Dividing Eretz Yisrael by Lottery
Rav Mordechai Gershon
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Dividing Eretz Yisrael by Lottery
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The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: “The Land is to be divided among these as an inheritance, based on the number of names. To the large (tribe) you shall give a larger inheritance and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance, each person shall be given an inheritance according to his number. Only through lot shall the Land be divided; they shall inherit it according to the names of their fathers' tribes. The inheritance shall be divided between the numerous and the few, according to lot.” [Bemidbar 26:52-56]
Land to be Divided Among the Tribes by Lot
In these pesukim (verses), the Torah teaches that the division of Eretz Yisrael among the tribes and the determination of each tribal portion must be done by lot.
Our question is: why did the Torah require the division of the Land to be done specifically by lot?
Concept of Lottery
Answering our question requires clarifying the meaning of the concept of “lottery.”
The daily blessings recited before the morning prayers, include the words: "אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו ומה נעים גורלנו" (“Happy are we, how good is our portion and how lovely our lot”). Rabbi Kook zt”l elucidates the phrase “how lovely our lot” by noting that there are two ways in which a person can acquire something: by right or by lottery. Acquiring something by right is based upon a clear connection between the object and the one who acquires it, the reason for the acquisition is known. On the other hand, with an acquisition through lottery “the true moral reason” for the acquisition remains unknown; the acquisition results from a hidden factor, which is beyond our comprehension. Based upon this approach, Rabbi Kook explains that God’s choice of Am Yisrael as His nation is based upon a reason which is beyond human comprehension.
We may infer from Rabbi Kook’s comment that acquiring something through lottery indicates a substantive attachment between the acquirer and the acquired object, an attachment which stands above any human – rational explanation.
An example of such a connection is that between a person and his hand. If one were asked “Why is this hand yours?” there would be no logical rational answer, rather surprise at such a question; the answer would simply be “This hand is part of me.” The analogy is that there are things which are inherently connected to one’s very existence, and logical explanations cannot explain the connection, nor are they necessary. So, it is with the connection between Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) and Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael is part of the essence of the life of Am Yisrael; this connection stands above human comprehension.
An additional example of such a connection is that between husband and wife, who apparently are two completely separate human beings, yet they constitute a single entity. In their heavenly origins, spouses are a single soul, though in their earthly manifestation they appear as two individuals, who have to unite and thereby return to their original existence as a united reality. The connection between spouses is not based upon any obvious moral reason, but upon the fact that it is revealed before the Creator that they are actually a single entity. The prophet Isaiah [62:5] compares the connection between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael to the connection between husband and wife, indicating that Eretz Yisrael is an inherent aspect of the existence of the nation. This connection is beyond human comprehension.
An example of the essential connection between the Land and the nation is the dedication to declaring the establishment of the state in 1948, an act which was fraught with danger. The establishment of the state was declared at a time we were vastly outnumbered by our enemies who threatened to destroy us. The source of the strength to declare the establishment of Israel under such difficult conditions was our connection to Eretz Yisrael, a connection which impacts our very existence, and which is beyond rational explanation.
An additional example of the essential connection between Am Yisrael and the Land is the Zionist Congress decision on the Uganda proposal. Forty-five years before the State of Israel was established, the sixth Zionist Congress discussed the proposal to set up a Jewish homeland in Uganda. At the time, this proposal seemed more realistic than establishing a Jewish state in Israel. Nonetheless, dozens of delegates to the Congress were unable to accept the plan and sat on the floor as a sign of mourning, crying out 'אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני' (“If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right arm forget its skill”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 137:5]. This behavior resulted from the substantive connection between the nation and the Land, which, as noted impacts our very existence and is beyond rational explanation.
The Essential Connection Between Each Individual Israelite and His Portion
The connection between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael is clarified by Rabbi Kook’s comment on the words "לאמר לך אתן ארץ כנען חבל נחלתכם" (“I will give the land of Canaan to you (singular), the portion of your (plural) heritage”) [Tehillim 105:11]. It should be noted that the verse begins with the singular and ends with the plural. Rabbi Kook explains that Eretz Yisrael is suited to Am Yisrael throughout its generations; not only to the nation as a whole, but “She is suited as well to the lives … of every individual within the Nation of Israel.” Each individual Israelite receives his portion, which is suited to “his nature and his essence” from God, Who knows which portion is appropriate for each individual. Based on Rabbi Kook’s comment, we understand that the verse switched from singular to plural to teach that Eretz Yisrael is suited to the Nation of Israel as a whole as well as to each individual Israelite.
Based upon our comments above, we can understand that the tribal division of the Land by lottery indicates the connection between each tribe and its portion, which is an essential connection and stands above any logical human explanation. The Master of the Universe, Who created the earth and man created, recognized that the soul of a given tribe is a match for the “soul” of a given portion of the Land.
Similarly, Sefat Emet comments “This is the point of the lottery, that each person will know his particular place; for the division of the Land was for the community and for the individual … each was given his appropriate portion.” That is, dividing the Land by lottery indicates the essential connection of each of the tribes of Israel to the portion of the Land it received. The lottery revealed that each portion indeed has a substantive connection to the tribe which received it.
An example of the suitability of a tribal portion to the tribe which received it can be seen in the Torah’s words “Zevulun will dwell on the coast of the seas, he (will be) at the harbor of ships, and his boundary will be at Zidon.” [Breishit 49:13] Rashi explains: “His land will be on the seacoast. חוֹף is as the Targum renders: סְפַר, marche in Old French, borderland. He will constantly frequent the harbor of the ships, in the place of the port, where the ships bring merchandise, for Zebulun would engage in commerce and provide food for the tribe of Issachar, and they (the tribe of Issachar) would engage in [the study of] Torah.His land will be on the seacoast … he will constantly frequent the harbor where ships bring merchandise, for Zevulun will engage in commerce and provide food for the tribe of Yissachar, who will engage in the study of Torah.” That is, the tribe of Zevulun received his portion of the Land on the seacoast in accordance with its responsibility to support the tribe of Yissachar in Torah study.
We have seen that the connection between Eretz Yisrael and the Nation of Israel is an essential connection which stands above human comprehension. Also, the connection between the portion allotted to a given tribe and that tribe is substantive and above human comprehension. We explained that this is the reason the Land was divided by lottery, since lottery expresses the essential connection between a tribe and its portion. We noted the essential connection between the collective Israel and all of Eretz Yisrael and the special connection between each individual Israelite and his own portion of the Land.
May each of us contribute his part to the spiritual and physical building of our Land in its entirety, and especially to the portion of the Land in which he lives, which is his own special portion. In so doing, may we be privileged to see the complete rebuilding of our Land.