Free ebook: In the Footsteps of the Flock
By YIRMIYAHU COHEN
The Views of the Gedolei Hatorah on Exile, Redemption and Eretz Yisroel, Arranged According to the Weekly Torah Readings
בראשית ברא א-להים את השמים ואת הארץ )א,א(.
In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth. (1:1)
Rashi says: The Torah should have begun with the words, “This month will be for you the first of months” (Shemos 12:2), which was the first commandment given to the Jewish people. Why does it start with the creation of the world? So that if the nations say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations of Canaan” they can reply, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed is He. He created it and gave it to whomever He wanted. He gave the land to the Canaanites, and then He took it from them and gave it to us.”
The Kli Yakar asks: So what if they accuse us of being robbers? Is that so important that it warrants a change in the order of the Torah? He explains that the accusation of robbery would lead to a complete denial of G-d and the Torah. The nations would say, “How can your G-d and His Torah be true if He did nothing to stop you from stealing the land?” This, says the Kli Yakar, is why robbery was the sin that sealed the decree on the generation of the flood. Thus without the preface of creation, the rest of the Torah and all the fundamentals of emunah would be worthless to the nations.
The Satmar Rav says that even if we were to dispute the Kli Yakar’s contention that robbery in general implies denial of G-d, in the case of the Jewish people taking Eretz Yisroel he is certainly correct. The exile and redemption of the Jewish people are processes that must be left to the control of G-d, with no physical effort on our part. All areas of life are under G-d’s control, yet the Torah teaches that we may work for a living, as it says, “So that Hashem your G-d may bless you in all the works of your hands that you do” (Devarim 14:29). We may consult doctors, as it says, “He shall surely heal” (Shemos 21:19). We do not sit back and leave these things up to G-d. But in the matter of occupying our land, the Torah gives us no such permission to make efforts on our own. (See pp. 89, 99.) “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land,” we say in the Musaf prayer for festivals, and the Torah promises that we will be redeemed only after we repent (Devarim 30:2).
Thus, all other sins do not necessarily imply a denial of G-d. Sometimes a person follows his desires and commits a sin, but still recognizes G-d. The fact that G-d does not prevent him from sinning will not lead to denial of G-d, for everyone knows that G-d grants humans free will. And even regarding robbery we could say, in contrast to the Kli Yakar, that it is nothing more than an effort to make a living in a forbidden manner, by exercising one’s free will. But the redemption from exile and restoration of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is strictly G-d’s domain, and any effort in that area is a direct affront and denial of His mastery over the world. This is why it was crucial to begin the Torah with creation – to teach that the Jewish people did not take the Holy Land on their own, but rather G-d created it, took it from the Canaanites and gave it to them. (Vayoel Moshe 1:44).
As an analogy, if a person evades taxes or violates the traffic laws and is caught, he will be punished or fined, but the punishment will not be too severe. Even as he was committing the crime, he was not denying the legitimacy or authority of the government; he was just attempting to save himself money or time. But if he gathers together an army and, in the name of his country, declares war on another country, this is an offense of the greatest severity. Declarations of war are strictly the government’s domain, and when this person claims to declare war in the name of his country, he is thereby denying the legitimacy of the real government.
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