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The Blessing of Desolation

Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

And I will lay waste the land, and your enemies who dwell in it will be wretched. (26:32)

The verses of rebuke in prophecy in its most frightening form. Each verse, each phrase, each word is a harbinger of future calamity in different times in Jewish history. For instance, the Ramban writes that “Hashem will send you back to Egypt in boats” refers to the enslavement of the Jews under the Roman emperor Titus. He also writes that “the king you appoint for yourself” refers to Agrippa who was a cruel and incompetent monarch.

In the midst of this litany of misery, we find the statement, “And I will lay waste the land, and your enemies who dwell in it will be wretched.” What does this mean? The Ramban sees it as a blessing slipped in among the curses, a word of consolation in middle of the rebuke. It is an assurance to the Jewish people that even when they are in exile the Holy Land will not be hospitable to other peoples who seek to settle there. This, concludes the Ramban, is a great proof of Divine providence, since “no other land throughout the world is as good and fertile” as the Holy Land once was, and now it has lain desolate for many centuries.

Think about what the Ramban is saying. For the last two thousand years, Eretz Yisrael, that land flowing with milk and honey, has been under foreign dominion¾Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks, British¾and what became of it? A dusty, arid wasteland sparsely populated by hardscrabble tillers of the soil. As the Torah assured us, no vibrant communities arose on the land during our absence, no deep-rooted prosperous cities.

Imagine if the Indians tried to reclaim Manhattan Island. “We want to renegotiate,” they say. “We sold this island to you for $24 worth of wampum. We will reimburse your purchase price and give you a 100 percent return ¾ $48. And all in cash. You don’t have to take any wampum . . . Not enough? We understand. Inflation really eats up the dollars over three hundred and fifty years. And then there is what you could have earned in mutual funds all these years. All right, fair enough. How about 48,000? Forty-eight million? Forty-eight billion? Still no sale? Ugh!”

Manhattan Island is just about priceless.

Well, imagine if the gentile settlers had been able to develop Eretz Yisrael over the last two millennia. Imagine if in the 20th century it was like one long Manhattan Island. Would it have been possible for the Jewish people to recover this real estate for a national homeland? It was only the blessing of “your enemies who dwell in it will be wretched” that has made it possible for us to recover the land.

I have always been mystified by the placement of oil reserves in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has oil, as do Iraq, Kuwait, Quatar, Bahrein, Aden, Yemen and even Egypt to a certain extent. But from Eretz Yisrael, we cannot squeeze a drop of oil¾petroleum, that is. But look at the other side. If Eretz Yisrael had been oil rich, would we have been able to recover it from the gentiles? Not a chance. Once again, the blessing of desolation preserved the land for our people.

If we open our eyes, we see clearly the Divine providence by which Hashem has guided and continues to guide all the Jewish people.

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