It's the Real Thing
Volume 5 Issue 37
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
In this week's portion, there is a brief conversation that may get lost in
the myriad activity of some of its more fascinating stories and commands.
Moshe beseeches his father-in-law, Yisro, to continue travelling with the
Jewish nation. "We are travelling to the place of which Hashem has said,
'I shall give to you.' Go with us, and we shall treat you well" (Numbers
Yisro replies by saying that he would like to return to his land and
family. Moshe implores Yisro by telling him that he must accompany the
Jews. After all, he knows the encampments and would be eyes for the Jewish
Whether Yisro was influenced by his son-in-law's arguments is debated by
the commentaries. The Torah does not refer to the outcome. What interests
me, however, is that Moshe never tells Yisro where the Jews are going. He
just tells him that "we are travelling to the place of which Hashem has
said, 'I shall give to you.'"
It is reminiscent of Hashem commanding Avraham to travel to Canaan with the
petition "go from your land and your birthplace to the land that I will
show you" (Genesis 12:1). But Moshe is not the Almighty, and the entire
nation knew of the land where they would be going. After all, the land of
Canaan was the focal point of the Exodus.
Why, then, does Moshe describe it to Yisro in a mysterious manner, not by
defining its location, longitude or latitude, but rather identifying it as
"the land that Hashem has promised to give us"? Would it not have been
easier for Moshe to tell Yisro, "We are travelling to the Land of Canaan
and we want you to accompany us"?
New York Times columnist Ralph de Toledano had a different view of the
world than that of his editors. Despite protestations of the editorial
board of the Times would always capitalize the words Heaven and Hell in any
His editors called him to task citing that heaven is only capitalized when
it is a alternative for the Deity as in "Heaven help us." Moreover they
insisted hell never got a capital H. De Toledano, however, insisted that
any reference of those two places be spelled with a capital first letter.
"You see," the conservative columnist explained, "Heaven and Hell must
always be capitalized. I want my readers to understand that Heaven and
Hell are real places just like Scarsdale!"
When describing the Land of Israel, Moshe does not take a topographical
approach. He delves deeper. Moshe Rabbeinu does not refer to the land of
Israel merely as the land of Canaan. In telling his father-in-law where the
Jews would be going, he does not offer the longitude and latitude. He does
not even describe Eretz Yisrael as the land flowing with milk and honey.
Moshe's only descriptive was, "the land that "Hashem told us, this I shall
give to you.'"
That statement describes Eretz Yisrael in stronger terms than agricultural
potential, natural beauty, or strategic location.
It tells us that Eretz Israel is the place that Hashem promised. Any other
quality is temporal. Bounty withers, beauty erodes, and natural resources
dry-up. But the promise of Hashem remains eternal. It makes us understand
that like both extremes of the world-to come, the Land of Israel is real.
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation