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Midrash

Parasha

Vayakhel

God Stood and Measured the Earth

Yaakov Karmon

Writer:

רשב"י פתח [חבקוק ג:ו'] עמד וימודד ארץ, מדד הקב"ה כל האומות ולא מצא אומה שהיא ראויה לקבל את התורה אלא ישראל, מדד כל הדורות ולא מצא דור שיהיה ראוי לקבל את התורה אלא דור המדבר, מדד הקב"ה כל ההרים ולא מצא הר שתנתן בו התורה אלא הר סיני, מדד הקב"ה כל העיירות ולא מצא עיר שיבנה בה ביהמ"ק אלא ירושלים, מדד הקב"ה כל הארצות ולא מצא ארץ לינתן לישראל אלא ארץ ישראל. הדא הוא דכתיב "עמד וימודד ארץ וכו'"

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai began (expounding) “He stood and measured the earth” [Chabakuk 3:6] – the Holy One, blessed be He measured all the nations and found no nation worthy of accepting Torah except Israel; He measured all the generations and found none worthy of accepting Torah except for the generation of the wilderness; the Holy One, blessed be He measured all the mountains and found none on which to give Torah except Mount Sinai; the Holy One, blessed be He measured all the cities and found  none in which to build the Temple except Jerusalem; the Holy One, blessed be He measured all the lands and found none suitable to be given to Israel except for the Land of Israel. This is the meaning of what is written “He stood and measured the earth.”

[Midrash vaYikra Rabba, 13]

 

 

Astonishment at the Midrashic Statement

 

The intention of the Midrash seems unclear. What is meant by “The Holy One, blessed be He measured all the lands and found none suitable to be given to Am Yisrael except for Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel)?” Did God actually measure the length and width of the lands to determine that the only land suitable for His nation is Eretz Yisrael? Beyond the Midrash’s seemingly strange description, we must understand why, in fact, God found no land suitable for Am Yisrael other than Eretz Yisrael. The Land which God chose is certainly not the largest land, and if it can accommodate Am Yisrael, it would seem that larger lands, such as France or Italy, would fit God’s measurement as well.

 

 

Measuring Clothes

 

In order to understand the Midrash, we must understand the essence of taking measurements. Measuring is not only in order to know the length and width of what is being measured, it is done in order to determine the suitability of what is being measured to the one on whose behalf it is being measured. To clarify the matter, compare measuring the lands to measuring clothes. When someone measures clothes, he is not interested in knowing the actual dimensions of the clothes, rather, there are three important things which one wants to know:

 

1) Is the garment suitable for him, neither too tight nor too loose;

2) Does the garment look good on him;

3) (Largely influenced by 1 and 2) does he look good in this garment?  If the garment looks good, but does not fit the individual well, he will not be interested in it.

 

The purpose of measuring a garment is not to check the garment itself, but its suitability for the individual.

 

This meaning of measurement is not merely a modern usage. In Parashat Tzav the Torah refers to the garments of the Kohanim as “Middo vad” (“his linen tunic”), which Rashi explains (based on a play on the word “middo” which also means “measurement”) that the priestly garments must be tailored to the measurements of each individual kohen.

 

 

Measuring the Land – Suitability

 

The same can be said of measuring the lands. When God measured the lands and found none suited to His nation other than Eretz Yisrael, the intention is that God sought the land most suited to Am Yisrael, but no land other than Eretz Yisrael was a good fit. True, there was no shortage of lands which could physically hold Am Yisrael, but only Eretz Yisrael is truly suitable for God’s nation.

 

We must understand why this is. What was missing in other lands which made them unsuitable for Israel? As noted above, other lands can accommodate the Israelite population, so what was unsuitable?

In order to understand this point, we must delve more deeply into the essential meaning of measurement.

 

 

A Wedding Suit or Pajamas?

 

To explain the point, we shall return to our metaphor of measuring clothes. As we stated above, the purpose of measuring a garment is determining its suitability for the individual, in terms of comfort and looks. However, there is an additional aspect which must be factored into the measurement – the purpose of the garment. When one measures a garment, he must first determine what type of garment he needs – is he looking for a suit for his daughter’s wedding, for workday clothes, or perhaps for pajamas. Clearly, the purpose of the garment is of equal importance to the criteria mentioned above in choosing a garment. Obviously, no one would arrive at a wedding dressed in pajamas, even if they fit perfectly and are comfortable, since pajamas are not suitable dress for a wedding. Equally, no one sleeps in a suit.  Thus, we must redefine “measurement.” Measurement is not only to determine whether the object being measured is suitable for the one for whom it is being measured, but also to determine if the object serves an appropriate function for the individual.

 

 

The Meaning of Measuring the Land – Serving a Function

 

Returning to the lesson of our metaphor, we must understand the purpose of the measurement. Why, in fact, did God measure the lands?  Initially, we assumed the measurements were taken in order to find the place in which Am Yisrael can best exist. However, reflection of Rabbi Kook’s comment will bring us to the realization that Eretz Yisrael serves another goal, beyond simply being the ideal geographic location for the nation. Rabbi Kook begins his work Orot Eretz Yisrael with the declaration:

 

אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵינֶנָּה... רַק בְּתוֹר אֶמְצָעִי לַמַּטָּרָה שֶׁל הַהִתְאַגְּדוּת הַכְּלָלִית וְהַחְזָקָת קִיוּמָהּ הֶחָמְרִי אוֹ אֲפִלּוּ הָרוּחָנִי . אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל הִיא חֲטִיבָה עַצְמוּתִית קְשׁוּרָה בְּקֶשֶׁר חַיִּים עִם הָאֻמָּה, חֲבוּקָה בִּסְגֻלוֹת פְּנִימִיּוֹת עִם מְצִיאוּתָהּ"

Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual. Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the nation, bound with inner qualities with the nation’s existence.[1]

 

Eretz Yisrael, says Rabbi Kook, is not simply technically the place where Am Yisrael resides, but is something which “lives” together with the nation. Just as a groom does not seek a bride whose sole qualification is being a female, but looks for a woman who is compatible with him, so too the nation does not merely seek a place to live, but one that it is connected to, a place where the nation can truly be itself, a venue which will allow the nation to reveal and actualize the powers within it. When God measured the lands, He was not looking for a land large enough for His nation, rather He was acting as a matchmaker, looking for the land which had the qualities most suited for Am Yisrael. The measurement was not simply technical, but a search for the place with which the nation can truly connect. The Land of Israel is that place. “He stood and measured the earth.”

 

 

The Uganda Proposal

 

This understanding of the Midrash is not merely theoretical, but carries practical implications. More than a century ago, world Jewry experienced a rise in anti-Semitism. Theodore Herzl, known as the “visionary of the State” worked hard to bring the plight of the Jews to the attention of the world and to achieve a practical solution in the form of establishing a Jewish state. Naturally, Herzl’s original program was to establish the Jewish state in Israel. After repeated efforts to convince the nations of the world to support his plan failed, Herzl understood that due to the opposition of the Ottoman Empire which controlled Israel and the opposition of the Muslim world, his plan may not succeed. In 1903, the British Secretary for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlin, suggested to Herzl that a Jewish state be set up in Uganda. Initially, Herzl was opposed to the suggestion, but following pogroms in Kishinev that year, Herzl decided that the Uganda proposal should be considered at the sixth Zionist Congress, as a temporary measure to help eastern European Jews. The proposal generated much controversy, and was ultimately accepted by the Zionist Congress. However, the debate continued, and the Uganda proposal was rejected by the seventh Zionist Congress (1905).

 

Without the understanding that Eretz Yisrael is the only place in the world suitable for the Nation of Israel, it is impossible to perceive the logic of rejecting the Uganda proposal. After all, Jews were being persecuted, and if there was a place where they could be safe, why not establish a Jewish state there? Clearly, the majority of the delegates to the seventh Zionist Congress understood the Midrash we have elucidated – the only place which is suitable for the Nation of Israel is the Land of Israel. No other land can be considered, since no other land fits the nation’s measurements. “The Holy One, blessed be He measured all the lands and found none suitable to be given to Israel except for the Land of Israel.”

 

 

Summary:

 

We presented two explanations for “measuring the lands”:

1) The suitability of the Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel;

2) Functional suitability – the Land of Israel “lives” together with the Nation of Israel and allows us to reveal and actualize the forces which are hidden within the nation.

 

May it be His will that we recognize the correlation between the nation and the Land, that we may realize our national potential.  

 

[1] Translation of Rabbi David Samson “The Teachings of haRav Avraham Yitzhak haKohen Kook – Eretz Yisrael” Torat Eretz Yisrael Publications, 5756

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