In the second half of this week’s double-parsha Behar-Bechukosai we read about the terrifying curses that await the Jewish people for failure to act in accordance with G-d’s will. Right in the middle of these frightening curses, the Torah tells us, “I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.” Rashi and the Ramban quote that this is actually good news for the Jewish people, as throughout our exile, the nations of the world who try to inhabit the land will not find success with the land. The Ramban also comments that this phenomenon “is a great proof and promise to us (that ultimately we will return to Israel) because in all of civilization there has never been a land as good and as expansive as it, which has always been settled, and yet, it is left so desolate as Israel is now, which from the time we left it, has never received any nation or nationality; and though they have all tried to settle it, none have been able to do so.”
Amid the horrifying curses, G-d promised us that the land of Israel would never thrive and prosper under the rule of other nations. The Ramban (1194-1270) confirmed this to be the case in his day. And, Mark Twain, l’havdil, confirmed this in his time as well, in the 1800s, when he observed:
…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse….A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”- 1867 (Quoted in Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad. London: 1881).
Rabbi Yissochar Frand points out the true miracle of this phenomenon: For two thousand years, the Land of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey, had been under foreign dominion- under the rule of the Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks and British. And through it all, the land an uninhabitable wasteland. To help us appreciate how this is a miracle, Rabbi Frand suggests a scenario in which the Native Americans sought to purchase back Manhattan Island from the Americans. Perhaps they might come to the president in the year 2017, and say, “We sold you this island in the 1600s for sixty guilders (a sum estimated to be $24.) We grant the fact that the Island has appreciated over the last four hundred years, so we agree it back for double that cost, at $48.” Obviously, Manhattan would not be resold for $48, for $48,000, not even for $48,000,000. It would seem, that after 2000 years in the land of Israel, it would be reasonable to expect the land to have appreciated greatly in value, as it did so significantly in Manhattan over the course of four hundred years. But were this to be the case, asks Rav Frand, would it have been possible for the Jewish people to recover this area to become its national homeland? Or, if the land of Israel, like virtually every other country in the Middle East, had known oil reserves in 1948, would it have been possible for the Jewish people to return to our national homeland in throngs? Logic would say not. Rabbi Frand explains that we have only been able to recover the land, due to this ‘curse’ that “I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.”
I believe, that aside from the inspiration that can be gleaned by appreciating the Torah’s eternal, prophetic words, there is another lesson to be gleaned as well: That sometimes, even concealed within the most terrifying of ‘curses’ is found the most wonderful blessings, and the most profound manifestations of G-ds Divine Providence. At the time, being told that G-d will lay waste to our treasured Land must have been devastating. So too, in life, we are dealt distressing blows. However, throughout it all, we must strive to remember that G-d is running the world, and He has a plan for all of us, despite our inability to always comprehend it.
We should all merit to see G-d’s miracles in our own lives.