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Shabbat Parashat Vaeira 5775

Parashat Hashavua: I Raised My Hand for Both Sides

Harav Yosef Carmel

In the framework of the promises that Hashem gave about the upcoming redemption, He said: “I shall bring you to the Land about which I lifted My hand to give to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and I shall give it to you as a heritage, I am Hashem” (Shemot 6:8). Chazal (Pesikta Zutra, Beshalach 17) and Rishonim (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban) say that the lifting of the hand stands for an oath.

Rabbi Chaim Paltiel connects between an oath and the shaking of a hand as a commitment. He says that such a commitment is irrevocable because the five fingers of the hand correspond to the five books of the Torah and the hands of the two people together correspond to the Ten Commandments.

The idea of Hashem lifting His hand in oath is always found in Tanach in the context of a commitment that He makes to Bnei Yisrael in connection to the giving of Eretz Yisrael to the sons of the forefathers. In some places the context is positive. Yechezkel refered to an oath that the mountains of Israel will give their fruit to His nation (Yechezkel 36:7-8). Similarly he spoke about the land promised to the forefathers being given out to the tribes (ibid. 47:14).

However, sometimes the context is negative. Hashem asserted in the aftermath of the sin of the spies that the generation would not merit entering the Land about which Hashem had lifted His hand (Bamidbar 14:29-30). Going back to Yechezkel, he tells of Hashem lifting His hand in the desert to disperse them among the nations rather than their staying in the Land (Yechezkel 20:23). When the people showed disdain for Eretz Hemdah (the Coveted Land), Hashem lifted His hand to have them die in the desert (Tehillim 106:24-6).

Why should there be such a close connection between this type of oath and the people’s connection to Eretz Yisrael? One answer has an important lesson.

Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael, and this promise was strengthened with an oath. This created a special bond between the nation and the Land. However, this oath was two-sided, like a binding handshake. Bnei Yisrael became obligated to cling to the Land that was given to them, to settle it, make its desolate places bloom, and yearn for it when they were separated from it. Any time they forsook the Land, it was seen as a serious breach of the nation’s obligation in relation to the Land, represented by the lifting of the hand.

Even when there are difficulties, we can remember, on one hand, the oath that Hashem made to us. We should also remember the great difficulties over the last 200 years that stood before our predecessors, who began the blessed waves of return to the Land. It is hard for people of our generation to even imagine such sacrifice that they encountered. Nevertheless, they stood up to difficulty after difficulty, came here, embraced the Land, and battled for it in many ways – thus fulfilling their/our commitment. May we merit to follow their lead and cling to Eretz Hemdah, establishing within the Land a proud society – Jewish and democratic, independent and upstanding.

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