THE LAND OF PLENTY

  • Rav Yaakov Beasley

INTRODUCTION TO PARASHA

 

PARASHAT EKEV

 

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of
Dr. William Major, z"l.

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 THE LAND OF PLENTY

By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley

 

A.        INTRODUCTION

 

Sefer Devarim requires a different style of analysis than previous books.  As we noted in our previous two shiurim, we have to analyze Moshe's speeches for both their historical accuracy and their rhetorical value.  Noting the differences, we can ascertain Moshe's primary purpose: the pedagogic preparation of the Jewish people to enter into the Land of Israel.  In our parasha, Moshe now shifts from describing their past failures and successes to outlining the future challenges and pitfalls that await them.  Central among them is the Land of Israel.

 

Moshe mentions the Land of Israel twice in Parashat Ekev, yet in very different circumstances each time.  In Chapter 11, Moshe contrasts Israel with Egypt.  As Israel is not blessed with large natural sources of water, its inhabitants are constantly dependent upon the weather.  In Chapter 8, he contrasts the abundant natural resources and bounties that await the Jewish people with their miraculous existence in the desert.  For forty years, the Jewish people's survival has been due to overt miracles – water from the rock, clothing that has never tore or frayed, protection from fiery serpents and scorpions, and manna from the sky.  Even with the maximum effort possible, survival under these conditions is nigh-impossible.  Only by the direct intervention of God can a people successfully travel through the wilderness.  However, all that is about to change, upon their entry into the land.  As Moshe's describes the Land of Israel, it becomes not only a source of blessing, but of temptation.

 

B.        DANGER – SUCCESS AHEAD

 

To appreciate Moshe's fears, let us analyze the structure of 8:2-18.  A cursory glance reveals that it contains three sections:  a recapitulation of the travails of the desert (vv. 2-6), a description of the land's bountiful riches (vv. 7-10), and a warning to the Jewish people (vv. 11-18) not to become intoxicated with their newfound wealth.

 

(2) And you shall remember all the way which Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might afflict you, to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  (3) And He afflicted you, and made you hungry, and fed you the manna, which neither you nor your fathers knew; that He might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every thing that proceeds out of the mouth of God does man live.  (4) Your clothing became not old upon you, neither did your foot swell, these forty years.  (5) And you shall consider in your heart that, as a man chastens his son, so Lord your God chastens you.  (6) And you shall keep the commandments of Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him. 

 

(7) For Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; (8) a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; (9) a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you shall dig copper.  (10) And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless Lord your God for the good land that He has given you.

 

(11) Beware lest you forget Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, ordinances and statutes, which I command you today; (12) lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built goodly houses, and dwelled therein; (13) and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; (14) then your heart be lifted up, and you forget Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; (15) who led you through the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were snakes, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirst, with no water; who brought you water out of the rock of flint; (16) who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your fathers knew not, that He might afflict you and prove you, to do you good at your end; (17) and you say in your heart: "My power and my hand's might have gotten me this wealth." (18) But you shall remember Lord your God, for it is He that gives you power to get wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is today.

 

The progression from the desert and the dangers it contains to the Land of Israel and its dangers is clear.  We note that section 2, which contains Israel's praises, is clearly defined by the repeating keyword (leitwort) "land."  There are seven repetitions of the word in the section (framed at the beginning by the words "good land"), and the progression of its appearance mirrors the overall message of the text.  The first appearances of the word "land" describe the land's natural riches (water, plants and fruits), those that will meet the Jewish people upon their entry.  The next appearance describe additional riches (bread, metals), but only those that require man's toil and effort to produce.  The development from the first section to the second is a development from the good that exists within the land, useable immediately, to that which man creates and changes, using the land's natural resources.  The sentence at the middle of this structure, "a land of olive oil and honey," straddles both these ideas.  On one hand, this phrase is part of the list of the seven species that grow in the land, and belongs to the first half of the excerpt.  On the other hand, it does not mention the fruits in their raw state (olives and dates), but rather the fruit product from which man has extracted the best for his use, by means of his strength and wisdom: from the olives he obtains oil, and from the dates he produces honey.  This development is within this pair itself: oil is mentioned as coming from the olive, but when it comes to the honey there is no mention of the fruit from which it is made; only the final product is mentioned.  Properly, therefore, it belongs to the section's second half as well.

 

As expected, the final appearance of the word "land" comes with an exhortation not to forget the ultimate source of all this plentiful goodness by blessing God upon the completion of each meal.  Professor Nechama Leibowitz describes the moral message of the section as follows:

 

For this reason, the description of plenitude and fertility, wealth and its enjoyment, is followed after the words "and you shall eat and be satisfied" by the demand to "bless Lord your God"…  In contrast to the intoxication with the plenitude of nature, the worship of the gods of fertility, comes both the demand to remember Lord your God… and the call for a strict observance of "His commandments, judgments, and statutes", settings bounds to a life of instinct and passion, instituting measure and rule, a way of life inspired by self-control…

 

In the second excerpt… the fear expressed that they might forget God is of another order.  Man is liable to be thrown off his balance not by his intoxication with the natural wealth found in the land, but with the wealth artificially cultivated, the fruits of man's toil, his creativity, the success of the bodily and mental exertions invested by him in this labor.  The temptation is not that which catches Israel in its toils immediately on their entry into the land and at the beginning of their becoming acquainted with the landscape, but a later temptation… the temptation of "My power and my hand's might have gotten me this wealth," the temptation that substitute for the service of the Creator of all, not nature and the worship of the gods of nature, but [the worship of] man and his pride.

 

C.        ISRAEL'S NATURAL RESOURCES

 

The medieval commentators endeavor to explain the meaning of the repetitions in the descriptions of Israel's riches above.  Many of them choose to emphasize the bountifulness of the land as a reflection of God's love and care.  However, others understood that the Torah is actually describing a situation of limited resources.  Therefore, they try to find within these words a message of self-restraint and happiness as exemplified by the dictum of Pirkei Avot (4:1) - "Who is a rich person?  One who is happy with his lot."  For example, the Abarbanel suggests that the praise the Torah showers upon Israel is that it only contains the most vital and essential items.  Therefore, Moshe does not mention apples and other fruits, but only those foods that are essential and suitable for a person's diet.  The Abarbanel quotes Galen, "the chief of physicians," as stating that a man must limit himself to these substances, which have the ability to heal any diseases (as opposed to other produce, which causes putrefaction).  Similarly, the Melo Ha-omer states that the Land's greatest benefit it the fact that people in it will be content with what they have and find satisfaction in their work. 

 

In a similar vein, the Ramban explains the verse "a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you shall dig copper" simply, that Israel is rich in minerals.  Wherever one quarries, he will find iron and copper, for these two metals are vital for the inhabitants of any country.  The Ramban adds, "Gold and silver mines are no defect in a country."  Commentators explain that while precious metals are pleasant to have, they are not integral to the economy, unlike iron and copper, without which there can be no agriculture or industry.  The Alshikh, in fact, understands this verse as a description of the harsh conditions faced by Israel's inhabitants.  The Torah promises us that despite the difficult circumstances of hard rocks and stony ground, the Jewish people will still be able to grow enough produce, so that they will "eat and be satisfied and bless."

 

A later commentator, the Oznayim La-Torah, develops this theme further through the concluding verse, containing the requirement to bless God after every meal – "eat and be satisfied and bless".  We state thrice daily that God "satisfies the desire of every living being" (Tehillim 145:16).  According to the Oznayim La-Torah, God sanctifies each person's desire, so that the person will feel satisfied with what he has.  This is the blessing that God gives the Land of Israel – if its inhabitants are worthy, they will be satisfied with whatever they have.