Chavat HaShikmim, 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) from Sderot, December 2023. (Photo: Rabbi Hillel Van-Leeuwen)
The Region of Revival
An Introduction by Rabbi Aron White
BY RABBI ARON WHITE
When the Talmud was written about 1,500 years ago, Jews lived in Babylonian communities both geographically and intellectually distant from a sovereign Jewish state. Despite this, a passage in Eruvin provides a strikingly relevant strategic assessment that shines a light on the events of the last two decades in Israel.
“If non-Jewish nations are threatening Jewish cities – if they are seeking money, one cannot violate the Shabbat (to push them back), but if they are threatening lives, one can break the Shabbat… However, if they are threatening the towns on the border, even only to take wheat and chaff, one can violate Shabbat to push them back” (Eruvin 45a).
The commentators explain that border towns are treated with greater sensitivity, as they are the most threatened. If they fall, they become a base for the gradual encroachment of the enemy. And so border communities must be defended with greater intensity, even if it is necessary to violate Shabbat to push them back, and even if our enemies are only threatening crops!
Jews have lived in and around Gaza for centuries, but since the foundation of the State of Israel, the Gaza area has become a threatened border region of our homeland. From Egypt in the War of Independence to the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and continuing through the first and second intifadas, the Gaza border towns became ayarot sfar, “towns on the border,” that require extra protection. In 2003, the government of Israel officially designated this area as “Otef Aza,” the “Gaza Envelope,” which would be provided with additional benefits and support in light of the threat they faced.
But in the ensuing 20 years, rather than ensuring these towns were more protected as the Gemara advises, they were, tragically, less protected than other areas in Israel. These communities have borne the brunt of tens of thousands of rocket attacks, but by and large, the majority of the country accepted the situation as a liveable reality. Local residents often complained that 50 rockets on Sderot would gain barely a passing mention in the news, whereas one rocket fired at Tel Aviv would be a headline story. The start-up nation of the 21st century is exceptionally focused on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Central Region, so despite being a mere 40 miles from Gaza, these border towns were often overlooked. On October 6th, how many of us had ever heard of kibbutzim called Be’eri or Nir Oz?
In the weeks after the October 7th massacre, Israel’s government officially renamed the region bordering Gaza as “Chevel HaTekuma, The Region of Revival.” No more can we allow this region to slip to the periphery of our consciousness. The wisdom of the Gemara in Eruvin is now obviously true to all of us. Border towns are vulnerable, and their strength is a sign of the strength of Israel as a whole.
Discussing the importance of the Gaza region, Ariel Sharon famously said: “Din Netzarim keDin Tel Aviv, the town of Netzarim is as important as Tel Aviv.” Today, we need a similar change of mindset – “Din Re’im keDin Ra’anana,” “Din Be’eri keDin Beit Shemesh,” “Din Yachini keDin Yerushalayim.” In this edition, by telling the stories of the Region of Revival, we hope to put this region back in the center of our consciousness.
This Tu BiShvat, may we see the reflowering of this beautiful area, where “There shall again be in this place that is waste without man or beast, and in all its cities a dwelling of shepherds resting [their] flocks… in the cities of the lowlands, and in the cities of the south” (Yirmiyahu 33:12–13).
Rabbi Aron White is the Managing Editor of HaMizrachi magazine.