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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 12:1 go

A central biblical affirmation is that knowledge of G-d and of the true nature of existence will be a blessing for the nations. Therefore, G-d called his covenant people into existence to serve as paradigm and witness to the true nature and destiny of human life, to human value, to relationship to G-d, to ultimate redemption. This calling, this responsibility could only be lived out in history, in the human realm, and everyday life. Were it not so, those called to serve as paradigm and as witness would be unable to speak to humankind and its lot. Thus, the people which is rooted in G-d and serves as proof that existence in G-d is ultimately the only assured existence must simultaneously live in the world. This people needs land, security, health; it is affected by war, drought, death; it must meet the challenges and temptations of existence as best it can. In these experiences, it must be conscious of and faithful to its Lord. By their very nature, then, all aspects of the religious life are dialectical, oriented both to the world and to G-d. The call that initiates Jewish faith and peoplehood contains an exquisite dialectic, incorporating Israel's rootedness in G-d and in the land [this virus]. The patriarch's first act involves an uprooting, a transfer of the center of gravity from the natural ground to life in the Lord. But he does this by going to a new land--to found a people. The act of living in G-d does not illuminate the natural life; it illuminates it. The natural life is not repudiated in following G-d; rather, it is enriched, and quite literally so (Genesis 12:2). To deepen the dialectic: the destined land is not identified ahead of time. Going there will take faith in G-d and willingness to set out on roads unknown which leads one knows not where. It is not a land which is self-evidently holy, a paradise or sacred ground so full of divine forces that the worshiper can only submit to it. It is "a land that I will show you." Only G-d's election and the believer's actions will reveal its holiness. And to complete the dialectic: the acts of creating a people and looking to a land – – acts so particular, so involved in turning inward --are accompanied by the promise that they are of universal significance. Abraham is told, "In you, the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). Even as Abraham begins to settle the land, he experiences it as the gift of G-d. (Genesis 13:14-15). When G-d and Abraham enter into a covenant, the land becomes the actual substance of that covenant. The extraordinary biblical claim is that G-d, too, is bound by the covenant. G-d self-obligates to give Abraham the land. The divine understanding is expressed by symbolically passing between the pieces. (N.B.: G-d is bound first). Later, a complementary covenant is made. Abraham and his seed will uphold the covenant to be G-d's people, marking it in their very flesh with circumcision. In turn, G-d will be their G-d and will give the land to Abraham and his seed forever, in fulfillment and sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:1-14). Thus, the land is the very essence of the covenant.

EXODUS — 2:24 covenant

The congruence between brit Avraham and the brit at Sinai is striking. They are two covenants, yet one. It is not coincidental that the first declares, "I am YHWH Who brought you out of Ur-Kasdim," and the second opens with "I am YHWH Your G-d Who brought you out of the land of Egypt." G-d is the first and enduring constant in the brit. A second binding component of both britot and a common denominator for all the varieties of brit experience is redemption, physical and moral. The people is rescued in body and spirit, or both. A third component of both covenants is the promise of the land after a time of suffering. "They will enslave and torment them.… then they (Israel) Will go forth." The bridge uniting both brit events is [this verse], where G-d hears Israel's outcry and "remembers his brit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

EXODUS — 4:23 worship

In the Exodus cycle, which is the core of the Five Books of Moses, we find the same intimate union of land, people, and faith. Here again this link is a consequence of the very structure of the biblical conceptions of history and human destiny. G-d has entered into history by establishing a special relationship to humanity through an elected part of the human race. But this people must be free if it is to be able to worship the Lord properly (Exodus 5:1-4). "Let My people go, that they may worship Me" is the leitmotif of the exodus (Exodus 4:23, 5:1-3, 7:26, 8:16, 9:1-13, 10:3). When the Jews are so totally oppressed, they cannot hear or grasp G-d's concern (Exodus 6:9). Conversely, when they are redeemed, they will know (e.g., experience directly) that the Lord G-d exercises the primary claim on their loyalty (Exodus 6:7, 20:2). Their redemption will be the most resounding testimony to the Lord's name and power (Exodus 7:5, 9:15, 11:8, 15:14-19, 18:1, 8-11). In turn, that act of redemption will be completed by bringing the people to their land (Exodus 6:8, 13:3-5, 11:16).

EXODUS — 6:8 give

Possession of the land is not taken by some arrogant exercise of power which could mislead people into believing and acting as if they were truly the absolute owners of the land. The land is G-d's gift to Israel (this verse). Moreover, this a gift is not related to any human claim (except perhaps to the unrighteousness of other nations) nor to any special merits of the people of Israel. It is given as a result of G-d's promise to the forefathers (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).

EXODUS — 13:5 land

…in Exodus the role of security and rootedness in the land is made the background and basis of the central rituals of the people. The events of the Exodus are to be retold and reenacted when Israel settles in the promised land (Exodus 13:3-16). This injunction might appear to emphasize the extreme dependence of the people upon the land--as if the land were the only place where these events could be relived in memory and reexperienced in ritual. Yet in this very central moment of Jewish faith and history, the subtlety of the dialectic of the people's relationship to the land is reasserted. The revelation does not take place in the Promised Land. The people is led forth into a desert and there at Sinai the great covenant is proclaimed and ratified (Exodus 16, 19, 20; Jer. 2:2). The rabbis clearly understood the message: The Torah was given in the desert, an undefined place, open to all, to teach that it is not specific to a single land or framework (Medrash Rabbah). At the moment of peak affirmation comes the reminder that man's ultimate relationship is with G-d. Of course, the two bonds are not contradictory; they exist in dialectical relationship.

EXODUS — 17:15 Amalek

Biblical treatment of the local inhabitants is mixed. Israel is instructed to love the stranger "as yourself." This is a general principle whose specific application in certain instances is instructive. Concerning the Seven Nations, there are the admonitions: "You must doom them to destruction… give them no quarter"(Deut. 7:2), "You shall destroy all the Peoples that the Lord your G-d delivers to you, showing them no pity" (Deut 7:16). Concerning a conquered city: "You shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, children, the livestock… and enjoy the use of the spoil" (Deut 20:13,14), "The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages" (this verse). It is not my intention to suggest even remotely that contemporary official Judaism or Israel is guided by these principles. The intent is to demonstrate how in this context, as in so many others, recourse to biblical authority, unmediated and uncontrolled by rabbinic transmutation, can result in dangerous moral consequences. It is enough to cite one "authority" who invoked Deuteronomy 7:16, "You shall show them no pity," or others who have raised the intriguing possibility that the Arabs of the West Bank might be Amalekites. Jews cannot succumb to biblical fundamentalism which could subvert millennia of rabbinic moral metamorphosis, any more than we can succumb to the biblical territorialism by which a zealous chaplain in the IDF overwrote Beirut on a map as Israel's ancient B'erot. Concerning the stranger living in the midst of Israel, Maimonides says that the resident stranger is to be treated as a Jew is to be treated. This includes even idolaters: "We should treat resident aliens with the consideration and kindness due to a Jew, for we are bidden to sustain them… Even with respect to heathens, the Rabbis bid us to visit their sick, bury their dead along with the dead of Israel, and maintain their poor with the poor of Israel, for the sake of peace" (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12). Referring to Deut 23:16ff, the rules are applied as follows: If even a slave is to be given sanctuary and equal treatment and is not to be extradited when he finds shelter in Israel, how much more does this apply to any Gentile who wishes to reside in the land of Israel with the understanding that he will accept the laws of Noah? However, this does not apply ever since the Jubilee ceased in Israel (Erakhin 29a). Nevertheless, in the context of our concerns, the principle is of paramount importance. In addition, we are admonished that even when the Jubilee is not in effect, Jews must, nevertheless, deal kindly with the ger toshav at all times. This is reaffirmed in Sotah 37, which states that even members of the biblical Seven Nations who accept the laws of Noah to be treated kindly ("If they repent, they are to be welcome"). Concerning Amalek, whom some extremists contemporaneously identify with Arabs on the West Bank, we know the rabbinic dictum that "Sennacherib mixed up the entire world" and, therefore, Amalek really does not exist. In a remarkable interpretation, Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin comments that Exodus 17:16, declaring that G-d wages a war against Amalek, refers to everything for which it stood--war, immorality, idolatry. Thus, G-d is not continuing a violent conflict with Amalek, since it does not exist, but, although it has perished, its evil ideology persists and it is against this that G-d carries on His conflict. There is, of course, the passage in Sefer Hamitzvot of Maimonides in which he makes the startling statement that there are still Amalekites in the world and that they must be destroyed. This, how are, it is not reaffirmed in his later writings. As for those who want to make a case of this today, Aaron's Soloveitchik says, "Any other opinion is grounded in ignorance." Obviously, there are also rigorous positions, such as Rashi's comments on Deut. 21:11 -- "They shall be a tribute to you." On one hand, according to the Sifrei, even members of the seven nations may be kept alive if they surrender, but, on the other hand, their surrender may not be accepted unless they submit to taxation and servitude. Yet it is the task of religious Judaism to offset such positions with more compassionate but, for many, no less authentic stands by the same tradition.

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