The Rebbe of Gur was visited by an official of the British Mandate. In the course of conversation the official informed the Rebbe that the British were poised to move out and leave Israel to the Jews. The Rebbe’s reply was a Yidishism – “Mi-Chi-Teise,” an idiom loosely translated as "let it be." Unsure of how to translate the Rebbe’s response, the interpreter said, “The Rebbe is pleased with the news.”
After the interview the interpreter asked the Rebbe why he was so casual in his response. The Rebbe replied, “G-d promised the land to our forefather Abraham, to our forefather Isaac and to our forefather Jacob. The British also want to promise us this land? Nu, Mi-Chi-Teise,” let it be…”
This is the true Jewish perspective of why Israel belongs to the Jew. We don’t require legal arguments or scientific proof to justify our claim to Israel. To us, Israel and the Jew belong to each other because it is inherent in our heritage. It is enshrined in the Bible, where it wasn’t only promised us, but given to us.
That archeology, sociology and anthropology buttress this claim is superfluous to the Jew. It’s nice to know that our tradition is corroborated, but it is hardly surprising to us nor is it necessary. It is not for science or history that we lay claim to Israel. It is for our G-d given right.
Yet Jews often shy away from making the Biblical claim outright. You hear Jews speak of the United Nations Vote for Partition in 1948. You hear Jews speak of a historical right to reclaim the land of our ancestors, but rarely does one hear Jews speak publicly about a G-d given right enshrined in the Bible.
The obvious reason is that such a claim would subject us to the counter-claim that Islam has its own tradition, its own holy book and isn’t subject to ours. While this is true, it essentially allows the other side to dictate the conversation. If we don’t claim our Biblical right out of respect for Islam and the secular west, we essentially discard our best, and truthfully our only, argument.
It is well known that some early Zionists weren’t particular about Israel. As secular European Jews, their chief aim was to secure a homeland for Jews. They were willing to establish this land wherever they could. The British offered to provide a Jewish homeland in Uganda and in principle, the early Zionists weren’t opposed. It was ultimately rejected, as Herzel told the Zionist Congress in 1903, because no other land would motivate Jews to accept marching orders. Only Israel holds that resonance and drama.
Jews would only leave their homes and businesses for the Holy Land, given us by G-d. The land whose loss we never stopped mourning and for whose shores, we never stopped yearning. The land of our fathers, the land of our glory, the land of our home, the land of our soul; only that land that would move the nation. No other land would do.
This is the only true reason Jews live in Israel today. It isn’t a gift of the UN and it is not ours by right of conquest. It isn’t ours on account of history, it is ours because G-d made it so. Had the UN given us California, we would not have gone. Had the Jewish people defeated the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, they would not have claimed that land.
Let us face the truth. The only reason we are in Israel is because it belongs to us and we belong to it. It is no less a part of our Jewishness than the Torah. Of the 613 commandments, 343 are unique to the land of Israel. We can survive anywhere, but we can thrive only there. Plainly put, if Israel weren’t ours, we wouldn’t have had a homeland.
Should we deny this essential truth only because Islam isn’t not prepared to accept it?
Instead we devise all kinds of new arguments. We claim it is ours because the UN gave it to us. That is a weak argument. The UN dictates all manner of things to Israel that Israel conveniently ignores. If the UN’s authority suffices to create the land, it should suffice to dictate to the land. If we won’t accept its dictates, how can we claim its partition?
We use the argument of our historical right, but it too doesn’t work. If the tribes indigenous to America and Canada were to take up to arms to reclaim their historical lands, international law wouldn’t support them. The fact is that when Jews returned to Israel to establish a government, there was an indigenous community on the land. We can’t just displace them because we lived there thousands of years earlier.
In fact, even if we posit that Jews lived in Israel thousands of years earlier, what of the tribes we conquered and displaced when we arrived? If historical rights are claimed, the descendants of those tribes should be located and awarded the land. In addition to Jews, Hittites, Philistines, Jebusites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and the Turks all controlled Israel at some point. How do we determine whose it really is? That we cannot identify the descendants of these nations doesn’t justify our claim to it.
The only conclusive and resounding argument for a Jewish right to a Jewish land, is the Biblical one. G-d gave it to us. It is only through this argument that the others make sense. They buttress our G-d given right, but they can’t stand as independent arguments.
As He gave it, He also took it. We mourn the destruction of our Temple and the loss of our land, but we also know it why it was taken. It was for our sins that we were driven from our land.
“When you beget children and children’s children… and you become corrupt and make a graven image….. you will speedily and utterly perish from the land” “And you will return to the Lord your G-d with all your heart and all your soul… then the Lord your G-d will bring back your exiles and have mercy … and bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed.”
We hesitate to speak this truth because we are a diaspora people surrounded by nations. Even in Israel we hesitate to speak because we are dependent on the good will of these nations. Yet the Torah tells us that it is precisely in the diaspora, where we ought to seek and find G-d.
“From there you shall seek him out and you shall find him - if you shall seek Him with all your heart and soul. From there, from your exile and diaspora, where G-d is hidden and must be sought in order to be found, you shall seek Him. Don’t despair of finding Him and bringing Him to the attention of the nations. Seek Him with all your heart and soul, and you shall find Him."
Over and over we hear that these arguments are good for the synagogue, but not “out there.” The Torah tells us to seek G-d when we are “out there,” “From there you shall seek him out.” The mystics point out that the Hebrew word for there is sham and the Hebrew word for name is Shem. The two words are similar because they belong together. On the surface, there, represents a place where G-d needs seeking because He is concealed. Name connotes that G-d’s name is known. Yet the two words are comprised of similar letters because it is precisely “out there” that we should seek Him. And when we do, we make a name for Him. Sham, out there, turns out to be a most conducive place for Shem to make His name.
We are wary because on the surface G-d is utterly concealed “out there.” But the Torah enjoins us to have a little faith and make that leap. Though you are out there, tell your neighbors, colleagues and friends that Israel is yours because G-d gave it to you and because the Bible says it is so. Don’t worry that they will think of you as way “out there.” G-d told us to think differently. G-d said that your words will make a real difference. You will create a name for G-d and a bastion of support for Israel, even “out there.”
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org