Calling for the Shechina in Our Holy Land
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹבָב בֶּן רְעוּאֵל הַמִּדְיָנִי חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר ה’ אֹתוֹ אֶתֵּן לָכֶם לְכָה אִתָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ כִּי ה’ דִּבֶּר טוֹב עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל: (במדבר י, כט)
|“Give thanks to HaShem because He is good, for His kindness is eternal. Those redeemed by the Lord shall say it, those whom He redeemed from the hands of an oppressor and gathered them from lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the sea.” (Ps. 107) It is apparent from this verse, talking of the ingathering of exiles to our Land, and our title quote, that the “good” referred to here is the entrance to “the good Land” (Deut. 8, 10 and more). “Good” is interpreted by our sages in many sources as referring to a high spiritual state, as they said “good only refers to the Torah” (Br. 5a), or that “the good mountain” refers to the Bais Hamikdash (ibid 48b), or that the “goodness” of Moshe at birth was apparent by a spiritual light (Sh. Raba 1, 22). It is the extent of this “goodness” of Moshe, i.e. the extent of Moshe Rabeinu’s connection to the Shechina, that was not fully realized even by Miriam, till she was reprimanded by HaShem at the end of this week’s parsha. This week’s parsha also begins with an allusion to the Holy Presence among Israel in the form of the Menorah, as our Sages noted that it was “a testimony to the world that the Shechina rests with Israel” because of its miraculous ever-lasting “western light”(Menahot 86b). Indeed, our haftorah begins and repeats the words: “I (HaShem) will rest among you”. It is because of this special connection to HaShem, that we must be aware of HaShem’s signals to us in reality. Thus, in the middle of this week’s parsha we are commanded (one of the 613) to sound trumpet calls at time of trouble, and our Oral Tradition teaches us that to “shout out to God in prayer” is included in this commandment of trumpeting, for “this is the way of repentance, that when trouble befalls… all will know that it is because of their evil actions that they have been troubled… and this (repentance) will be the cause to remove the trouble upon them” (Rambam Taaniot 1, 2). Thus, it seems that as befitting the special Providence in the Holy Land, we are taught that among the fasts “only in the Land of Israel is a public fast day declared as severe as Yom Kippur (except for Tisha Bav) because of rain in ten specific fasts, etc.” (ibid, 3, 11 and Orah Haim 575, 10). This said, however, the Talmud (Taanit 13b), the Rambam, and the Shulhan Aruch do not explain the reason for this law. In explaining this law, one of the primary stances adopted by the poskim is that of the Ramban, explaining that only in the Land of Israel is there an overriding spiritual-political authority, called the “nasi”, powerful enough to decree public fast days that indeed bind the people. Thus, this would mean that today, when we don’t have such a “nasi”, it is impossible to decree such severe fast days even in the Holy Land. Although this makes sense theoretically, the poskim note that in fact there was at least one instance of a severe public fast declared in Jerusalem and Hebron even after the fall of the “nasi”‘s power. Therefore, the Hida, in “Birkei Yosef”, explains that even in absence of the “nasi”, the leaders of the people may be considered as “messengers”-continuers of the “nasi”-establishment, and thus may decree severe public fast days. If so, then why can’t the leaders of the Diaspora also declare such severe fast days? One of the Hida’s explanations for this is that because the Land of Israel is unique in a number of laws, it was also made unique in regard to fasts. As we have shown many times before, much of the unique laws of the Land of Israel are derivatives of its holy status, of the Holy Presence therein. Thus, we may conclude that this law too is representative of the influence of the Holy Presence in the Land. However, after all this is said, in my humble opinion we may perhaps explain this law much more simply. Rambam taught us that these severe fasts are conducted only in the Land of Israel and only for rain. If we were to look for the most explicit signs given in the Torah for God’s “signaling” us to improve our ways, rain in the Land of Israel would be the most known and explicit, as we say at least twice day in the second portion of Shema. In addition, the Torah explicitly connects the Providence in the Land, called “the eyes of God”, to “rain of the heavens” in Dvarim 11, 11-12. Since this is such a strong Biblical source, it follows that the fasts based on this sign should be the strongest and most severe than any other fast. What fasting does to the body, trumpeting does the senses. The trumpets, and with them the shofar, call us to contemplate, to pay attention to God’s signal to us. It is also the trumpets that signal, according to God’s order, the first encampment of Judah to move forward first. Similarly, when our People first set out to conquer the Holy Land, they asked God via the Urim Vetumim who should go forward first (beginning of Shoftim). They were answered that Judah should lead. Just as Judah is the leading tribe, Hebron is the leading city of Judah, as we see that David is told by HaShem to begin his reign in Hebron of Judah (Shmuel 2, 2, 1) (Jerusalem is “inter-tribal”). This is Hebron – the beginning of our People, the beginning of leadership, the beginning of royalty, the beginning of HaShem’s Kingdom.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #19: “Immediately at twilight (20 minutes after sunset) of the 49th and last day of the Omer I, and many others, were witness to a rain-storm in the Jerusalem-Hebron area, very rare this season. Then, after the storm ceased, it returned again, complete with lightning and thunder, on Shavuot morning subsequent to the Torah-reading about the Giving of the Torah: “and there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain.”