Why the land of Israel?
Our tour in The Bible Lands Museum encompassed two main questions.
How did the surrounding nations at the time influence the land of Israel and the events of the Tanach? This question followed us around as we discovered the background of the different nations. In light of the fact that we were surrounded by so many enemies in this region, our second question was why Hashem would choose this of all lands for us? Maybe a quieter land in the corner of the world like Australia or the likes would have sufficed? Couldn’t he have made that a holy land for us? This question may sound a bit strange now, but the more we look into the nations around us and their constant impact and influence throughout the Tanach, it would seem that the question gets stronger and stronger.
Egypt, based around the Nile River and Mesopotamia (including Ancient Assyria and Babylonia) based between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, were uniquely suited as hot beds for the development of civilization. Due to their constant reliable sources of water, these two regions developed large strong empires much more rapidly and easily than the rest of the region. The land of Canaan is the land bridge between theses empires, constantly being intruded as one or the other (or both) vie to dominate greater and greater areas of control.
In addition, in order to enter or exit this land bridge from the North, one must pass the bottleneck oasis civilization of Aram. Aram wasn’t as powerful as the two empires to either extreme of the Fertile Crescent but it was strong enough and close enough to provide a long term struggle for the nation of Israel.
Based on this brief outline we can already begin to understand a great deal of the background surrounding the events of the Tanach. Avraham is sent from “the center of the world” where life is much easier, as the water flows freely, to a land where his decedents will always be dependent on the local rain which scarcely meets their needs. When drought hits most in the land, many naturally turn to their neighboring empire Egypt sitting on its Nile river, seeking assistance. The land of Canaan is a constant throughway, or even battleground as the major empires campaign through her. To this respect the inhabitants must always carefully choose which empire to back or face the consequences of being seen as rebellious to the victor (without going into politics, many of those who see the macro picture of the region would say that this is very much still the case today).
Aram constantly battles Israel to control this important international route. This continues until the two must join forces to fight a bigger threat- the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians end up exiling Aram and shortly after the northern Kingdom of Israel as well. They campaign through Judah, destroying much of the area until sent back home after their troops were miraculously wiped out overnight. Shortly after the Assyrians were conquered by The Babylonians who end up exiling Judah before they very quickly are conquered themselves by the Persians. The Persians have a different policy- allowing nations to return to their lands, rebuild their temples and in essence conquered
a much larger empire than any of those mentioned here with much less actual fighting. Their idea was to hold this huge empire through tolerance. These nations include Judea which was allowed to return to its land and rebuild its temple. This sets the stage for the Purim story which will be addressed in a separate post in a few weeks.
So why this complicated land, reliant on fickle weather patterns and over shadowed by her neighbors? I don’t know that Uganda would be a better choice but maybe some quiet little island somewhere?
The goal set out before us by the Torah, however, is not a quest for quiet. It is a journey for spiritual growth. Our eyes must always be directed heavenwards because our very existence is constantly dependent on miracles. Both economic and security wise. We say this repeatedly in the shema- if we are deserving we will have everything we need and if not…
Many places in the Tanach emphasize this point of security and plenty being dependent on following the way of Hashem. As such, it is true- it’s not the easiest land, but it is the most fitting for our spiritual growth, as a nation, and as individuals. Anything worth living is worth taking on the challenges inherent in acquiring it. As such, Israel is the perfect soil for cultivating faith!