“To Your descendants I have given this land!”
HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Machon Meir
As of Now
The covenant G-d forged with Abraham was expressed in the past tense: “On that day, the L-rd made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the Egyptian River as far as the great river, the Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:18).
Regarding the use of the past tense when we might have expected, “To your descendants I WILL GIVE this land,” Rashi explains: “G-d’s word is as good as done.” In other words, the time factor is nullified before a divine promise, and future is transformed to past by the promise’s great certainty. All this is in contrast to covenants, agreements and promises between human beings, which do not stand the test of time, and which have failed, as is known, throughout history.
Right now, our generation is privileged to see with its own eyes the start of the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Abraham. The State of Israel and the millions of Jews gathering together in our land are living testimony to the fulfillment of the promise to give us Eretz Yisrael. We have not yet attained the covenant’s complete fulfillment, however. After all, the covenant also enumerates the promised borders, “from the Egyptian River as far as the great river, the Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:18). We are still living in a generation in which the borders of the State of Israel change in accordance with Israel’s wars and in accordance with the political and diplomatic power struggles between us and the Arabs and their supporters among the nations, who put obstacles in our path, intending and preparing for our downfall. Yet King David, the sweet singer of Israel, long ago declared, in relating to the enemies of Israel:
“Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do they mutter vainly? The kings of the earth join ranks and the rulers take counsel together, against the L-rd and against His anointed…. He who sits in the heavens laughs. The L-rd has them in derision…. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalms 2:1,4,9).
Ultimately days will come when the nations of the earth will recognize their wickedness and folly: “Be wise now therefore, O kings; be warned, O judges of the earth” (Ibid., v. 10; see Rashi there).
From within, as well, there is still great weakness. The question that Abraham asked about Eretz Yisrael — “How can I really know that it is mine?” (Genesis 15:8) — is a question expressing weak faith and doubts regarding the future of the Land. Not by virtue of this question was it said, “Abraham believed in the L-rd, and the L-rd counted it as righteousness” (v. 6). Quite the contrary, such a question is unfortunately asked by that part of the nation sunken in a trance, stricken with worry and dread regarding the future of the State of Israel, and indeed, the Torah says, “Abraham fell into a trance and was stricken by a deep dark dread” (v. 12).
Yet this weakness too will pass. The day is not far off when an enormous change will occur in the State of Israel and in the Land of Israel. More and more, we will return to ourselves. We will recognize our identity, our uniqueness and our destiny, as a great and holy nation “chosen by G-d from among all peoples” (Festival prayers) to act benevolently and bring light to all mankind from Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. That vision accords with Isaiah 2:3, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3), as well as with G-d’s promise to the father of our nation, “Go away from your land… to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation…. You shall become a blessing…. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Such a situation already existed at the dawn of our history, following Abraham’s victory over the four kings, when all the nations crowned Abraham as a “prince of G-d” and an officer over them (Rashi on Genesis 14:17). Moreover, the Rabbis have said, “The deeds of the fathers presage those of the sons.”
Message for Today
“All the land that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”
The Torah says: “Abram traveled through the Land as far as the area of Shechem (Nablus), coming to the Plain of Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the Land” (Genesis 12:6).
Abraham came into the Land up to Shechem, Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval, in order to pray for Jacob’s sons when later came to fight for Shechem. His prayer protected them and is protecting us in our own times, as we fight over our control of those very same places. The day is not far off when the divine promise will be fulfilled: “All the land that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (13:15).
The Rabbis expound regarding the words, “The Canaanites were then in the Land,” that the Canaanites would see Abraham walking from place to place and they would throw stones at him and say, “If this man falls into our hands, we will kill him.” They understood that Abraham’s walking through the Land was an expression of ownership over it, hence they wanted to kill him. Indeed, Abraham was commanded, “Rise, walk the Land, through its length and breadth, for I will give it all to you” (13:17).
It was not enough to receive a promise. Abraham also had to bring it to fruition by fulfilling the divine command to “walk through the Land, to conquer it and to settle it, and not to leave it in the hands of foreigners,” as in the ruling of Ramban and all the other medieval and later sages (see Even HaEzer 70). Moreover, “the deeds of the fathers presage those of the sons.”
Today, we are in the heat of a battle against those continuing the path of those Canaanites. Their goal is to drive us out of the land that is our life’s blood. We face enemies who do not wish to resign themselves to the rebirth of the Jewish People in their Land. Yet the merit from the fathers and the covenant of the sons are protecting us, as it says, “On that day, the L-rd made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land’” (Genesis 15:18). Rashi comments that the verse uses past tense “I have given,” because once G-d declares something, it is as good as done.
Indeed, we are meriting after 2,000 years to see clearly the start of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. May its fulfillment be speedily completed!