VAYISHLACH: RETURN TO ISRAEL, by Daniel Pinner

“Ya'akov was complete when he came to the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan on coming from Padan Aram; and he encamped within sight of the city. And he bought the part of the field on which he had pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem for 100 kesitah. And there, he erected an altar which he called G-d, the G-d of Israel” (Genesis 33:18-20).

Whether the 100 kesitah that Ya’akov paid for this relatively small piece of land was the value of 100 fattened sheep (Targum Onkelos), or 100 precious jewels (Targum Yonatan, Jerusalem Targum), or a recognized coin of negotiable currency (Rashbam, Rosh Hashana 26a, Me’am Lo’ez quoting Imre No’am), it is clear that Ya’akov paid in full for the site that would one day become Yosef’s tomb. Even though G-d had promised the entire Land to the entire nation, Ya'akov insisted on buying this plot of land from the Hivites who were occupying it at the time. And so, as the Midrash emphasizes, “this is one of three places which the nations of the world cannot possibly claim that Israel stole. These are the Machpelah Cave , the Temple Mount , and Yosef’s tomb” (Genesis Rabbah 79:7). More than one hundred and twenty years earlier, Avraham had bought the Machpelah Cave for negotiable currency (Genesis 23:16 ); and more than seven hundred years later, King David would buy the site of the future Temple (2 Samuel 24:24, 1 Chronicles 21:25 ).

The lesson for our generation is crucial: The nations of the world, and in particular those who are occupying the Land of Israel , deny our right to the entire Land of Israel . Concerning these three places, their denial is even stronger. Had the present-day occupiers of Israel accepted our claim to these three sites, then we might have concluded they are at least honest about claiming all the rest. But since they deny our right even to places we bought for money, this shows that their entire claim is false – whether to Beit-El, to Haifa , to Gaza , to Damascus .

Upon buying this field for the nation, Ya’akov immediately built an altar. And the Sforno’s comment is a single, deceptively simple sentence: “As it says, how shall we sing the song of Hashem in a foreign land?" (Psalms 137:4).

It is obvious to Sforno that in exile with Lavan, Ya’akov was unable to build an altar to Hashem, but as soon as he settled in Israel , this was his first action. The straightforward halacha is that Israel is commanded to build the holy Temple upon entering their Land (Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:1). True, it took four hundred and forty years from entering the land under Joshua to the building of the first Temple (1 Kings 6:1); but, as the Rambam is careful to point out, “when they entered the Land, they erected the Tabernacle in Gilgal for fourteen years while they were conquering and dividing [between the tribes]. From there, they went on to Shilo, where they built a stone structure … which stood for 369 years … from there they went to Nov … from there to Givon” (Laws of the Holy Temple 1:2). Even before King Solomon built a permanent Temple , there was always a functioning Tabernacle.

And so, it was obvious after the first exile, after a seventy-year hiatus, half a millennium after King Solomon, rebuilding the Temple was an integral part of returning to the Land (Ezra Chapter 3). As it was obvious to Ya’akov on his return to Israel, as it was obvious to the Jews who returned to Israel after the Egyptian exile, as it was obvious to the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile, so, too, it should be obvious to us today: We return to Israel joyfully, leaving the tears of exile behind us by the rivers of Babylon, longing to serve Hashem at the altar of the rebuilt holy Temple. Then we can sing, as this Psalm continues: “Remember Hashem, for the sons of Edom , the day of Jerusalem , when they said, destroy, destroy, to its very foundation. Oh desolated daughter of Babylon – happy is he who repays you what you deserve for what you have done to us. Happy is he who seizes and smashes your infants on the rocks” (Psalms 137: 8-9). Whether addressing the Babylonians or the denizens of Shechem or any other persecutors of Israel – truly happy is he who seizes and smashes their infants on the rocks.

Immediately after decimating Shechem, “G-d said to Ya’akov, arise, ascend to Beit El" (Genesis 35:1). Come, take my hand, and walk with me in the footsteps of Ya’akov from Shechem to Beit El. Let me show you the sites and let us see who are the true masters of this Land. We see Shechem behind us, the city whose Arab occupiers today call Nablus. Where, you ask, does the name Nablus come from? Well, when the Romans occupied the country, 2000 years ago they renamed Shechem "Neapolis" and the Arabs, unable to pronounce ‘p’, corrupted the name to Nablus. Start heading south, and after a few kilometers we see to our right the village of Yasuf. This obviously is named in honor of our ancestor Yosef, buried in Shechem. A few kilometers down the road, we pass through the not-so-picturesque village of Luven Sharakiyeh. Luven is a corruption of 'levona' and Sharakiyeh is Arabic for "east", hence the name denotes “East of Ma'ale Levona”. And indeed, immediately after this village, we see the Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Levona; hence the Arabic name testifies that their presence came after the Jewish presence. We continue our journey southwards and on our left we pass the Arab village of Turmus Aya. This was the area where the turmus grew (the turmus being a small aromatic plant, the same family as the levona). Just as the place where sandals are made is called a sandalerier, so, too this place where the turmus was processed into herbs and medicine was called in Aramaic the Turmusaya.

Immediately after this on our right we pass the Arab village of Sinjil; this began as a crusader fortress about 900 years ago and was named for a christian holy man, St. Giles (the French pronunciation gave the modern Arabic name of Sinjil). Sinjil’s claim to fame is that Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968, came from this village. Continuing our journey south, we turn right, following the signpost to Ramallah (the site of the biblical Ramat El), and just before approaching Beit El, we see on the right-hand side of the road the Arab village of Beteen – this name is a corruption of the original Beit El.

And so having followed our Father Ya’akov from Shechem to Beit El, we have seen how most of the Arab villages have names which testify to the Jewish presence in the Land long before the Arabs entered it, and the few which do not were taken from the European invaders.

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