The land of love

by | Jul 13, 2015 | Torah Thought

When I lived in Australia I knew a man named Tom. He could be difficult to deal with, but everyone had patience for him because they knew that his shortcomings were not his fault. He had been through the Holocaust.

One thing that Tom did that was completely out of character was bake cherry pies. Often, when there was a Bris (circumcision) or other special occasion, Tom would come to the kitchen and bake a beautiful pie. He would top it with crisscrossed strips of dough and present it to the hosts of the affair.

It turns out that when Tom was in the concentration camps he worked as a chef. He would bake beautiful pies for the Nazi officers and it hurt him to no end. When he finally got out of the camps he set about fixing the problem. He made pies for people celebrating happy occasions. In this way he could brighten up a world that the Nazis had sought to darken forever.

At this time of year we read about Moshe (Moses) and his desire to enter the land of Israel. Moshe led an accomplished life. He took us out of Egypt, got us the Torah and pleaded our case before G-d on 10 different occasions. He brought G-d and the Torah to the eyes of the world. Still, Moshe was unsatisfied because he could not enter the land of Israel. We are taught in the Midrash that Moshe begged in 515 different ways to enter the land. If he could not enter as a leader, he would enter as a simple person, a bird, a stone or even a gust of wind. Moshe understood the beauty of the Land of Israel in a fulfillment of a verse that “servants of G-d love even the dust and the stones of the land of Israel.

On the flipside, there were the tribes of Gad and Reuvein. They came to Moshe with a request: “Please do not send us across the Jordan. We do not want to enter Israel. We want to stay here [in present day Jordan and Syria] where there is good grazing for our cattle.”

One could imagine Moshe’s reaction to the request of these tribes. They were throwing away something that he could only dream of. They needed to open up their eyes to the beauty of Israel and the holiness of its stones. He could have told them about the beauty of Israel, about the site of the Temple and about the Burial place of the Patriarchs. He didn’t.

Instead Moshe lectured the tribes Gad and Reuvain on empathy. “Will you stay here while your brothers go to war? Will you throw cold water on their excitement and shatter their resolve to enter the holy land?”

Moshe realized that the tribes of Gad and Reuvain were not ready to hear about the dust and stones of the land of Israel. They would have time for those regrets later. The first step, the important step now, was for them to hear about the beauty of their fellow Jews. They needed to be thinking about each other and about what their decision not to cross the Yardein would do to demoralize their cousins in the tribes of Dan and Naftali.

We are currently in a time of year when we mark the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and our exile from the land. Even as we mourn the destruction, we celebrate the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the fact that we are able to return there in unprecedented numbers.

Moshe taught us that we do not prepare for a journey to Israel by reading travel books and studying satellite images on Google Earth. It’s not even about politics. We prepare for a return to a perfect and secure Israel by learning how to treat the people around us and training ourselves to value every person and the effect that we can have on him or her.

That is what I learned from Tom in Australia. He was hard to deal with and he suffered terribly in his lifetime, but he was part of the solution. He resolved to counteract evil by celebrating with others and rebuilding the world by sharing, one pie at a time.

—Rabbi Sender Haber, B’nai Israel