel, as opposed to Egypt, we drink by the rain of heavens. It is the place where we look to the heavens in prayer for rain. There are many lands that are accustomed to certainty. Egypt was a place of certain and readily available irrigation, not so different from Oregon’s lush Williamite Valley.
We think of the good land as the place with irrigation, the known reliable destination. The robust and obvious economy. The Torah turns these assumptions on their head. The good land is where we don’t know what’s coming down the pike. It is the place where we pray for rain.
Israel & Vulnerability
From the time that Avram travelled from Charan to Canaan, Israel has been that strip of land where nothing is guaranteed. Even if you make it to the land, it will cost you.
Our rabbis teach us that three things are acquired through suffering: Olam HaBah, the land of Israel and the Torah. These three things cost physical comfort and ease to get there. One of the first things that Avraham encountered in the land of Israel was a famine.
It is hard to think of a people more deeply rooted in a land than the Jewish people and the land of Israel. That is why the detractors of the Jewish people make it their highest priority to say that Israel is not the legitimate home of the Jews.
Israel is a small vulnerable piece of land where millions of Jews have created a thriving economy. Israel is not Egypt, and it is not America. Sitting in a café in Tel Aviv is not the same as sitting in Multnomah Village. When you are in Israel, the precarious and delicate nature of life is in the air.
The Land He Will Show You
That very vulnerability teaches us about who we are. We are all like Avraham, traveling to the land or the mountain that G-d will show us. When you are travelling to an unknown land, you, like the land, are vulnerable. The land teaches us that to reach the greatest heights, we need to be open to a journey where the destination is not clear.
The Jewish people have so much to teach the world. Our teachings come from the fact that we are vulnerable, that our future is in question. It is the connection that we have with G-d and the possibility that we will thrive and grow in unknown ways.
As a people on that quest, we teach the world an invaluable lesson. Even when we are vulnerable, our future is secure because of our connection to G-d. There are times in life that we feel vulnerable, like we don’t know where our destination lies. When you wake up with that feeling, think back to Avraham on his journey.
Take strength in knowing that G-d is bringing you to the place that He will show you.