Bereishis - Our Kushan
So, folks, we’re here at the beginning again, a beautiful place to start. There’s something wonderful about the cyclical nature of our year and all the opportunities for fresh beginnings.
The Chumash begins here, “In the beginning, Elokim created, the heavens and the earth.” The very first Rashi on Tanach poses the following question:
Why does the Torah begin here? It could have started at the words, החדש הזה לכם, way further in Chumash Shemos, where we receive our first mitzvah. Rashi answers that Chumash Bereishis is here to give G-d’s “credentials” so-to-speak. “So that if the nations of the world will say to Israel, ‘You are bandits, for you conquered the lands of seven nations,” they [Israel] will say to them, “The whole earth belongs to the Holy One, Blessed is He. He created it and He gave it to the one found proper in His eyes. By His wish He gave it to them, and by His wish He took it from them and gave it to us.”
When I used to work at JLI – The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, I often had to listen to various lectures and recordings that were being uploaded to their video library, TorahCafe.com (it’s a great resource, by the way! I highly recommend it) as I designed/illustrated cover images for each talk. One year, soon after their annual Israel trip, I got to listen to a speech by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, to the trip’s participants. I've included the link if anyone wants to check out the whole thing. It’s worth a listen.
He told the participants how many years before, in 1972, he had received a phone call from David Ben Gurion, the former and first Prime Minister of Israel, inviting him to his home. During their hours-long conversation, Ben Gurion confirmed an almost unbelievable story in the history of the modern state of Israel:
In 1937, David Ben Gurion was addressing the Peel Commission who were trying to decide what to do about the Arab-Jewish conflict. The Peel Committee was the only committee to suggest cancelling the British mandate, the same decision that the UN came to in 1947. At the time, Ben Gurion was the head of the Jewish Agency, and was the last witness to appear before the Peel Committee to appeal in favor of a Jewish state. Ben Gurion spent over three hours explaining the linkage between the Jews and the Land of Israel, stating, “This is our home.”
Everybody was impressed by Ben Gurion’s testimony. Everyone, except for Lord Peel.
“Mr. Ben Gurion, may I ask you a personal question?”
“Of course,” replied Ben Gurion.
“Where were you born?”
“Where is Plonsk?”
A large period of silence came after the reply. Finally, Lord Peel whispered, “Very strange. All of the Arab witnesses who have appeared before me were born in Palestine. Most of the Jewish witnesses who have appeared before me were born in Eastern Europe.
“Mr. Ben Gurion, for someone to come to someone else’s home and say ‘this is my home, my father’s home, my grandfather’s home…’ they must have a kushan (Ottoman land deed). Do you have a kushan saying that Palestine belongs to you?”
Spontaneously, Ben Gurion took up the Tanach that he had sworn on when taking the oath to be witness, and held it up exclaiming “Here is your kushan! It is the world’s most respected book, and I believe that you British regard it with much respect too. It says, ‘The Lord Almighty promised the land to Abraham, our forefather, and Isaac, and Jacob. And we are their descendants.’”