Parashat D'varim

What Makes The Land Holy?

The land of Israel is sacred by virtue of the sacred actions performed by the people who live there.

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Your Guide

According to Leviticus 20:22–24 and Deuteronomy 7:1–2, above, why did God give the Israelites the territory of other nations?

What is the difference between the command in Deuteronomy 7:1–2 and that in Deuteronomy 2:2–7 in this week’s parashah?

What are the differences among the views expressed by Zvi Yehuda Kook, Nehama Leibowitz, and A. J. Heschel?

How do you think Rabbi Heschel would have interpreted Leviticus 20:22–24 or Deuteronomy 7:1–2? What was his vision for Israel?

What kind of Jewish state did the founders of Israel envision?

D'var Torah

Those of us who are committed to a secure, prosperous Israel ache each day that the conflict with the Palestinians persists. Despite the anger we might feel toward the Palestinians, Deuteronomy 2:2–7 reminds us that God did indeed promise land to other nations in the region beside Israel. The Bible reminds us that despite our feelings, we must live according to our ethical and religious precepts.

While we stand in solidarity with Israel, we must resist the temptation to demonize the Palestinian people en masse because of the sins of their leaders and the terrorists who live among them. Reform Judaism has always maintained that the Palestinians are entitled to coexist side by side with Israel and has also challenged the efficacy of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Our focal passage illustrates God’s desire for integrity and peace among peoples. Israel was given a land to build and to make holy, but it is only to be considered so when God’s presence lies therein. Rabbi Jonathan Magonet argues, "It is God’s presence that ensures the holiness of the land, not any special nature of the land itself. Indeed, God cannot be present in the land, so to speak, when it is polluted by the actions of the nations that preceded Israel--or by those of Israel itself" ("Covenant and Holiness: Help or Hindrance in Seeking a Reform Theology of the State of Israel" in Journal of Reform Zionism, vol. 1).

This parashah reminds us that no matter what the original boundaries of Eretz Yisrael were (and there were variations), Israel needed--needs--to be righteous and just; and her neighbors, despite their conflicts with Israel, were--are--entitled to their own land.

The beauty and challenge of Reform Zionism is to continue to build Eretz Yisrael--not necessarily its roads and highways as in yesteryear but its promise for peace and its democracy--in partnership with Israel’s citizens. It is our understanding of k’dushah (sacredness) that drives us to implement our conviction of hope for the City of Peace, Y’rushalayim.

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Rabbi Fred Greene

Fred Greene is the rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia. He was previously the rabbi at Congregation B?nai Israel, Bridgeport, Connecticut.