Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Torah Keeps its Promise to Yearning Jews

It wasn't long ago the Land of Israel was nothing more than a wasteland; No thriving cities, no fertile farms, hardly any greenery. The Jews and Arabs were a rather sparse, peasant population in this dry and desolate land with no formal government. Mark Twain ("Innocents Abroad", chpt. 56) described its city dwellers as "swarms of animated rags". Here's part of his description of this "Holy Land" in 1867.
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective - distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists - over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead - about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem ... is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village...

Palestine is desolate and unlovely. ....

Palestine is no more of this work-day world. ....
Most Jews dwelled in other regions of the globe. For two millennia they've been in exile. On the lips of Jews, daily prayers beseeched G-d to return Israel to its former glory and, moreover, to usher in the Era of Ultimate Redemption.

Who would have thought all these years, with the Holy Land scrapped in rubbish, their prayers would bear fruit? Who would have dreamed so seismic an upheaval could happen, to transform this inhospitable panorama into a thriving heartland?

The first verse of today's Torah portion (Tavo) begins to relate what one is expected to bring as first-fruit offering to the Priests up in Jerusalem. But if you read the verse slowly, you also realize the verse constitutes a promise to the Jewish people they will once again be masters of their land. Note the first words, said in future tense, "And it will be when you come to the land that G-d gives you as an inheritance ..." (Dev. 26, 1).

To Jews, this eternal, living Torah spoke to them. And because they believed in Torah's divinity, they took G-d at His word. They prayed day after day, year after year, century after century, for nearly 2,000 years for this promise to materialize.

Miraculously, Jews again have back their land. And it's blooming. But, as they say, "We ain't seen nothing yet", for very soon a new Era of Final Redemption will catapult this world into an as yet unimaginable utopia.

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