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Covenant and Torah in the “Blessing of the Land” [Chumash-03]

Presented by:Rav Mordechai Gershon

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Torah Lesson written by: Nir Shaul

(א) וַיְהִ֣י אַבְרָ֔ם בֶּן־תִּשְׁעִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְתֵ֣שַׁע שָׁנִ֑ים וַיֵּרָ֨א יְקֹוָ֜ק אֶל־אַבְרָ֗ם וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ אֲנִי־אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י הִתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ לְפָנַ֖י וֶהְיֵ֥ה תָמִֽים: (ב) וְאֶתְּנָ֥ה בְרִיתִ֖י בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֑ךָ וְאַרְבֶּ֥ה אוֹתְךָ֖ בִּמְאֹ֥ד מְאֹֽד:

“And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and God appeared to Abram, and He said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be perfect And I will place My covenant between Me and between you, and I will multiply you very greatly”. [Bereishit (Genesis) 17:1-2]

“And I will place My covenant” – a covenant of love and a covenant of the Land that will be your inheritance through fulfilling this mitzva (Rashi).

The Connection Between the Covenant of Circumcision, the Torah and Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) – Background


Covenant Constitutes Commitment

The covenant presented in the verses cited above is brit mila, as we read in the continuation of the chapter: “זֹ֣את בְּרִיתִ֞י אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְר֗וּ בֵּינִי֙ וּבֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ הִמּ֥וֹל לָכֶ֖ם כָּל־זָכָֽר” (“This is My covenant, which you shall observe between Me and between you and between your seed after you, that every male among you be circumcised”) [posuk (verse) 10] and here Israel is first presented with this mitzva.

The concept of covenant constitutes commitment.


What is the Commitment Established by Brit Mila?

The bilateral covenant mentioned here includes the obligation on the part of all male descendants of Israel and all male converts who join Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) to circumcise themselves and their sons, and an obligation on God’s part which includes two aspects: loving Israel and giving the Land of Israel to the nation.

Rashi, as a proponent of the simple meaning of the Bible (p’shat) guides us to a proper reading of the text, by focusing on the basic question of God’s obligation in the covenant. Pesukim 7 – 8 answer this question by stating: “וַהֲקִמֹתִ֨י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֜י בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֗ךָ וּבֵ֨ין זַרְעֲךָ֧ אַחֲרֶ֛יךָ לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם לִבְרִ֣ית עוֹלָ֑ם לִהְי֤וֹת לְךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ אַחֲרֶֽיךָ: וְנָתַתִּ֣י לְ֠ךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ֨ אַחֲרֶ֜יךָ אֵ֣ת׀ אֶ֣רֶץ מְגֻרֶ֗יךָ אֵ֚ת כָּל־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן לַאֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים” (“And I will establish My covenant between Me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your seed after you. And I will give you and your seed after you the Land of your sojournings, the entire land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them for a God”). There, as well, Rashi comments: “’I will establish My covenant’ – and what is that covenant … ‘to be your God,’ etc.” Thus, the verses present God’s commitment to love His nation and to give them Eretz Yisrael through the covenant of circumcision.


What is God’s Covenant of Love With Am Yisrael?

The meaning of giving Israel the Land is clear, but what is the intention of the covenant of love which the posuk [17:7] and Rashi [17:2] mention? There is no greater love than that of a God Who protects His nation, helps and guides it. Since this love clearly indicates that Israel has a God, it includes the second aspect of the covenant, that the land which Israel will receive, and hold is Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land, the Land which God chose for us for eternity. Torah as well was given to us out of God’s eternal love for Israel, as we pray in the evening prayer: “אהבת עולם בית ישראל עמך אהבת תורה ומצוות חוקים ומשפטים אותנו למדת” (“With everlasting love You have loved Your people, the House of Israel. You have taught us Torah and mitzvot, decrees and laws of justice”). This guidance of the Creator for His creation is His great love for Israel and an imperative in the relationship between Creator and creation, between King and subject.


Inheriting the Land Comes Through the Merit of Brit Mila and Torah

The tripartite relationship, among Eretz Yisrael, Torah and brit mila exists on an additional plane: brit mila, study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot constitute the spiritual merits which allow the nation of Israel to receive the gift of the Land from God. The Gemara teaches: “וכל שאינו אומר ברית ותורה בברכת הארץ ומלכות בית דוד בבונה ירושלים – לא יצא ידי חובתו” (“Whoever does not mention brit mila and Torah in the Blessing of the Land, or the monarchy of the House of David in the Blessing of Rebuilding Jerusalem – has not fulfilled his obligation”) [Berachot 49a]. Rashi comments, “One must mention brit in the Blessing of the Land since it was due to brit mila that the Land was given to Israel, as the verse states ‘And I will give you and your seed after you the Land of your sojournings.’ It is necessary to mention Torah for it in the merit of Torah and mitzvot as well that Israel inherited the Land, as the Torah states: “כל המצוה אשר אנוכי מצוך היום תשמרון לעשות למען תחיון ורביתם ובאתם וירשתם את הארץ” (‘Every commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the Land that the Lord swore to your forefathers’”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:1].


The Question of Questions

It is self-evident that fulfilling mitzvot is a condition for dwelling within the Land, since failure to observe mitzvot causes the Land to vomit people out, as we read “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־כָּל־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹא־תָקִ֤יא אֶתְכֶם֙ הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֲנִ֜י מֵבִ֥יא אֶתְכֶ֛ם שָׁ֖מָּה לָשֶׁ֥בֶת בָּֽהּ” (“And you shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them, so that the Land, to which I am bringing you to dwell therein, will not vomit you out”) [Vayikra (Leviticus) 20:22]. The Gemara implies there is a direct influence of Torah study and fulfilling brit mila on inheriting the Land. The question which begs asking is: Why this is so; why is inheriting Eretz Yisrael dependent upon brit mila and Torah study?


The First Level – Brit Mila and Torah Study are Especially Great Mitzvot

The Virtue of Brit Mila

Brit mila and Torah study are two mitzvot which are crucial in determining one’s eligibility to enter the World to Come. Concerning brit mila, Chazal (our Sages) commented: “מכאן אמר רבי אלעזר המודעי: המחלל את הקדשים, והמבזה את המועדות והמפר בריתו של אברהם אבינו, והמגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה, והמלבין פני חבירו ברבים, אף על פי שיש בידו תורה ומעשים טובים – אין לו חלק לעולם הבא” (“Hence Rabbi Elazer of Modi’im taught: ‘One who defiles the sacred food, despises the festivals, abolishes the covenant of our father Abraham,  gives an interpretation of the Torah not according to the Halacha, and publicly shames his neighbor, even if he has learning and good deeds to his credit, has no portion in the World to Come’”) [Sanhedrin 99a]. Furthermore is the comment of Reish Lakish: “דאמר ריש לקיש: פושעי ישראל אין אור גיהנם שולטת בהן… אלא הא דכתיב עברי בעמק הבכא – ההוא דמחייבי ההיא שעתא בגיהנם, ואתי אברהם אבינו ומסיק להו ומקבל להו, בר מישראל שבא על הגויה דמשכה ערלתו ולא מבשקר ליה” (“The fire of Gehenna has no power over the sinners of Israel … What, however, about what is written:’ “Transgressors in the valley of weeping?’ [Psalms 84:7] There it (speaks of) those who are liable at that time (for punishment in) Gehinom, but our father Abraham comes and raises them up, and receives them, except for a Jew who had relations with a gentile woman, since his foreskin is drawn and so Abraham does not recognize him (as one of his descendants)”) [Eruvin 19a]. That is, any Israelite who has been sentenced to Gehinom is elevated from there by our father Abraham, except one who drew his foreskin and thereby denied the covenant of mila.

     Indeed, we have a Mishna [Nedarim 3:11] which details the virtues of brit mila:

“רבי ישמעאל אומר גדולה מילה שנכרתו עליה שלש עשרה בריתות. רבי יוסי אומר גדולה מילה שדוחה את השבת החמורה. רבי יהושע בן קרחה אומר גדולה מילה שלא נתלה לו למשה הצדיק עליה מלוא שעה. רבי נחמיה אומר גדולה מילה שדוחה את הנגעים. רבי אומר גדולה מילה שכל המצות שעשה אברהם אבינו לא נקרא שלם עד שמל שנאמר: התהלך לפני והיה תמים (בראשית יז, א). דבר אחר גדולה מילה שאלמלא היא לא ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו שנאמר: כה אמר ה’ אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי (ירמיה ל, כה)”

Rabbi Yishmael says: “Great is (the mitzva of) mila, since thirteen covenants were made through it” (the word ‘covenant’ [brit] appears 13 times in the passages in which Abraham is commanded to circumcise himself). Rabbi Yose says: “Mila is great, for it overrides the Sabbath which is so strict.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karḥa says: “Great is mila, for which Moses the righteous did not have (his punishment) suspended for even a single hour.” (See Shemot (Exodus) 4:24-26) Rabbi Neḥemiah says: “Great is mila, since it supersedes the laws of leprosy.” Rebbi says: “Great is mila, for (despite) all the mitzvot which Abraham fulfilled, he was not called ‘perfect’ until he circumcised himself, as it is said: ‘Walk before me, and be perfect.’” [Bereishit 17:1] Another thing: “great is mila, since if not for it, the Holy One, blessed be He, would not have created the universe, as it is said: ‘Thus says the Lord, But for My covenant (briti) by day and night (i.e., circumcision), I would not have appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth.’” [Yirmiya (Jeremiah) 33:25]


The Virtue of Torah Study

Concerning Torah study, Chazal taught: ” אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום בין אדם לחבירו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם” (“These are the things whose fruits we eat in this world, but whose full reward awaits us in the World to Come: honoring parents; acts of kindness; arriving early at the house of study morning and evening; hospitality to strangers; visiting the sick; helping the needy bride; attending to the dead; devotion in prayer; and bringing peace between people – but the study of Torah is equal to them all”) [Mishna, Peah 1:1]. Further, Chazal teach that the virtue of Torah study exceeds that of mitzvot, as we read in the Gemara Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) [Peah 1:1]: “רבי ברכיה ורבי חייא דכפר דחומין חד אמר אפילו כל העולם כולו אינו שוה לדבר אחד של תורה וחד אמר אפי’ כל מצותיה של תורה אינן שוות לדבר א’ מן התורה”  (“Rabbi Berechya and Rabbi Ḥiyya of Kfar Deḥumin (each commented); one says ‘even the entire world is not the equal of (studying and reflecting upon) a single matter of Torah’; the other says ‘even all the mitzvot are not the equal of (studying and reflecting upon) a single matter of Torah’”).

Thus, we may say that the virtue of these two great mitzvot, mila and Torah study, provide us the possibility of inheriting the Land.


Second Level – Brit and Torah Make us God’s Nation

One of the well-known rationales suggested for the mitzva of brit mila is the second presented by Maimonides in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed): “ויש במילה עוד ענין אחר צריך מאד, והוא שיהיה לאנשי זאת האמונה כלם, רצוני לומר מאמיני יחוד השם, אות אחד גשמי שיקבצם” (“There is another important object in this commandment.  It gives all members of the same faith, by which I mean all believers in the unity of God, a common bodily sign which unites them”) [Cheilek III, Perek 49].

Maimonides presents the idea that brit mila is the seal which God stamped on the nation of Israel, a seal of sanctity which remains within our flesh throughout our days and defines us as the nation which believes in the unity of God. It is only Israel which calls God’s name, proclaiming aloud “God is one and His name is one.” [Zachariah 14:9]

Torah study, as well, is not merely the addition of knowledge – to know and recognize God’s will, but Torah study makes one a complete Israelite. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook expounded upon the blessing recited prior to Torah study (“Who has chosen us from all peoples and given us His Torah”), noting that one who comes to study Torah must be aware that it is through the fact that God chose us from all people, and exclusively through that fact, that He has given us His Torah. Only through understanding that the soul of Israel is Torah can one become the complete member of the nation of Israel. Israel is not only a physical nation, but one which was destined from the beginning to be holy, “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation;” [Exodus 19:6] “The people I formed for Myself will declare My praise.” [Isaiah 43:21] The nation of Israel is sanctified through Torah.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda explained a difficult Gemara in a similar manner. The Gemara [Bava Metzia 85a] quotes Rav Yehuda’s comment in Rav’s name: “What is meant by the verse ‘Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the Land ruined (and) withered like a wilderness, without anyone passing through?’ [Jeremiah 9:11] Rav Yehuda said in Rav’s name ‘because they did not recite the blessing prior to Torah study.’” While throughout the generations Israel has recited the blessing “Who has chosen us from all the peoples etc.,” prior to public Torah reading, the generation of the destruction of the First Temple failed to identify with the content of the blessing, which as Rabbi Kook noted, is that Torah could be given to the world only through the choice of Israel as God’s nation.

Historically, every generation has had numerous Torah students, at times what was lacking was the recognition that Torah is more than merely a book of laws. A law book cannot be full of hints and mysteries. The rule which Chazal taught concerning Torah study, “Two passages which (seemingly) contradict each other are to be elucidated by a third passage which reconciles them” [Braita of Rabbi Yishmael, included in the morning prayers.] cannot apply to a digest of laws. Chazal commented: “Who was created for whom? Torah for Israel or Israel for Torah? Is it not Torah for Israel?” [Kohelet Rabba 1:1] That is, the written Torah is intended to guide Israel in realizing its potential to be God’s nation. Essentially, the oral Torah is Israel’s internal treasure, latent within the nation, which allows it to be God’s nation.

Thus, it is clear why the privilege of dwelling within the Land is dependent upon brit mila and Torah study, for it is only through these two things that Israel can truly be God’s nation and be worthy of dwelling within the Godly Land.


Summary of the Answers

We have seen two reasons that Brit and Torah facilitate dwelling within the Land:

1) Brit mila and Torah study are especially great mitzvot, therefore, dwelling within the Land is especially connected to them.

2) Brit mila and Torah study make us a Godly nation, and only as such can we merit entering the Godly Land.

Since it is these mitzvot which enable us to inherit the Land, it is incumbent to mention them within the Blessing of the Land.


Continuity of the Connection Between the Land and Torah and Brit Mila

Having learned that circumcising our sons and Torah study are the conditions for Israel’s initial entry into Eretz Yisrael, we may add that the continued blossoming and development of the Land are equally dependent upon these two mitzvot. Virtually all male Jews in Israel are circumcised, and there is an ongoing increase in the number of Torah students who appreciate God’s choice of Israel as His nation. We may hope that the Land will continue to be built up until we are privileged to see the complete redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.

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