In one eye-opening verse in this week’s parasha, God establishes the idea that the purpose of our exodus from Egypt was in order for the Children of Israel to possess the land of Canaan (Israel). It is in the land of Canaan, according to Leviticus 25:38, where God will formally establish God’s relationship with Israel as Israel’s God. This statement actually is a repeat of the same promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 17:8, where God says, “I will assign the land to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding (achuzat olam); I will be their God.”
The language of our parasha seems purposeful. By declaring that the purpose of leaving Egypt was for us to possess the land that God had promised to us, God’s message is clear; Israel is to be OUR home, both as a physical possession and as a spiritual possession. The classic interpretations of Moses not being able to enter into the land of Canaan makes sense; God is our spiritual guide and encountering God in Israel is our spiritual destination.
Just two weeks ago, I experienced this idea firsthand with my students. A journey that began a long time ago in New Jersey – complete with Jewish text study and an inquiry-based mode of accessing secular studies, learning about values, and investigating the development of the State of Israel from Biblical times through today – became a living narrative the moment the El Al plane touched down and spontaneously the students uttered the words of the Shehecheyanu. Classic Jewish texts from the Chumash, Navi, and Gemara and modern Jewish texts such as the Declaration of the State of Israel or Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, which the students studied for the last 10 years, were not just words on a page anymore; they were achuzat olam, everlasting possessions.
As we look to how education is changing in the 21st century and discover the greater need for our communities to educate one another to be advocates for Israel, it is incumbent that we heed the advice of the Melton Center for Jewish Education in Jerusalem. It proposed that we develop models for connecting Israel education with the education we provide in the other spheres of education, particularly the arts and sciences. Points of connection in history and geography classes should be emphasized. Jewish texts should be studied alongside a map of Israel and of course spoken Hebrew language education is imperative. Lastly, an educational exploration and encounter of that living narrative is paramount.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted in April that “six million Jews perished in the Holocaust. For the first time since the establishment of the State, more than six million Jews live in the State of Israel. [They] … are the testament to our victory … from a deep pit, we rose to a pinnacle.”
May the important journey that led us to our everlasting possession of Israel promised by God to Abraham and then once again to the Jewish people serve as an inspiration for our own encounters with the Divine in the Holy Land.