Parashat Ekev

The Land Is The Means

The Land of Israel is a means to the sacred end of developing into Godly people.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University.

What are you willing to die for? In the course of our daily routine, there are certain focal points--actions, comments or individuals--which can ignite our passion like nothing else. While these things may not receive a great deal of conscious thought or even our waking effort, their significance lies in how important they are to our sense of identity, of worth, or of meaning.

Each of us may have different symbols that we care for deeply enough to make a sacrifice. The flag, for some, is significant enough to curtail the Constitution. For others, the Bill of Rights is of such importance that they are willing to tolerate the burning of the national symbol.

Most parents would give up their lives for their children. Some special individuals have given their lives for the children of others. Many people get ulcers and heart attacks in the service of wealth, prestige, or beauty. How we live our lives is often determined by what we value most. And that value can be identified simply by asking yourself, "For what am I willing to die?"

According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the most important decision a thinker makes is reflected in what he comes to consider the most important problem. There is only one really serious problem, and that is martyrdom. Is there anything worth dying for? We can only live the truth if we are willing to die for it.

Rabbi Heschel's point is that our lives derive their ultimate value and sense of purpose not necessarily by what receives most of our time, but what commands our deepest commitment. Today's Torah portion deals with this issue in a specific context. This portion speaks of "the Land which God swore to your ancestors," the Land of Israel. That land has been the focus of Jewish dreams and Jewish efforts throughout the millennia. The mitzvah (commandment) of Yishuv Ha-Aretz, settling the Land, is one of supreme importance. And there are many who are willing to sacrifice their own lives, and the lives of others, to acquire and to keep larger portions of that sacred soil.

In Israel today, and throughout world Jewry as a result, a vituperative debate rages between those who hold that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is the supreme value and others who insist that Jewish sovereignty and Jewish lives are the highest value. Because of that difference in perspective, some are willing to endanger Jewish lives to stake a claim to more of Eretz Yisrael, and some advocate abandoning some of the Land in order to save Jewish lives (not to mention a sense of fairness for Palestinian nationalism as well).

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.