Sedra Ha’azinu, in the main Moshe Rabbenu’s parting song to the people of Israel, and suffused with advice, admonition, prophecy, and blessing, concludes with an enigmatic phrase,
“וְכִפֶּ֥ר אַדְמָת֖וֹ עַמּֽוֹ” (Devarim, 32:43).
These three words are difficult to translate, difficult to understand. Here are a few translations. 1. and makes expiation for the land of His people. 2. and He will atone for His land and His people. 3. and reconcile His land, His people. 4. the Land will atone for His people. 5. and reconcile His people [to] His land. 6. and He will appease His land and His people. 7. …He will purify His people’s land. 8. …His people will atone for all His world.
The complexity of translation is reflected in the multitude of commentaries on these words. As if eight translations are not enough, allow me to propose another possibility.
Much of the tragedies that have befallen us over the centuries trace back to the ugly doctrine of rejection, that God rejected Israel, that Israel stands condemned, and therefore unwelcome in the community of nations. Instead of Israel being God’s chosen people, we were, and in the eyes of many, remain as God’s rejected people.
However one chooses to understand chosen-ness, we understand chosen-ness as God’s reaction to our choosingness. As the short poem goes – How odd of God to choose the Jews. It is not so odd, the Jews chose God! We are special in the sense of having a special sense of responsibility, a higher calling, individually and collectively.
Once we were thrust into exile, it became open season on the Jews. Religious license was given to the masses to finish God’s work and eliminate the Jews. Crusades, pogroms, unspeakable cruelty, culminating in the sho’ah, all derived from this hate-infused theology.
Prior to the concluding words – v’kheeper admato amo, Moshe Rabbenu warns of dire consequences that await those who attack Israel. Exile is an act of God, but it by no means is to be understood as God’s rejection of Israel. That heinous theology is despicable at its very core, and has no place in human discourse.
Additionally, whatever exile we endure will only be temporary. In the end, we will return to our roots, to our homeland. That return will prove, if proof is necessary, that there was never an utter rejection by God. Instead, the land will testify to the atonement of the people. The land of Israel, Israel’s return to the land, will testify that God’s relationship with Israel is eternal, unbreakable. Exile was long, painful, tragic, but the relationship with God was never severed.
This is Moshe Rabbenu’s climactic thought, a profoundly prophetic thought, as he concludes his song of Israel’s relationship with God, and with its historic responsibility.
Some groups, to their credit, have recognized the error of their ways, and how their distorted theology unleashed an unrelenting torrent of hate.
But there still remains a strong residue of hate, that is expressed in continuing refusal of some to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, in the refusal to allow it, like every other nation, to choose its capital, and to continue spitting out ugly venom against the State of Israel.
On this, the Shabbat of Return, Shabbat Shuva, let us all become even more appreciative of what Israel means to us, to the entire world, and to support, applaud, and encourage its enormous contribution, in all dimensions, to the betterment of the world and its inhabitants.