And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land of Canaan, this shall be the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof.” (Numbers 34:1-2)
And ye shall inherit the land by lot according to your families—to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer, thou shalt give the less inheritance; wheresoever the lot falleth to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall ye inherit.” (Numbers 33:54)
And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may possess every man the inheritance of his fathers. So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; for the tribes of the children of Israel shall cleave each one to its own inheritance.” (Numbers 36:8-9)
So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood, it polluteth the land; and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.” (Numbers 35:33)
In the Torah portion Masei we read this Shabbat, we find four distinct themes related to the promised land:
- The borders of the land of Israel;
- The subdivision of the land of Israel according to each tribe;
- The rule that every daughter who inherited a share was required to marry within her tribe, to preserve each tribe’s ancestral share; and
- The law of setting aside Cities of Refuge, orei miklot.
What is the connection between these different themes? The common denominator here is a special bond that every Jew has with the land of Israel.
Let us start with the borders of Israel. On a simple level, these borders are important in a geopolitical sense – every country must have clearly defined borders. On a spiritual level, these borders delineate where special commandments related exclusively to the land of Israel (such as trumah and ma’aser – tithe) apply. On a deeper level, these boundaries point to the eternal bond between the children of Israel and the land of Israel.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, explains it thus. The preeminent Biblical commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) asks why the Torah starts with the story of the creation of the world, rather than with the commandments. He answers that to preempt future complaints by the nations of the world that the Jews stole the land of Canaan, God starts off by stating that He created the earth and all of it belongs to Him. He willed it to take the land of Canaan from the seven nations that lived there and to give it instead to the children of Israel. The Rebbe asks, wasn’t conquering land the way of life in the ancient world? Everybody conquered the land, and nobody complained about it – it was expected. So why was Rashi worried about such complaints? The Rebbe explains that there was a qualitative difference between a usual conquest of land by other nations and the conquest of the land of Canaan by the children of Israel. In all other cases, a conquest is contingent on future conquests – the land is transferred to the new nation that conquered it, but only until it is conquered by someone else. In fact, the whole history of human civilization is a history of continuous conquest of the land, which passed from one nation to another. This was to be expected.
The conquest of the land of Canaan by the children of Israel was very different as it was a permanent conquest. Jews were supposed to elevate the land and serve God on this holy land by performing the Divine commandments that can only be done in the land of Israel. The complaint of the nations of the world would be not because of the simple conquest, but due to the permanent removal of this land from the land available for conquest. And even though this land would later be conquered by Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, these conquests were unlawful in the eyes of God, and the Land of Israel would ultimately return to its rightful owner, the nation of Israel. This is why, according to Rashi, God proclaims to the nations of the world that He created the Earth, and the whole land is His, so He has the sole prerogative to permanently gift it to whomever He wishes. (See Likutei Sichot, v. 5).
However, God is the righteous judge. Therefore, in judging to take the land of Canaan from the seven nations who lived there and to transfer it to the children of Israel for eternity, God was very judicious about it and specified the precise boundaries of what would be the land of Israel. To use a metaphor of intellectual property, when granting a patent, which is the exclusive right to an invention, the government specifies the precise metes and bounds of this exclusive right in the claims of the patent – it covers no more and no less than what was claimed. Similarly, the ownership right to the land of Israel granted to Jews is exclusive, as the Torah states:
When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you…” (Num. 33:55)
Thus, granting the exclusive rights to the Land of Canaan to the children of Israel, God had specified the metes and bounds of this property rights. Thus, as we see, the specification of the borders of Israel point to the eternal bond between the children of Israel and the land of Israel.
The connection between the children of Israel and the land of Israel is further nuanced by apportioning the land among the twelve tribes. It was to be done by a lottery. As I have written before (see, for example, Purim: Celebrating Randomness and Saved by Randomness), randomness is a portal to the Divine providence. The land of Israel was to be apportioned among the tribes by the Divine providence as manifested through a lottery:
And ye shall inherit the land by lot according to your families.” (Num. 33:54)
This points to an even deeper level of connection: not only the children of Israel were coming to possess the land of Canaan in a general sense, but each tribe was to receive a specific portion of the holy land in accord with the Divine will. This points to a specific connection of each tribe to a specific portion of the land of Israel, beyond the general connection.
In the previous Torah portion, we read about the Daughters of Zelophehad, whose father died without leaving male children. They came to Moses and demanded that they were to be given their father’s portion in the land of Israel. God agreed with their request. (See my previous post, Daughters of Zelophehad.) The present Torah portion repeats the law that in such circumstances, daughters inheriting their father’s portion ought to marry within their tribe:
And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may possess every man the inheritance of his fathers. So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; for the tribes of the children of Israel shall cleave each one to its own inheritance.” (Num. 36:8-9)
The Torah explicitly provides the rationale for this law – “for the tribes of the children of Israel shall cleave each one to its own inheritance” — each Jew has his or her own inheritance in the land of Israel.
And, finally, comes the commandment to set aside cities of refuge – six sanctuary cities, in which perpetrators of accidental manslaughter could find a safe haven. To understand this commandment, we need to understand the deep connection between a man and the land.
According to Genesis, the first humans were created from earth (Heb. adamah, which is why the first man was called Adam):
Then the Lord God formed man [Adam] of the dust of the ground [adamah] (Gen. 2:7)
The Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah, speaks of four spiritual elements: fire, air, water, and dust. The lowest level of the soul that vivifies the body, nefesh, corresponds to the element of afar – “dust,” or “earth.” The nefesh is thought to be associated primarily with blood. This is why, when a shochet slaughters a chicken, we cover the blood with dust. Spilling human blood makes the land cursed, which rejects the murderer. When Cain killed Abel (Hevel), the earth cursed Cain:
And He said: ‘What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground. And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand (Gen. 4:10)
A person who spills human blood has no place on Earth. He is considered as not alive, a living dead, as it were. Therefore, a blood avenger may kill the murderer without himself incurring guilt – he is killing a dead man. But what are we to do with a man who accidentally kills another person? The Torah offers an ingenious solution. It carves out certain spaces (among the 48 cities given to Levites) where an accidental killer may flee to stay alive. These six cities of refuge (Heb. orei miklot) are sanctuaries within which an accidental killer can stay alive (whereas he is considered not alive outside and may be killed by the avenger of blood if he ventures outside his city of refuge). This law further illustrates the deep connection between a man and the land. A man is free to live anywhere and work the land to feed himself and his family. A man who accidentally spills the blood of another human being can live only in a few select places and nowhere else. A murderer has no right to live anywhere on earth – he forfeits his life.
Going back to the unique relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, let us note that, in Kabbalah, Adam personifies the partzuf (visage) of Zeer Anpin (Z”A). The land represents the sefirah of Malchut, which is identified with the Nukvah d’Z”A (the “wife” of Zeer Anpin). Thus, from this mystical perspective, the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel may be analogized to the relationship between husband and wife. By settling the land of Israel, Jewish people acquired it as their collective wife, as it were. Jews work this land, plant seed in the ground, and the land bears fruit.
The land of Israel is called the Holy Land – Eretz HaKodesh. I suggest there is a different meaning to Eretz HaKodesh. A betrothed woman is called “mekudeshet,” i.e., separated from the pool of eligible brides for all other men, but her groom. This is why the ceremony of marriage is called “Kiddushin.” All three words, kiddushin, mekudeshet, and hakodesh (as in Eretz Hakodesh) are grammatically related and share the same root. I suggest that Eretz Hakodesh also means the land betrothed to us – the Jewish people. As in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s explanation of Rashi, the land of Canaan, which becomes the land of Israel, is taken out of the pool of countries eligible for conquest. This is very similar to a bride being betrothed – mekudeshet, i.e., taken out of the pool of women eligible for marriage.
Just as husband and wife share the same soul, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) share the same spiritual source – sefirah of Malchut. Indeed, the collective soul of the Jewish people, called Knesset Yisrael, in Kabbalah is identified with sefirah of Malchut, which is also the spiritual counterpart of the land of Israel.
As every married couple is entangled (metaphorically speaking), we, the Jewish people are entangled with the land of Israel. Let us recall that quantum entanglement obeys the rule of quantum monogamy – a particle could be entangled only to one other particle. (See my post, “Adultery and Monogamy of Entanglement.”)
The lesson of this Torah portion is the eternal truth: we are married to the land of Israel and we are entangled with this land. This lesson is particularly relevant today. Those who advocate the so-called two-state solution, violate the sacred union between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel; they violate the principle of quantum monogamy. As a wife belongs exclusively to her husband, the land of Israel exclusively and forever belongs to the children of Israel. Let us remember, we are forever married to the land of Israel, and there will never be two states in the Holy Land!