The Journey to the Promised Land

The Torah Portion of Masei

The Jewish People and the Land of Israel are connected
eternally with a triple-bond that is not easily broken

Nowadays, many of us have the great privilege of living in the Holy Land. Even if you don’t yet live in Israel, you too can be here in a matter of hours. Do you have somewhere to stay? Where is your portion in the Land of Israel? In the Torah portion of Masei we learn how the land was originally allocated to the Children of Israel. What can we learn from the three methods of allocation that is relevant to our reasons for loving (and living in) the Land of Israel today?

Last minute preparations are being made towards the Jewish People’s entry into the Promised Land. The excitement is building up as each tribe is about to be allocated their portion. The central directive that appeared in Parashat Pinchas is repeated in Parashat Masei, “You shall give the Land as an inheritance to your families by lot; to the large, you shall give a larger inheritance and to the small you shall give a smaller inheritance; wherever the lot falls shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers, you shall inherit.”

The above verse presents two different methods of allocating land to the tribal families: by lottery and by common-sense reasoning, according to the size of each family. In practice, there is no contradiction between these two methods. First, the region of land was designated to the tribe by lottery. Then, the spatial area of the land was calculated depending on the number of individuals who would settle there. The sages describe a third, intermediate method, via Divine spirit:

Elazar [the High Priest] donned the urim vetumim [breastplate of the High Priest] and Joshua and the entire Jewish people stood before him. A ballot of the tribes and a ballot of the borders stood beside him. He [Elazar] would predict the matches through Divine spirit [according to the urim vetumim] and say [for example], “Zevulun will be drawn and the border of Acre will be drawn with him.” He drew a lot from the tribes’ ballot and Zevulun was in hand, he drew a lot from the borders’ ballot and the border of Acre was in hand… and so it was for each and every tribe.

The correct divination of the lottery results immediately before the lots were drawn, proved that this was not a random coincidence. The lottery was directed through Divine Providence. The sages even state that the lots themselves would cry out saying “My lot has been drawn for these borders for this tribe!”

The allocation of the Holy Land was thus accomplished via three complementary methods, lots, Divine spirit and common-sense.

Mind, Knowledge, Faith                       

Before we see how these methods of dividing the land relate to current day politics, we first note their correspondence to three ways of serving God at three different levels of the psyche.

The first way of serving God is through action, by keeping His commandments. Our actions are governed by the intellect (שֵׂכֶל), which judges which actions are permitted and which are forbidden according to Torah law. This corresponds to allocating the land relative to the size of the tribe, which is a common-sense concern.

The second way we serve God is by refining our emotions in a way that goes beyond the letter of the law. This we achieve by cultivating our sensitivity and intuition of the Divine until we develop an inner consciousness of Godliness. This type of intuitive knowledge (דַּעַת) penetrates deeper than mere common-sense. It connects with the essence of the emotions to regulate and refine them. The more refined one’s consciousness is, the more sensitive one becomes to input that is beyond the rational facts. This corresponds to allocating the land according to Divine spirit, through the urim vetumim, which lay upon Elazar’s heart, the seat of the emotions.

The third and highest level of serving the Almighty is through faith (אֱמוּנָה). Faith is not an intellectual faculty; it transcends the intellect. It is even more powerful than the most refined intuition—the aptitude for Divine spirit (ruach hakodesh). Faith is the deepest and most profound essence of the soul that penetrates all levels of our being. It connects us directly to God, so much so that we totally devote our life to Him. This level of serving God corresponds to allocating the land by a lottery, the results of which rely entirely on His will.

The Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel

These three methods of serving the Almighty can help us understand why the Jewish People loves the land and why we should not relinquish even a millimeter of it to others. They also correspond to the three ways the land was allocated when the Jewish People first crossed its borders.

The first and foremost reason for living in the Land of Israel is the holiness of the land that God has granted us. This reason corresponds to allocating the land by lottery. The Land of Israel is our fortune. It is an indispensable part of our inherent Jewish faith.

The second reason is a more emotional one. We should express our gratitude to the Almighty who has given us this land as our heritage. We cannot give away this precious gift from our Beloved!

The security factor is the common-sense factor. Giving away parts of the land to our enemies, God forbid, is a dire strategic error. This third reason is the one the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson) emphasized when relating to political demands to relinquish parts of the Holy Land for the sake of “peace.”

When the Holy Land was first allocated to the Children of Israel, the results of all three methods proved miraculously identical. Whichever reason we prefer to specify for keeping the land, the results will always be the same: the whole Land of Israel belongs to the entire Jewish People.

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