“And You Shall Dwell Securely In Your Land”
A few days ago, we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day. In another 2 weeks hence, we will observe “Jerusalem Day”, which marks a central signpost in the history of the State—The Six Day War.
We cannot deny the fact that the existence of the State of Israel and the accessibility of historically significant sites instilled in every Jew a sense of pride and security. Similarly, the announcement thirty-nine years ago that “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” generated an atmosphere of exaltation in Israel and in the Diaspora.
It seems to me that it is still too early, historically speaking, to evaluate the import of these events for future generations. It seems to me that it is not within our power to decipher the plans of the Holy One regarding ‘Geulat Yisrael”—the Redemption of Israel—and the Messianic Era. This is in contrast to those theological approaches that try to read certain signs as predictive of the End of Days and to extreme Ultra-Orthodox doctrine that considers the establishment of the State of Israel to be a rebellion against the Holy One, Blessed Be He.
From this point of view, the issue of security vis a vis our living in the land is certainly relevant. Does there really exist an unconditional promise that “we shall dwell securely in our land”, a kind of ‘divine insurance policy’?
The two parashot read this Shabbat and next Shabbat relate to the subject of the “security” of living in this land, but the word root “b.t.ch.” appears for the first time in the story of the massacre of the inhabitants of Shechem at the hands of Shimon and Levi:
“And it was upon the third day, when they were still hurting, that the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, brothers of Dinah, took each his sword and came upon the town (feeling) secure (“betach”), and slaughtered every male.” (Bereishit. 34:25).
On the other hand, in parashot “Behar” and “U’behukotai”, the promise is that we shall dwell “la-vetach” (securely) in your land.
“You are to observe my laws, my regulations you are to keep, and observe them, that you may be settled on the land securely (la-vetach) . . . That the land may give forth its fruit and that you may eat to fullness, and you will dwell securely (la-betach) on it.” (Lev. 25:18, 19)
“ And your threshing will overtake the vintage, and the vintage will overtake the sowing, and you will eat your bread to the full, and you will dwell securely (la-vetach) in your land.” (Ibid, 26:5).
In contrast to our parasha, in Parashat Re-eh the security promised Israel is denoted by the word “betach”, without the prefix ‘la.
“And you shall cross the Jordan and dwell in the land that the Lord your God is about to grant you in estate and He will give you abiding haven from all your enemies around, and you shall dwell securely (‘betach’). (Deut. 12:10).
Is there significance in the difference between “betach” and “la-betach”? Yet more, can scrutiny of the difference assist us in understanding the divine promise of security for our land?
Our commentators differ in their understanding of the word “betach” in the Shechem massacre narrative:
Rashi attributes the sense of security to the sons of Yaakov:
“Betach—for they were hurting. The Midrash Agaddah says: They relied upon the strength of the old man.”
According to first explanation, the brothers’ sense of security was a result of their advantage over the recently circumcised people of Shechem. According the Midrashic explication, their sense of security flowed from the power of Father Avraham’s prayer.
On the other hand, many plain-reading explicators (Onkelos, Rashbam, Shadal, and Reggio) ascribe the sense of security to the people of Shechem. In the words of Shadal:
“And they came upon the city in security (betach)”: It (the town) was dwelling securely, and similarly every appearance of ‘betach’ in Scripture refers to the inhabitants (Rashbam), and so translated Onkelos ‘that they dwelled in security’. And similarly the Jerusalem Targum, “who were living in security”, but Rashi and the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 80, 9) applied betach to Shimon and Levi”.
The inhabitants of Shechem felt secure; Was the sense of security a product of excessive complacency, typical of people dwelling in their city, on their land? Or can it be explained by the trust they had developed towards Yaakov and his family who had promised them “to be a single people’ provided they circumcise every male? In any case, in retrospect it was clear that their trust was unfounded.
With regard to the wording in Parashat Re’eh, the Netziv, in “Haamek Davar”, explains:
“And you shall dwell securely (betach) -- you shall not be terrified by the demons and evil spirits which are found in the desert, and therefore, “. . . the place . . .”
According to this explanation, the text is talking about the sense of security felt by a people living in its land, who do not fear the uncertainty that typifies life in the desert.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra also seems to take this approach:
In truth, the meaning is tranquility (menucha) – and he shall leave them (alone), and the portion (nachala) – and you will dwell in security.
It is therefore possible that a people dwelling in its land, having defeated its enemies, feels a basic sense of security. This feeling derives from the very act of dwelling on the land that provides the inhabitants with a sense of rootedness. This natural feeling is not unique to any specific nation; it is the lot of every people that lives upon—and has roots in—its land. “And you shall dwell in security” can be understood as considering the tie to the land as something natural and self-understood.
As already noted, in contrast to “And you shall dwell securely (betach) which appears in both the Shechem narrative and in the Book of Devarim, in Parashat Behar and Bechukotai we find “And you shall dwell securely (la-vetach)”.
If we follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (quoted on the first page of this issue) we can read verses 17-19 as a single unit:
Verse 17 prohibits deceit—which the Rabbis explain as referring to verbal deceit in particular.
Verse 18 is to be read as a single unit; the dwelling securely (la-vetach) is defined by the manner of our dwelling in the land, i.e., by our behavior on it and towards it. From these verses, and from all the verses of these parashot, it is clear that we are dealing here not with an unconditional promise, but with a covenant.
It is possible that the natural, worldly, sense of “dwelling securely” is necessary as a first stage of connection to a land. In this sense we are no different from any nation dwelling on its land that needs minimal stability in order to feel secure. There were long periods in Jewish history when this natural feeling was denied us, and, in general, the existence of the State of Israel transformed significantly the sense of security of Jews throughout the world. Unfortunately Jews abroad are occasionally harmed because of their identification with the State of Israel, but this does not contradict the different existential feeling.
Together with this, “to dwell securely (la-vetach)” is not something to be taken for granted, something that happens automatically. The promise “And you shall dwell on your land securely (la-vetach)” is contingent upon compliance with the covenant and is in large part dependent upon the manner in which we conduct our life in the land. Are we not enslaved by the land or to any other property? Do we forget that they are not in our complete ownership (“For the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me”)? Do we remember not to cheat our fellows and the stranger? Are we careful not to lend usuriously? Are we conscious of the rights of workers, or are we perhaps tempted to maintain a class of slaves?
Does there exist proper balance between the efforts invested in creation of a sense of dwelling “betach”, and the facing up to the challenge of dwelling “la’vetach” in our land?
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist.