A Promise Is a Promise

For the week of November 17, 2018 / 9 Kislev 5779

Sunset over Jezreel, Israel with Bible verse: The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring." (Bereshit/Genesis 28:13)

Va-Yeze
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 28:10 – 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 – 14:10 (English 12:12 – 14:9)

And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” (Bereshit/Genesis 28:13)

I prepared this message on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired riot that occurred on November 9 and 10, 1938, which has come to mark the beginning of the Holocaust. During these two days, hundreds of Jewish people were killed, synagogues and Jewish businesses destroyed, and 30,000 Jewish men sent to concentration camps.

The Holocaust was the climax of almost two thousand years of anti-Jewish sentiment. While the European Jewish experience did have some bright spots, they were overshadowed by oppressive church laws, discriminatory social structures, forced conversions, suspicion, bizarre superstitious tales, expulsion, and death. Nazi policy towards the Jewish people, though bereft of any semblance of authentic Christianity, implemented the vile anti-Semitism that permeated Christendom for almost two thousand years.

While the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Holocaust had precedence in prior centuries, its violent expression via the systematic killing of millions of men, women, and children had never been seen before. It’s no coincidence that it occurred on the precipice of one of history’s greatest wonders, the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. The Jewish people struggled for survival ever since being exiled following the Temple’s destruction by the Romans in the year 70. For almost twenty centuries the prospect of a grand scale return to the Land of Israel was nothing more than a dream and a prayer. By the nineteenth century the dream was just about forgotten, and few believed the prayer would be answered, if they were praying it all. Then unexpected changes in the world and people’s hearts (Jewish and non-Jewish) made the possibility of the prayer being answered to be more than a dream.

But then as if awakened in the middle of the night, the reality of Hitler’s “Final Solution” threatened to destroy the dream once and for all. Not only would Zionist hopes be dashed, the end of the Jewish people themselves was at hand. But thankfully, it was not to be. In fact, it is reasonable to think that what was meant for evil was used by God for good in the establishment of the State of Israel in less than three years after the war’s end.

In spite of such great devastation, from the onset the Nazis were doomed to fail. Without in any way diminishing the pain of this tragedy that continues to linger in the hearts and minds of so many, it was only a matter of time before these latest of Israel’s enemies would suffer defeat. While honoring all those who gave themselves in the fight against this evil, many paying with their very lives, the Nazis and their allies were doomed to fail. They would fail because of the word of God.

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading) is one of several places where God declared to the Jewish people through their earliest ancestors his intention to give them what would eventually become known as “Eretz Yisrael,” the Land of Israel. Prior to 1948 many thought, as many still do today, that the Jews are unworthy of the Promised Land. Readers of the Bible should know better than to even entertain such a notion. When Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, received this promise, he hadn’t yet committed himself to the God of his father Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham. He was running for his life after stealing his father’s blessing away from his now vengeful twin brother. Where Jacob was at spiritually did not nullify God’s promise, however. This is what God had determined, and that was that.

Some Bible readers point to the conditional aspects of the Sinai covenant as given through Moses as the basis of Israel’s loss of their land claim. But you need to read the whole book before making conclusions. For example, Paul in the New Covenant Writings states:

The law (i.e. “Torah”), which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Galatians 3:17-18).

The conditions of Sinai do not nullify the earlier promise to Abraham, which were reiterated to Isaac and Jacob. And a promise is a promise, especially when it is from the mouth of God.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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