The Choice of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael
הרב זכריה טובי
The Torah says about Noach: "These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations." (Bereishit 6:9) Also, at the end of Parshat Bereishit the Torah says: "Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem." (Bereishit 6:8) The Torah explicitly states the reason why Noach was chosen to carry on the Creation – because of his righteousness and because he found grace in the eyes of Hashem. The Ramban (Bereishit 6:9) asks: Why does Parshat Lech Lecha open with the fact that Hashem revealed himself to Avraham: "Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives and from your fathers?" (Bereishit 12:1) Why doesn't the Torah state first who Avraham was, why he was chosen to carry on the Creation, and why Hashem chose to reveal himself to Avraham?
The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael, ch. 1) clarifies this: There is a difference between Hashem's choice of Avraham and his choice of Noach. Noach was chosen as an individual, and this kind of choice depends on what the person is. When the person changes, the choice of him may also change. Since the choice of Noach was chosen as an individual, it is perfectly understandable why the Torah explained the reason behind the choice – because he was "a righteous man."
On the other hand, Hashem's choice of Avraham was of a group, of Am Yisrael as a whole, as it says: "I will make of you a great nation." (Bereishit 12:2) Am Yisrael were chosen through Avraham Avinu. The choice of a group such as this is not dependent on Avraham's righteousness. If that were the case, then, Heaven forbid, if the reason for the choice were to disappear – Hashem's love for us would also disappear. If, Heaven forbid, Am Yisrael were to sin, the choice of them could possibly be revoked. Yet, when the choice is not dependent on anything, only: "You have chosen us from all the peoples," because that is G-d's will – then the choice does not depend on whether our actions are good or bad. This is what it says: "Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples." (Devarim 7:7) This is also how R' Yitzchak began to expound the Torah (the first Rashi in Bereishit): "In the beginning G-d created" - For Yisrael who are called "beginning." The entire Creation was for Am Yisrael, whom Hashem chose even before the world was created.
Based on this, perhaps we can understand the difference between Am Yisrael and the rest of the nations. Regarding Am Yisrael the Torah says first: "I will be a G-d for them," and then: "they will be a people for me." (Yirmiyahu 31:32) Hashem first chooses us, and later we became his nation. Regarding the rest of the world, things are different: "For who then would embolden his heart to approach me? - the word of Hashem. You will be a people unto me," and only then: "I will be a G-d unto you." (Yirmiyahu 30: 21-22)
In Shacharit we say: "You are Hashem the G-d, you selected Avram and brought him out of Ur Kasdim, and designated his name Avraham. You found his heart faithful before you." (Nehemiah 9:7-8) The unconditional selection of Avraham came first, and only later, "You found his heart faithful before you."
We find something similar regarding the choice of Eretz Yisrael as the chosen land. In the covenant it says: "He trusted in Hashem, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Bereishit 15:6) Afterwards Avraham says: " My Lord Hashem/Elokim: Whereby shall I know that I am to inherit it?" (15:8) Why did Avraham question Hashem? After all, he already trusted the promise of the land and of the children?!
The Netziv explains: Avraham did not question the promise of the Land, which he already trusted. He wanted to know if it would be considered an inheritance – like a son who automatically inherits his father even against his own will. Similarly, would Eretz Yisrael belong to Am Yisrael even if they will not want it?
Hashem answers: "Take to Me three heifers" (Bereishit 15:9) – in the merit of sacrifices. The sacrifices that Jews bring before Hashem embody the virtue of Am Yisrael. A person should not be able to absolve himself through a sacrifice. However, regarding Am Yisrael sin isn't "inherent." It cannot penetrate the personal essence of any Jewish person because sin is something external to Am Yisrael, like a person who got dirty. That person can wash himself off and become clean again. Similarly, the concept of sacrifices reveals that sin is external and that it is possible to renew our relationship with Hashem through sacrifices. This is because Hashem's choice of Am Yisrael is not conditional, but rather something inherent that can't be revoked.
Thus, we understand that the choice of the nation and of the Land are similar in that they were absolutely decided by Hashem. They do not depend on the actions of Am Yisrael, and the Land belongs to the people for all eternity.
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