“Loving the Land of Israel”
(updated and revised from Pinchas 5762-2002)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Pinchas, we learn the fascinating tale of five trail-blazing young women: Machla, Noa, Chagla, Milka, and Tirza–the daughters of Tzelafchad.

This past Sunday, June 27, 2021, Jews, the world over, observed the Fast of Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th day of Tammuz. This fast commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army during the siege of the city in 586 BCE, leading to the ultimate destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. As we shall see, there is a striking confluence between the request of the daughters of Tzelafchad and the mourning over the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Who are these five women? In Numbers 27:1-2 we read: וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד בֶּן חֵפֶר בֶּן גִּלְעָד בֶּן מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹת מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן-יוֹסֵף…וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה , These women, who were from the tribe of Menashe, and direct descendants of forefather Joseph, approached Moses with a claim concerning their legal rights to their deceased father’s property in the land of Israel.

What is the connection to their ancestor Joseph?

In Genesis 50:25, the Bible quotes Joseph as saying to his family before his death, פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹקִים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִתֶם אֶת עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה , “G-d will surely remember you, and you shall carry up my bones from here [Egypt], and bring them to the land Israel.” By identifying the women as descendants of Joseph, scripture underscores that these five women were not only biological descendants of Joseph, but spiritual descendants of Joseph as well–as demonstrated by their abiding commitment to the land of Israel. Although Joseph was certainly an admired hero in Egypt, he knew that Egypt was not his true land, and insisted on being taken out of that land to be buried in the land of Israel.

Numbers 27:3-4 fill in the details of the women’s claim: “Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the L-rd in the company of Korach. Rather, he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be eliminated from his family because he has no sons? Give to us a possession among the brethren of our father.” Clearly, these women were passionately committed to the Holy Land.

G-d’s response, Numbers 27:7: כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת , “the daughters of Tzelafchad speak correctly. They shall surely be given a possession of inheritance among their father’s brethren. And you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them.” The women’s passionate commitment to Israel was justly rewarded!

When contrasted with the great love of Zion of the daughters of Tzelafchad–contemporary Jewry’s commitment, despite all the public fretting over the security of Israel, rather pales. Frankly, one of the great lies of contemporary Jewry is the statement that diaspora Jews pronounce at the end of every Yom Kippur and toward the close of every Passover seder, לְשָׁנָה הַבָאָה בִּירוּשָלַיִם , “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Clearly, the Jews of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have witnessed more Divine miracles than any generation since the splitting of the Reed Sea and the Revelation at Sinai. Why then, are we so reluctant to embrace the Holy Land as ours. In fact, during the recent Hamas campaign many American Jews identified more with the Palestinian in Gaza.

Soon after the so-called Oslo Peace Agreement was feted on the White House lawn in 1993, together with President Clinton, Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat, I had a nightmare. I had a nightmare that the Al-mighty tried to clarify to the world the purpose of the Oslo accords by exclaiming to the Jewish people, “For 2,000 years you have been badgering and nudging me with prayers and petitions. וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב , restore Your presence to Zion, Oh L-rd, וְתֶחֱזֶינָה עֵינֵינוּ בְּשׁוּבְךָ לְצִיּוֹן בְּרַחֲמִים , May our eyes soon behold the return of the presence of G-d to Zion. In bentching, the Grace after meals, you constantly cried out, וּבְנֵה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִיר הַקֹּדֶשׁ , rebuild Jerusalem, the Holy city. Every year, at the seder and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur services you exclaimed, לְשָׁנָה הַבָאָה בִּירוּשָלַיִם , “Next year in Jerusalem!”

“So,” said G-d in my nightmare, “In 1948, against all odds, after 2000 years of exile, I restored the Jewish people to their land. And, you know what happened? No one came! Only a few chalutzim–pioneers. In fact, most of those who came to Israel were refugees, expelled from Arab lands, with nowhere else to go. Almost no one came from the lands of comfort, from the United States, from Canada, from Europe, South Africa, Australia, except a few crazy Zionists.”

“And, I said to myself,” said the Al-mighty, “What’s wrong? Perhaps, they [My people Israel] are not coming because they had no access to the Kotel, the Western Wall, Mah’ahrat Hamachpela, the cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the sepulcher of Joseph in Nablus, in Shechem. So, in 1967, I restored the Old City of Jerusalem, I gave them Hebron, the entire West Bank, and I even threw in Sharm El Sheik for scuba diving and the Hermon mountains for snow skiing!

I waited and waited, and no one came. So, 25 years later, I said to Myself, Oib ah’zoy (Yiddish), if that’s the case, I’m going to give the land to people who really love the land, and those are the Palestinians! Hamas, Hezbollah, the PFLP, they are willing to die for the land.”

Jews say in our daily morning prayers and in the Grace after meals, וְתֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ , restore us upright to our land–upright does not mean in a coffin. The land of Israel is intended to be a homeland for living Jews. It should not become a dumping ground for dead Jews. When we fast on the 17th of Tammuz, or on Tisha b’Av, it is imperative to bear in mind as well, that “peace” for the Jewish people has always been a factor of the Jewish peoples’ relationship to G-d. Peace is something the People of Israel must earn, by being worthy.

If we truly desire peace in our time, we must return to G-d with full hearts, and He will return to us. It is in this way that the land as well will be fully restored to the people of G-d.

May you be blessed.