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"I Have Given It to You as a Heritage"

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein



Parashat VAEra




With gratitude and in honor of the bar mitzvah,
this year b'ezrat Hashem, of our twin sons,
Michael and Joshua - Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise


This shiur is dedicated by Mr and Mrs Alan Kravitz on behalf of Elie Kravitz




“I Have Given It to You as a Heritage”

Adapted by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish



And I shall bring you to the land which I undertook to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, and I have given it to you as a heritage (morasha); I am the Lord. (Shemot 6:8)


What is the meaning of the term “morasha” (“heritage”)? The Gemara (Bava Batra 117b) debates the question of whether the division of the land among the twelve tribes was carried out on the basis of the number of those who left Egypt or those who entered the land. Our verse is cited as proof that the land had already been given as an inheritance to those who left Egypt. Our verse appears again in Bava Batra 119b, this time in connection with the question of whether a firstborn receives a double portion of what is due to the estate as well as from what is already held in possession. In both cases we see that our verse testifies that the land was given to Bnei Yisrael as an inheritance (even though the words “I have given it to you” sound more appropriate to a gift), and this is of significance for the realm of civil law.


In the Yerushalmi (Bava Batra 8:2) the matter is presented differently:


“And I will bring you to the land of your forefathers” etc. – if [the land] is a gift, why is it [referred to as] an inheritance? And if it is an inheritance, why is it a gift? The answer is that since it was given to the son as a gift, it is given over again to the son as an inheritance.


Here it is clear that the meaning here has nothing to do with monetary considerations: from a monetary point of view, if something is given as a gift then the receiver has full rights over it; there is no need for it to be given to him also as a heritage or inheritance. It would seem, then, that the significance of the concept of “heritage” pertains to the receiver’s relationship with the object. When a person receives something as a heritage, he relates to it in a way that is completely different from his attitude towards a gift. A person’s relationship with an object received as a gift is rather weak; his ownership of it is sudden and, to a certain extent, temporary: formerly this object belonged to someone else, from a different family, and now it has arrived in his hands. The situation is different when he receives something as a heritage. When he knows that an object has belonged to his family for many generations, he feels a special connection with it. In his eyes the object is worth more than its market value. It symbolizes his connection with the past, and also connects him with the future: as he received it from his parents, so he is bound to pass it on to his children. As he holds the object he has a sense of being part of a long chain, and he guards it with greater care than he would an ordinary object.


Beyond the issue of connection, the concept of “heritage” has significance in another sense as well. The prophet Yechezkel describes a dispute between the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Jews living in the Diaspora:


Your brethren, your brothers, your next of kin, and all the house of Israel as a whole (are those) to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem had said: Distance yourselves from God; it is to us that this land is given as a heritage.

Therefore say, So says the Lord God: Although I have cast them far off among the nations, and have scattered them among the countries, and have been a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have come to… I shall gather you up from all of the nations… (Yechezkel 11:15-17)


The claim of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would seem to be justified: how can the Land of Israel belong to Jews who are living in the Diaspora? Surely the land is the possession of those who dwell in it. While it is possible that from a strictly monetary perspective this argument has merit, in view of our discussion of the concept of “heritage” it would seem that the claim may be dismissed out of hand. The land is given as a heritage to the nation of Israel. The nation must protect it and pass it on to future generations. The land does not belong to some particular individual or group at some specific time; rather, it is the possession of the entire nation. Anyone who is living in it represents Am Yisrael and must preserve the land on behalf of the nation and pass it on to those who come after him. The fact that the land is a heritage thus creates not only a connection to it but also a very heavy responsibility that is placed upon those who dwell in it, to hold onto it and preserve it.


We may draw a number of practical conclusions from the above.


1.        Our connection with Eretz Yisrael must be based on historical consciousness. We must regard ourselves as part of a long chain, connecting the past and the future – not just the present. This is in contrast to the view of secular Israelis, who desperately seek an answer to the question of why we are connected to the land, and ultimately base their connection on various periods in Jewish history (hence the drive to delve ever more deeply into archaeology).

2.        A perennial subject of hot debate in Israel is the weight that should be awarded to the views of Diaspora Jews in existential questions of the State of Israel. Secular Israelis generally regard the matter from a political perspective. We must view it differently. We view ourselves as representatives of the entire Jewish nation, holding onto Eretz Yisrael for the sake of the nation and aspiring to bequeath it to the next generations.

3.        The discussion concerning territorial concessions likewise arises on a frequent basis. The secular position views the question in terms of profit or loss to the citizens of the State: is the territory of Judea and Samaria just one big problem, or does it add to the security of Israel’s citizenry? Will our lives improve if we give up Judea and Samaria, or will they become more difficult and dangerous? It is forbidden for us to address the question from this point of view. In dwelling in the land, we represent also those who do not live here, as well as the generations that have passed on and the generations yet to come. The moment that we, as a link in the chain of generations, are entrusted with guarding Eretz Yisrael, we can no longer consider only our own profit or loss when debating the transfer of parts of its territory.


The term “heritage” contains a certain paradox. In contrast to an acquisition or a gift, where a person is required to perform some act of acquisition (and sometimes to exert some effort in order to obtain them), a heritage passes to a person naturally. We may say that the object remains where it is; only its owners are replaced. On the one hand, the object comes to me naturally; on the other hand, I must guard and protect it and cherish it far more than I would any ordinary object. We are obligated to exert effort to “acquire” Eretz Yisrael, insofar as it is given to us as a gift and not only as a heritage.


Am Yisrael also has another “heritage”: “Moshe commanded us the Torah as a heritage for the congregation of Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4). Here, too, “heritage” expresses both our connection and our responsibility. On the one hand, we must feel that the Torah is not “given” to us, but rather that we are a link in a chain, and we must connect ourselves to it. We must regard the Torah as a precious asset that has belonged to our people for all generations, and we must guard it well in order to pass it on to the generations to come. On the other hand, we must also view ourselves as representatives of all of Am Yisrael, and to guard the Torah specifically for the sake of those who do not grasp it themselves. The Yerushalmi cited above goes on to say, “Wherever the text says ‘morasha,’ it is alluding to the future.” The Yerushalmi then asks, “What of, ‘a heritage for the house of Yaakov?’” In other words, does the same rule apply? And it answers: “There is nothing that is more strongly connected to the future than this (the Torah).”



(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vaera 5753 [1993].)

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