In the Bible, God defines the boundaries of the Promised Land. If the Torah came with illustrations, it would include a map of Israel. Some of the boundaries are very familiar. The Mediterranean is on the West. The Eastern Boundary runs from the Sea of Galilee south to the
Dead Sea. Specific place names are mentioned and God defines exactly where the Promised Land will be.
As I reflected on the land of Israel,I wondered: Who draws boundaries in our world? Who makes the decision that one person or one nation may live here and another may not? And who should decide these borders?
This week the fighting in Israel weighs heavily upon my heart. And I say that the whole of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of how to set the boundaries. In 1948 the British offered to split the land in half, one part for the Jews, the other for the Palestinians. We accepted this proposal and the Arabs rejected it. Since then we have fought for almost 60 years, trying to figure out where the boundaries should be. Israelis want a Jewish state with borders that include Jerusalem. Palestinians want a state as well with borders that include the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Hezbollah and Hamas, terrorist organizations, want different boundaries. They want Israel gone all together, wiped off the map.
Picture: The City of Haifa in 1999. Currently, Hezbollah is shooting dozens of missles at Haifa everyday.
Often, attempts by humans to draw boundaries end up turning out badly. Since 1948, no one, British, American, Israeli, Arab or Palestinian has found a way to draw safe borders for all. India and Pakistan continue to fight over a disputed territory, Kashmir. The violence in Ireland raged for decades over the boundaries between Protestants and Catholics.
We may accept the premise that human borders can fail. But what about when God sets the boundaries? In the Bible, God sets the limits of the Promised Land. The borders of Israel include both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Settlers turn to this portion for justification of why Jews must live there and Palestinians must be expelled. They claim that If God said that Jews should live in the West Bank, then we must live there.
In my view, borders are not divine, rather they are a concession to human weakness. I think God put those borders of the promised land in the Torah because for now we need them. We need separate countries and ethnic groups and communities. We search out people who are like us, and that gives us strength. But ultimately, God does not want us to live in separate countries or separate states or separate neighborhoods. For God knows that the moment we see ourselves as different than our neighbor, we can begin to feel superior and we can fear the other. And that leads to conflict.
God wants us to remember that we are created from one person, Adam. All human beings come from the same source. And modern science agrees with the Torah on this point. Human differences in appearance: skin color, face-shape, hair color, etc. are superficial. At the level of DNA, the variances between human beings are trivial. And not only that, but science shows that we all came from Africa, not leaving until 50,000 years ago.
The biggest problem we humans face is not where to place the boundaries, but how to get rid of them. Hopefully one day, the lessons of science and the lessons of the Torah will sink in. We will realize that all borders are concessions to human need. And that humanity is one.
Picture: The Old City of Jerusalem in 1999
Perhaps to raise this awareness, we need a second Shema. We will continue to say Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, affirming God’s oneness. But then we would add: Shema Yisrael, Kol Ish MeAdam, Kol Ish Echad. Hear O Israel, All people come from Adam, All people are One.