The words and teachings of the Torah and the Mishnah have been debated for millennia, and no doubt
this will continue to be the case. There will always be those who will cherry-pick the words of the
Torah and the Sages in order to justify their views. However, coming to these teachings with an
open heart and an open mind allows us to see that the teachings of the Torah not only support the
cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, but require us to pursue it.
Those who oppose peace efforts often say that the basis of our claim to the land is God's biblical
promise, so Jews should not negotiate over the future of any part of that land. In reality, the
Torah tells us that while the land of Israel was given to us by God, that gift was not absolute,
and pragmatic considerations are to be taken into account with respect to our exercise of that
We find a clear demonstration of the kind of pragmatism that is present in the Torah in Genesis 23.
Here the Torah tells us that after the death of Sarah, when Abraham wants a place to bury his dead,
he selects the site known as the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. But what does he do next? He
purchases the cave of Machpelah from its then-owners, and even insists on paying full price for it.
Why does he offer to pay for what he knows was given to him by God? Because he knows, too, that his
neighbors, who are not Jews, do not recognize God's gift of the land to him. Rather than insisting
on his claim and simply appropriating the site or demanding that it be ceded to him, Abraham
chooses the path of peace - the path that we as Jews are exhorted to follow numerous times in the
Torah. This path requires him to go the extra distance to make sure that he maintains peaceful,
respectful relations with his neighbors, treating their claim to the land as valid, even if in his
heart he believes that his own claim supersedes it. In other words, for Abraham and for us as Jews
today, peace as a value overrides the principle of a divine promise. Ethical pragmatism overrides
An illustration of the conditional nature of God's granting of the land comes to us through Ramban,
the early 13th century commentator. Ramban writes that after the flood, Noah's descendants were
scattered to various places where, by chance, they became nations. What of the nations that existed
in these same places before the flood? When a nation comes to sin, Ramban explains, it is only
right that it lose its place and another people come to inherit the land - even if its place there
was granted by God. This was the rule, he says, from the beginning of the Torah.
Another example is the case with Canaan: the Canaanites lost their land because they behaved
immorally. This rule, according to Ramban (citing Leviticus 18:28), continues to this day, "[God]
expelled those who rebelled against Him, and settled those who served Him so that they know by
serving God they will inherit it, but if they sin against God, the land will vomit them out, just
as it did the previous nation". Thus, the land of Israel is promised to us conditionally, insofar
as we act with morality towards God and towards other human beings.