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Strengthening in the Merit of Israel and the Covenant of Our Forefathers

The merit of our forefathers (zechut avot) is based on the education of our forefathers * In a dangerous situation, one should not mention zechut avot, or our own merit * The mitzvah of Brit Milah is meant to reveal the inner spiritual reality of a Jew * The mitzvot of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel) and Brit Milah are equivalent to all the mitzvot * The brit milah of the Ishmaelites is empty, lacking perfection * We are commanded to strive for hostile non-Jews to leave our Land, including Gaza

Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l would often teach the divine virtue of Segulat Yisrael (Israel’s unique virtue), which is the foundation for all the virtues and deeds of Israel. In times of distress, we must return to this great foundation, and rely upon it.

He would explain the short prayer our Sages composed to say in dangerous places, as the Mishnah states:

 “Rabbi Yehoshua says: One who cannot recite a complete prayer because he is walking in a place of danger, recites a brief prayer and says: Redeem, Hashem, Your people, the remnant of Israel, at every transition [parashat ha’ibur]. May their needs be before You. Blessed are You Hashem, Who hears prayer'” (Berachot 4:4).

Our Sages explained: “Even at a time when they transgress matters of Torah – may all their needs come before You” (Berachot 29b).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda asked: A Jew is in danger, afraid, wanting to appeal to God in prayer. What should he mention – Israel’s transgressions, praying that even when Israel ‘transgresses matters of Torah, may their needs come before You’? As if God helps satisfy the needs of one who transgresses – like eating pork?! This is shocking! In a dangerous situation, does he have nothing else to request besides God helping transgressors?! This is truly ‘Do not place a stumbling block before the blind’, ‘assisting a transgressor’. Awesome, and terrifying!”

Merit of Our Forefathers vs. Covenant of Our Forefathers

He continued, explaining that when a person is in regular danger, he mentions “the merit of Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds, that it help him against the accusation of Satan”. But if the accusation is greater, a greater merit is needed, mentioning the merit of one’s grandfather, etc. When the accusation is even greater, zechut avot (the merit of our forefathers), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is mentioned. But who knows, perhaps the accusation is even far greater, and there are halachic opinions that “the merit of the forefathers has exhausted” (Shabbat 55a). However, as Tosafot wrote: “The zechut avot is exhausted, but the brit avot (covenant of the forefathers) is not exhausted” (ibid.). For indeed, the covenant is “forever, and everlasting”. Therefore, the prayer stems from the covenant.

The merit of the forefathers relies on the education of the forefathers. “But this is a human matter, unable to eternally endure, for the merit’s foundation is the human holiness of our holy forefathers. Everything originating from man, can possibly cease. In contrast, the covenant of the forefathers is not human. A covenant, is a covenant of the Creator of the World.” The covenant God made with Abraham at the ‘Brit Ha’Betarim’ (Covenant of the Parts), and with all Israel at Mount Sinai, is eternal. “A covenant is not a partnership. It is a heavenly, divine concept, unable to change. God’s covenant exists internally, in the soul of Creation, it is eternal, continuing hitherto.”

“Therefore, in a dangerous situation, one should not mention the merit of the forefathers, or one’s own merit. Perhaps there is a Satan, so awesome and terrifying, that the merit of the forefathers is exhausted. One needs a segulah (unique virtue), which is an amulet for all situations,” that “even in times of spiritual decline…even when the nation is laden with sins, nonetheless, You Hashem, have chosen us.” Therefore, we pray in the plural, for even in difficult times of spiritual decline, a person should not panic. Rather, he should recall belonging to the People of Israel, and pray for Clal Yisrael (the entirety of Israel) “Redeem, Hashem, Your people, the remnant of Israel, at every transition [parashat ha’ibur]. May their needs be before You”. (Based on the Introduction to ‘Orot Yisrael’ in the lectures of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda on the book ‘Orot’, recently published).

The Mitzvah of Brit Milah

The mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision) that we learn in this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, expresses the brit (covenant) between Hashem and Israel. It is so important, it precedes the Torah (Berachot 48b). For the covenant expresses the essential holiness with which Hashem sanctified His nation Israel, a holiness not dependent on our choice, and it is the foundation for receiving the Torah, that demands we choose good. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch rules: “This mitzvah is greater than other positive mitzvot” (Yoreh Deah 260:1). For the brit expresses the deep connection to Judaism, and the great destiny of the Jewish people, to reveal holiness within reality, and add blessing and goodness to the world.

However, halachically, even a Jew not circumcised is fully considered Jewish. Moreover, an uncircumcised Jew is called circumcised, even though practically, he did not undergo brit milah (Nedarim 31b). In other words, the mitzvah of brit milah is meant to reveal the internal, spiritual reality of a Jew. One not fulfilling the mitzvah, does not reveal or express his holy, Jewish soul, but the intrinsic segulah, by virtue of which Hashem made a covenant with him, endures eternally.

Settling the Land and the Covenant

The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) is connected to brit milah, as these two mitzvot express the special vision of the Jewish people – revealing holiness within earthly, physical reality. And regarding these two mitzvot, it is said they are equivalent to all the mitzvot (see Peninei Halakha 1:4).

Thus, we find that when Hashem elevated Abraham from the level of a tzadik prati (private righteous person), to the level of a tzadik clali (communal righteous person), and made a covenant with him that an entire nation would emerge from him, revealing God’s word for all generations – He promised him the Land, and commanded him regarding brit milah, as it states in this week’s portion:

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you for their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be God for you and your offspring after you. And I will give you and your offspring after you the land of your sojourns, the entire land of Canaan for an eternal possession, and I will be a God for them…As for you, you shall keep My covenant…This is My covenant that you shall observe…circumcise all males…And it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:7-11).

This is what our Sages said: “If your children keep the mitzvah of circumcision – they will enter the Land, if not – they will not enter the Land” (Bereishit Rabbah 46:9). Therefore, Joshua was commanded to circumcise Israel before beginning conquering the Land (Joshua 5:2).

The Struggle with Ishmaelite’s

Our Sages said: All circumcised, can inherit the Land (Zohar 2:23a). They also said: The children of Ishmael are destined to rule the Holy Land for a long time, when it is empty and desolate. This is because Ishmael was circumcised, and they will hinder Israel’s return to their place. But since their circumcision is empty, without perfection (not circumcising on the eighth day, and not removing the fine membrane), therefore, the Land under them will also be empty and desolate. Ultimately, Israel, whose circumcision is complete, will merit it (see, Zohar 2:32a). The implication that their circumcision is empty without perfection means it contains only subjugation, stifling human creativity, whereas a complete brit with Hashem, enables revealing the Divine Presence, to the full extent of human creativity, in the Land.

Residence of Non-Jews in the Land of Israel

The great vision of the Jewish People in their Land, is for the Land to be settled by the People of Israel, with all aspects of national life conducted according to the Torah’s directives, morally, and holily. And the Jewish people will be a light and blessing, for all the world’s nations. To realize this vision, the entire Land must be settled by Jews, and only non-Jews interested in participating in the great vision of the Jewish people, could join in the status of ger toshav [resident alien]. But hostile non-Jews should not be allowed to reside in the Land, as the Torah says:

“They shall not settle in your land, lest they cause you to sin towards Me, that you will worship their gods, for it will be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:33).

And there is an additional, individual prohibition relating to each individual, not to sell land to a non-Jew, so as not to provide a foothold in the Land, as it states:

“Grant them no terms, and give them no quarter” (Deuteronomy 7:2).

There are differing halachic opinions regarding decent non-Jews, not as gerim toshavim. However, regarding non-Jews supporting our enemies seeking to destroy the State of Israel, all poskim agree it is a mitzvah for them not to reside in our Land (see Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve’ Ha’Aretz 5:1, 3). The Torah further warned that if we allow them to remain in the land, we will greatly suffer from them, as it states:

“If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those you leave will be like thorns in your eyes, and stingers in your sides, and they will harass you on the land you settle” (Numbers 33:55).

Reasons Preventing Fulfilling the Mitzvah

Two main reasons prevent us from expelling the hostile non-Jews from the State of Israel:

1) The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and all it entails, obligates us to act according to the power we possess. When the non-Jews overpower us, or the international price will be too heavy, we are forced not to fulfill it (see Rambam, Laws of Avodah Zarah 10:6).

2) In recent generations, due to the moral influence of the Torah of Israel, the nations of the world have adopted laws protecting minority rights. And when Bnei Noach enact laws prohibiting expelling a hostile minority population, the Jewish people must also respect these laws, for they have the status of the Seven Noahide commandments, and there is a general halachic principle that something cannot be forbidden to Bnei Noach, yet permitted for Israel (Sanhedrin 59a).

Remembering the Mitzvah

Nonetheless, within the parameters of the law and power constraints, we are commanded to strive for hostile non-Jews to leave our Land, including Gaza. Sometimes, during war, an opportunity arises to organize comprehensive migration, or at least, create a situation encouraging migration, without clashing with the nations or international law, and we must not miss these opportunities. The state and military leadership, and shapers of public opinion, are obligated to remember this mitzvah, not miss opportunities arising on our path, and thereby, promote peace in Israel, and the world.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew

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