By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
The Hebrew word “Huqqat [חקת], after which our Parasha is named, means “decree.” Indeed, the Parasha opens with, “And HaShem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying, “This is the decree of the Torah [חקת התורה] which HaShem has commanded. . . .” Bamidbar 19:1-2.
The Torah is not here speaking about just any decree, but rather, is speaking about a “decree of the Torah” [חקת התורה]. The quintessential example of a “decree of the Torah [חקת התורה] is the Red Cow [פרה אדמה], which the Torah discusses immediately after introducing the concept of a “decree from the Torah” [חקת התורה].
The nature of the Red Cow [פרה אדמה] is puzzling, because it purifies those who, through contact with a corpse, became impure, while simultaneously rendering impure those who prepared its ashes. From this, the Sages derive that the meaning of a “decree from the Torah” [חקת התורה] is a decree that is beyond the ability of humans to logically understand.
We often believe that we logically understand certain decrees from the Torah, because some decrees seem logical to us. However, an extremely important point to remember is that, as religious Jews, we do not do as the Torah commands, or refrain from doing that which the Torah forbids, because the Torah make logical sense to us. Rather, we obey Torah commands, first and foremost, simply because that is what HaShem has commanded us to do.
Recall that when the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, we responded, “We will do and then we will hear (understand) [נעשה ונשמע],” Shemot 24:7, meaning that we will first obey the commandments of the Torah and then we will study the Torah to gain an understanding of those commandments.
Do the decrees [חוקים] of the Torah regarding Eretz Yisra’el have anything in common with the decree [חוק] concerning the Red Cow? If so, what can we learn from Parashat Huqqat, about the concept of a “Two-State Solution,” or “Land for Peace”?
First, we need to understand and accept that the Torah is not merely a collection of nice stories. The word “Torah” [תורה], literally translated, means “to instruct.” As we learn from the Midrash, “The deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children.” Tanchuma, Lekh-Lekha 9. What the Midrash is trying to teach is that we should learn from the events that are described in the Tanakh and apply those lessons to our lives.
The term “Two-State Solution,” simply put, means that Medinat Yisra’el (the State of Israel) would allow Arabs who currently reside in Medinat Yisra’el to establish their own sovereign state on Jewish land. Why might Medinat Yisra’el agree to such a proposal? In a word, “peace,” or in a phrase, “Land for Peace.”
As a brief aside, if Israeli-Arabs were to say that they will stop physically attacking Jews if Medinat Yisra’el were to give them a portion of Eretz Yisra’el, that proposal would be nothing short of extortion. Israeli-Arabs, however, have never made such a promise.
Nevertheless, some Jews, especially some who hold political office in Medinat Yisra’el (as well as many Jews and non-Jews in the rest of the world) are of the opinion that Israeli-Arabs, some of whom have openly and unabashedly said that they would like to push the Jewish people into the Mediterranean Sea, will somehow stop attacking the Jewish people with their quasi-military forces and individual terrorists, if Medinat Yisra’el would simply allow them to form a sovereign state on Israeli land.
Since “[t]he deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children,” and because we are supposed to learn from Jewish history as recorded in Tanakh, it would be appropriate for us to see if there is any precedent in Tanakh where a nation that was defeated by Yisra’el sought to reacquire land through a “Two-State Solution.”
After receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, the Jewish People, who had become the Nation of Israel – the Biblical form of Medinat Yisra’el – set off on their journey to the land that the HaShem had promised them, the Eretz Yisra’el. In order to arrive at their destination, Biblical Medinat Yisra’el needed to pass through several kingdoms (countries). The most direct route was through the Kingdom of Edom.
Toward the end of Parasha Huqqat, we learn that the King of Edom denied a request by Biblical Medinat Yisra’el to peaceably pass through his country. Although disappointed, Biblical Medinat Yisra’el accepted Edom’s refusal to grant their request for passage and looked for an alternative route.
An alternative route was found through the Kingdoms of Ammon and Bashan. Biblical Medinat Yisra’el asked the King of Ammon for permission to peaceably pass through his country. The King of Ammon, like the King of Edom, denied Biblical Medinat Yisra’el’s request for passage. But unlike the King of Edom, the King of Ammon used his military forces to attack Biblical Medinat Yisra’el. Biblical Medinat Yisra’el defended by going on the offensive and, in so doing, conquered the territory, including the cities and towns, which then constituted the Kingdom of Ammon.
The King of Bashan also attacked Biblical Medinat Yisra’el and was likewise defeated.
After the war, the former lands of Ammon and Bashan became part of Biblical Medinat Eretz Yisra’el. There was no immediate request that, in exchange for “peace,” Biblical Medinat Yisra’el would return to Ammon and Bashan the land which Biblical Medinat Yisra’el had captured during the war.
However, some 300 years later, Ammon proposed “Land for Peace,” stating that it would once again wage war against Biblical Medinat Yisra’el if Biblical Medinat Yisra’el did not “return” to Ammon the land which Biblical Medinat Yisra’el had captured in battle. Shoftim 11:13, 23-24. Biblical Medinat Yisra’el refused; Ammon attacked Biblical Medinat Yisra’el and was once again defeated in battle.
Thus, we see that Tanakh rejects the idea of “Land for Peace.” Exercising full and complete sovereignty over the entirety of Eretz Yisra’el, including over lands which Medinat Yisra’el has captured in wars which were waged to secure Eretz Yisra’el, is nothing more than the logical extension of a full and complete rejection of the idea of “Land for Peace.”
It is no coincidence that the decree [חקת] of the Red Cow [פרה אדמה] is discussed at the beginning of Parasha Huqqat and that the foundation is laid toward the end of Parasha Huqqat for Yisra’el’s rejection of the Two-State Solution and the concept of “Land for Peace.”
Although some may contend that there is no obvious, logical reason or purpose for rejecting offers of “Land for Peace,” Tanakh clearly teaches otherwise.
May all of Yisra’el, and especially the political leaders of Medinat Yisra’el, have the strength, wisdom, and good judgment to truly trust HaShem and His Torah, and to apply Jewish sovereignty to the entirety of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and any other lands with which HaShem may bless the Jewish people.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.