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Commemorating the Balfour Declaration and November 29, 1947

2017-11-28 12:44:30 PM


Parshas Vayetzei 5778 – Permission to Return

  1. When Rachel finally gives birth to Yoseph, Yaakov realizes that he’s now equipped to face Esav and return to Eretz Israel (see Rashi to 30:25). He comes to his father-in-law, Lavan, and asks him for permission to leave and return to his homeland (30:25-26):

(כה) וַיְהִ֕י כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יָלְדָ֥ה רָחֵ֖ל אֶת־יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יַעֲקֹב֙ אֶל־לָבָ֔ן שַׁלְּחֵ֙נִי֙ וְאֵ֣לְכָ֔ה אֶל־מְקוֹמִ֖י וּלְאַרְצִֽי: (כו) תְּנָ֞ה אֶת־נָשַׁ֣י וְאֶת־יְלָדַ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָבַ֧דְתִּי אֹֽתְךָ֛ בָּהֵ֖ן וְאֵלֵ֑כָה כִּ֚י אַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ אֶת־עֲבֹדָתִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר עֲבַדְתִּֽיךָ:

  1. We all know that all of the Torah’s narrative is relevant to us in some way. Rashi on this pasuk also states something cryptic:

(כו) תנה את נשי וגו' - איני רוצה לצאת כי אם ברשות:

What is Rashi coming to teach that isn’t in the pasuk already? Obviously, Yaakov wanted to show derekh eretz to his father in law, but would have left anyway had Lavan refused. So what’s Rashi adding? We’ll come back to this in a moment but let’s discuss some more recent history first.

  1. Earlier this month, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, where Lord Arthur Balfour, in a terse 67-word document, proclaimed on Nov. 2, 1917, that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”


  1. This coming week, we will be celebrating another November milestone, this one occurring 70 years ago to the day. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution, which adopted the plan for the partition of Palestine, recommended by the majority of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). 33 states voted in favor of the resolution and 13 against. 10 states abstained. This became known as UN General Assembly Resolution 181. It was a time of great joy in every Jewish community throughout the world, where people were literally dancing in the streets.[1]


  1. The reason why we need to reflect on these events is because many rabbis who lived during the time of the Balfour Declaration saw within this declaration the beginning of the ingathering of the Exiles and of our redemption. The Chafetz Chaim, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, and many others noted that when it was time to build the Second Temple, Hashem instilled with the Persian ruler, Cyrus, the desire to invite the Jews back to Eretz Israel and help in the rebuilding of the Temple, as recorded at the very beginning of Ezra (1:1-3):

וּבִשְׁנַ֣ת אַחַ֗ת לְכ֙וֹרֶשׁ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ פָּרַ֔ס לִכְל֥וֹת דְּבַר־יְקֹוָ֖ק מִפִּ֣י יִרְמְיָ֑ה הֵעִ֣יר יְקֹוָ֗ק אֶת־ר֙וּחַ֙ כֹּ֣רֶשׁ מֶֽלֶךְ־ פָּרַ֔ס וַיַּֽעֲבֶר־קוֹל֙ בְּכָל־מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְגַם־בְּמִכְתָּ֖ב לֵאמֹֽר: (ב) כֹּ֣ה אָמַ֗ר כֹּ֚רֶשׁ מֶ֣לֶךְ פָּרַ֔ס כֹּ֚ל מַמְלְכ֣וֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ נָ֣תַן לִ֔י יְקֹוָ֖ק אֱלֹהֵ֣י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְהֽוּא־פָקַ֤ד עָלַי֙ לִבְנֽוֹת־ל֣וֹ בַ֔יִת בִּירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּֽיהוּדָֽה: (ג) מִֽי־בָכֶ֣ם מִכָּל־עַמּ֗וֹ יְהִ֤י אֱלֹהָיו֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וְיַ֕עַל לִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּיהוּדָ֑ה וְיִ֗בֶן אֶת־בֵּ֤ית יְקֹוָק֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל ה֥וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם:

  1. These rabbis felt that just as HKB”H had begun the redemption in the times of Ezra with permission being granted by the leader of the free world, who also controlled the Middle East, so, too, in modern times, Lord Balfour was representing the British Empire that controlled the Middle East, and he had invited the Jews to return to their land.


  1. More than that, the Avnei Nezer, Rav Avraham Bornstein of Sochatzov, saw in the Balfour Declaration an alleviation of a prohibition that had been placed on Bnei Israel from leaving the Diaspora en masse to come back to Eretz Israel. The Gemara (TB Kesubos 111a) states that one of the three oaths that HKB”H placed on the world was that the Jews may not force their way en masse, “ba-chaomah,” back to Eretz Israel:

אחת, שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

  1. The Avnei Nezer (Shu”t YD 456:1) argued that because the nations granted us permission to return to Eretz Israel, we were no longer in violation of that pledge placed upon us to not ascend “as a wall”:

דבר מה שכתבתי באות נ"ו שאם יותן רשות לכולם לעלות לא יהי' שבועה דרש"י פירש בחומה יחד ביד חזקה ואם ברשות אין זה ביד חזקה

  1. I believe that in keeping with Ma’asei Avos Siman L’Banim (the actions of the forefathers are a portent for their descendants), Yaakov Avinu actualized this idea that it was first necessary to receive permission and blessing from our captor in Exile before returning to Eretz Israel. This is why the Balfour Declaration was such a big deal, and why UN Resolution 181 was such a big deal.


  1. What’s also fascinating is that Chazal observe that Yaakov actually waited for two parties to give him permission to leave. The first was Lavan, and the second was HKB”H, as it says later on that Hashem told Yaakov to return to the Land (31:3):

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְקֹוָק֙ אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֔ב שׁ֛וּב אֶל־אֶ֥רֶץ אֲבוֹתֶ֖יךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאֶֽהְיֶ֖ה עִמָּֽךְ:

Here, too, Chazal say (Tanchuma (Buber) Vayetzei 23) that Yaakov was waiting for Hashem to grant him permission to return:

אמר יעקב ברשות יצאתי, אם איני נוטל רשות איני חוזר, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא רשות אתה מבקש, הרשות בידך, שוב אל ארץ אבותיך

  1. So yes, we can certainly understand that if someone has been sent to Galus by HKB”H, he should request permission to return. But why is it necessary to get our captors’ permission? Furthermore, why did Yakaov seek out Lavan’s permission BEFORE getting Hashem’s permission to leave?


  1. I think the answer is simple. We are not all privy to prophecy, but what we are all privy to is the ability to see Hashem’s hand in the natural world in which we live. By recognizing that our captors in our Diaspora need to acknowledge that it’s time for us to return, we are also de facto affirming that our entire Galus experience was orchestrated by Hashem with “Hester Panim.” That is, even though we didn’t see Him on a daily basis, He was there with us all the time, using the gentiles of our Exile as his proxies to hold us until it was time to return.


  1. By getting permission from Lord Balfour and the UN to return to E”Y, we are acknowledging that Hashem has been with us this entire time, even in the darkest of times, and that every single Diaspora character who has interacted with the Jewish people has done so with the direction of HKB”H. When it came time for us to return, Hashem spoke through the mouth of Lavan and through the mouth of Lord Balfour, beckoning us to return. Yaakov recognized that, and that’s why he wanted to hear from Lavan’s mouth that he blessed him to return to E”Y.


  1. I believe there’s one more lesson we can take from our story today with Yaakov and Lavan. Yaakov first asked permission to leave. Lavan freely granted his blessing… at least temporarily. Lavan said, you’ve been working here for so many years without compensation; tell me what you’d like to leave with. Yaakov told him what he wanted, some speckled sheep, and Lavan said, “Deal!” But then, when it was time to leave, Lavan changed his mind. Maybe, he thought, I’ve made a mistake. Maybe I’ve given away to Yaakov too much, maybe all his family that he’s raised here in my home are too vital to my home interests to allow them to leave.


  1. The same has happened to the Jews in modern times. The Balfour Declaration was issued, but then there was the Palin Commission of 1920 and Churchill’s White Paper of 1922, both attempting to nullify or severely diminish the Balfour Declaration.[2] There was UN Resolution 181, but then the reaction against Zionism was even harsher emanating from the UN for decades, culminating in UN Resolution 3379 in 1975, declaring that “Zionism equals Racism.”[3]


  1. And so it seems that world leadership is both a tool of good and of bad for the Jewish people. Just as Lavan was an instrument for keeping Yaakov in Galus, he was also a tool of trial and tribulation for Yaakov, pursuing him as he left and seeking his injury. It’s as if Hashem is using these nations to remind us how precious Eretz Israel is. It’s not going to come to you easy; you’re going to have to struggle to get it, so that when it is in your hands you’ll truly appreciate it for the great gift that it is.


  1. If there’s a message from our story of Yaakov, it’s this: We need to be aware that all that happens to the Jewish people in our Galus is at the hands of Hashem. We need to open our eyes and see the blessings of redemption that are occurring during our lifetimes, of the resurrection of Eretz Israel that we see 100 years after the Balfour Declaration and 70 years after UN 181. But we must also see the efforts to injure us as also a message from Hashem. You want Eretz Yisrael? You want your own State? You’ll need to fight for it, fight for it passionately and with mesirus nefesh, sometimes and tragically literally, sometimes figuratively.


  1. May we all merit to continue witnessing the blessings of Hashem’s tools in the Diaspora. It doesn’t really matter which political leader occupies government. Let us appreciate that it is Hashem who is really running the destiny of Bnei Israel. May we be witness to the ultimate redemption, speedily in our days, bb”a.

Sun, July 5 2020 13 Tammuz 5780