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Discussion of Religious Texts Relating
to the Disputed Lands of the West Bank

By Tamara Vered

Many religious Jews believe that the land of Israel was given to us by the hand of Hashem. This is a belief that stems from G-d's covenant with Abraham. As it says: "Now the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, To thy seed will I give this land." (Genesis 11, 7) Abraham promised to follow G-d to a new land and then he received the land for following G-d's commandments.

Later on this was affirmed to belong to the people of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. However, again there was a condition under which the people of Israel were allowed to remain in the land. The people could lose their right to the land if they did not follow G-d's commandments. They needed to realize that the land was ultimately not theirs (an entitlement) but rather that it was the Lord's gift and they were living on the land by the good graces of Hashem.

Not all of the area people refer to as the biblical land of Israel was in G-d's original plan for Jewish settlement. The people of Reuben, Gad and half on Menashah requested another parcel of land on the east bank of the river, that was not meant to be part of the inheritance. They insisted that because of their large amounts of cattle that they were entitled to this parcel. Their argument was not based on their deeds but their wealth.

The Midrash Raba, Tanchuma comments on their request (parsha before nine days):

"Three gifts were created in the world (wisdom, strength, and wealth). If a man is privileged to possess one of them, he can attain as his own the most precious things in the whole world. If he is privileged to possess strength, he has attained everything; if he is privileged to possess wealth, he has attained everything. When does this apply? When they are gifts of Heaven and come by the dint of Torah, but the strength and wealth of mortals is nought, as is borne out by what Solomon says: "I returned, and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9, 11). Jeremiah, on the same strain, says: "Thus saith the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let the rich man glory in his riches, but let him gloriesth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me." (Jeremiah 9, 22-23) These gifts when they do not emanate from he Holy One blessed be He, will ultimately fail a man.

Because their gifts emanated not from the Holy One blessed be He but they snatched it for themselves. Likewise in the case of Rueben and Gad, you find that they were rich, possessing large numbers of cattle ....they were the first of the tribes to go into exile."

The people of Rueben, Gad, and half of Menashah separated themselves from the rest of the community of Israel. Moses was concerned that they agreed to go into the land to fight, but only as an afterthought to appease Moses. As Abarbanel explained, "they added the that appeasement as an afterthought, they added 'you did not understand our intention because it is not in our intention not that we will not go into the land with our brothers but rather in the issue of the inheritance." They felt entitled to grab land because they wanted it. Eventually, G-d took the land away from these greedy tribes first because their main considerations were for their own well being before the well being of the general community. They relied more heavily on their wealth than on G-d and G-d's commandments. Over time this seed of corruption, not caring for the remainder of the Israelite community developed until their exile (much before the rest of the Jewish community).

A friend of mine who lives on a settlement in the West Bank recently made the comment that since they are the first ones who are being expulsed from their homes there must be a reason. After all, many of the people in the West Bank are good honest people. I would like to suggest that maybe some members of the community have not been thinking about the implications of what settling land without government permission has done for the general community (Am Yisrael and others).

Those who grab for themselves and then as an afterthought think of the community will eventually lose all they have gained. I implore the Jewish community to make sure that land acquisition in Israel is done in a clean matter with consequences to both Arabs and Jews in mind.

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