by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman:
How do you say "eleven?"
Usually in Hebrew we say either echad asar or achat esreh. In parshat Devarim we say yet another variation:
"(Deut 1:3) VAYEHI BE-ARBAIM SHANA BE-ASHTEI ASAR CHODESH"
"...AND IT CAME TO PASS IN THE FORTIETH YEAR IN THE ELEVENTH MONTH..."
"ASHTEI ASAR CHODESH" - the eleventh month.
This is a unique usage. Why doesn't the Torah use standard Hebrew for the word eleven? Because it may likely be a clue for our generation, the generation which saw (and possibly squandered) the miracle of the redemption in our day. The number "eleven" is intended to stand out, as it was to be related in perpetuity to the challenge confronting our civilization in the Age of Redemption.
The generation of the Exodus parallels our own generation in its saga of deliverance, its hesitant acknowledgement of same bordering on repudiation, and finally, forty years later- the denouement of its redemption as the people boldly cross over the Jordan to occupy their Land.
The modern day scourge of terror debuted most strikingly with the murder of the eleven Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. And it reached its most recent crescendo with the terror attacks of September the eleventh.The number eleven is thus forever linked to the challenge facing redemption. Even Yosef, harbinger of the Salvation of Israel and their future redemption from Egypt (and Mashiach Ben Yosef of the ultimate future redemption) found himself challenged by the number eleven in his dreams. He found himself stuffed in a pit and sold into slavery over the number eleven!
But not only is the number eleven telling. Most striking is its special spelling: Ayin, Shin, Taf and Yud- AShTeY. This alludes to the territorial challenge which Israel faces today. Mirroring the lexicon of modern Israel's alphabet politics, Ayin stands for Aza (Gaza). Shin stands for Shomron (Samaria). Yud stands for Yehudah (Judaea). But what does the Taf stand for? The Taf stands for Tel-Aviv!
But why Tel Aviv? Why would the holy Torah in its compulsive eternal relevance deem it worthy to foreshadow seemingly UNholy Tel Aviv? Fun city. The antiJerusalem. It didn't even yet exist until the 20th century!
Because our enemies tell us that locale makes no difference in their goal to eradicate the Jewish presence from all of the Land of Israel, that there is no difference whether a Jew is living in Gaza or Tel Aviv or Judaea or Samaria. To our enemies it is all the same. It's all or nothing! No matter how much or how often we offer land for peace, their answer is always the same. All or nothing.
But our enemies are only telling us that because we refuse to listen to the Torah which tells us that the Land of Israel is meant for the People of Israel. If we, the Jewish people do not proclaim to the world that the Land of Israel belongs in perpetuity to the People of Israel, then others will arise who will challenge our right to be in Israel. And they are doing it now. But in this era of post Zionist malaise we don't proclaim our eternal connection to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, because we are full of safek, of doubt. Amalek, whose name in gematria numerologically equals doubt, has scored again. We are unsure and afraid. Afraid of taking responsibility for our unique destiny.
The parsha then recapitulates the episode of the spies, how the Land was wide open before them but the people became afraid when they sent spies who made them fearful when they reported that others were also inhabiting it.
"(Deut 1:21) RE'EH NATAN HASHEM ELOKECHA ET HA'ARETZ ALEH RESH.. "
"SEE! G*D GAVE YOU THE LAND! GO UP AND OCCUPY IT!"
But they became fearful and wanted to go back to Egypt. It thus took forty years of wandering to finally allow the miracle of the Exodus to come to its fruition. But even once they had crossed over, the Torah even emphasizes that the realization of Israel's settlement on the Land would come in stages- not all at once. This was stated in parshat Mishpatim,
"(Ex 23:30): MI'AT MI'AT AGARASHENU MIPANECHA AD ASHER TIFREH V'NACHALTA ET HA'ARETZ."
"LITTLE BY LITTLE I WILL DRIVE THEM OUT, GIVING YOU TIME TO INCREASE AND SETTLE THE LAND. "
Again and again we see how this ancient text parallels Israel's modern day narrative -in spite of itself. At every juncture where Israel sued for peace and was willing to accept permanent borders no matter how miniscule, the Arabs pressed for continued warfare and ended up each time with diminished territory. As the late statesman, Abba Eban, opined, "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Perhaps it was preordained that their obstinancy should contribute to and proceed apace with Israel's aggrandizement.
But how could we by any stretch of the imagination link the current Arab residents of the territories with the Canaanites of yore, one might ask incredulously?
The Torah explicitly condemns Canaanite society for their Moloch worship, for an immorality which was defined by a culture that was steeped in the worship of fillicide and child sacrifice. There is no greater parallel to this in the annals of humanity than what we see taking place today in Palestinian Arab society. It is a society that worships child immolation. Call it martyrdom or murder, any society whose people and leadership celebrate the death of children and pregnant women who are sent forth to intentionally massacre innocent civilians (dark shades of cursed Amalek)- be they the elderly, pregnant women, or even other children, is immoral and loses any and all legitimacy. And they who espouse it are voted democratically into power!
Posters, playing cards, children's television and polls all point to validating the same societal death worship. And according to the Torah, what price will Israel pay for not driving out the inhabitants? Terrorism! In last week's parsha- Massei, it says:
(Num: 33:55): "If you do not drive out the land's inhabitants (generic) from before you, those who remain shall be BARBS IN YOUR EYES AND THORNS IN YOUR SIDES, causing you troubles in the land that you reside." If that isn't terrorism, what is? See the hospital x-rays of embedded nails and screws in the skulls and stomachs of the hapless passersby of yesterday's last intifada (soaked in rat poison) and today's ball-bearing filled kassams.
In other words, as the Palestinian Arab society continues its descent into the craven worship of barbarism, terror and anarchy, it courts tragedy upon itself as it invites its imminent dissolution, in spite of Israel's persistent overtures and offers of land for peace.
The 1967 Six Day War revealed once and for all the magnificence of Israel's Divine Providence and destiny. Her secular leadership has scorned and mocked the miraculous aspect of her survival. To think that such a stunning victory was by man's hand alone is equally stunning in its manifest hubris and arrogance. And then to revive the land for peace initiatives with those who vow to destroy you and who persist in indoctrinating their children with hatred, smacks of the definition of insanity - i.e., doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results.
One day eleven will be a good number again. As Yosef's eleven brother's eventually came to accept his leadership once his dreams were fulfilled and revealed to all, so too will the world eventually come to see the reborn nation of Israel as the holy nation that it is meant to be - but only once we ourselves have the eyes to see ourselves as holy and meritorious. We cannot see our destiny for we are besotted by crass secularism, materialism and guilt. Only when the mask falls off will our eyes be opened so we can see our true selves. When we take pride in our heritage and unapologetically embrace the Torah which preserved us for millenia will the nations that now mock and scorn us come to appreciate our unique destiny and celebrate our survival.
Our parsha is teaching us that the Land is as holy as the Sabbath and the Torah and the People of Israel are holy:
"(Deut 1:8) Come, RESHU ET HA'ARETZ - "occupy" the land (in the eyes of the Torah it's ALL occupied territory!) that G*d swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and to their descendants after them."
That we feel we may be lacking in holiness is not a defect in our potential but in our present awareness. So too we must become aware of the sanctity of the Land of Israel and of our legitimate Divine right to lay claim to it as an inheritance for all generations. In fear of the criticism of the nations who only wish us dead, we spurned the gift with which our Creator has blessed us. Our Oslo nightmare began only once we formalized our intent to relinquish the gift. In spite of our stiff-necked relentless efforts for peace at any price, our enemies say that it's all or nothing. It makes no difference whether the Jews are in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem. "They ALL must go," say their poets and leaders (in Arabic), "and take their dead with them." Not a trace should remain. All or nothing. What is compromise but a decadent western import, a sign of weakness, shame and humiliation. Ashtey Asar. Even Tel Aviv.
All or nothing. Us or them, apparently. For one day, at the dawn of the eschaton, all the nations of the world will come up to the Land of Israel and ascend His holy mountain, holy Mount Zion, and sing His praises. But that will not happen until the other meaning of Ashtei becomes manifest in reality. Not merely that the Arab world's goal is the entire patrimony of Israel, but rather that only the unity of Israel is the trigger for our final redemption. For only when all our hearts will beat as one and we see each other as true brothers of the same father in heaven will we be really worthy of redemption.
Sefer Chabibi. Copyright 1999-2007 by Rabbi Baruch Melman.
This Torah was written in honor of the memory of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm,
Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Yaakov Hakohen Melman, z"l.
Dedications of these writings are available. Please contact me privately.
My band, Niggun, is available for simchas and performances.
I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- CHUKAT- ON THE PARADOX OF FIGHTING FOR PEACE
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