Gratitude for the Land

Eikev By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Jul 24, 2013 / 5773 | Israel

Parashat Eikev is centered on the Land of Israel. As the Israelites stand on the verge of entering the Land, they are promised prosperity in return for their loyalty to God’s commandments. Torah, however, anticipates the downside of the success, affluence, and prosperity that await the young nation. Deuteronomy 8:11–14 declares, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments . . . which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill and build fine houses to live in . . . beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God.” Affluence breeds the dangerous perception of self-sufficiency. Indeed, the Israelite relationship with God is paramount. This message is underscored in the moving description offered of the Land of Israel in Deuteronomy 11:10: “For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come.” Why does Torah seek to juxtapose Egypt and Israel? What may we learn about ourselves and about the Land of Israel?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch elaborates,

Egypt’s fertility is independent of the rain. It is watered by the Nile irrigation canals cut right through the country, made and worked by human efforts . . . But Palestine is a land dependent for its supply of water on the mountain springs fed by the rainfall. Moreover, the country was built not only in the valleys or plains but also on the mountains and hilly districts where means for artificial watering are impossible. So ultimately fertility is entirely dependent on rainfall. (Commentary on Numbers, 182)

Clearly, according to Torah as well as Hirsch’s commentary, “earthly Jerusalem” (Yerushalayim shel matah) is intimately connected to and dependent on Jerusalem of the heavens (Yerushalayim shel ma’alah). Water, especially in Israel, cannot be taken for granted. Not only is it a literal sign of divine favor and nourishment, it is also a figurative symbol of the vital relationship between God and the People. Even when the People are blessed by abundance, they must not lose sight of the true source of their blessing: the partnership between God and humans. Torah anticipates and cautions that there will come a prosperous day when the Israelites will say, “‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.’ Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:17–18). The Land of Israel teaches us the vital lesson of humility. Only by diminishing our egos may we truly enrich ourselves, our communities, and our connection to God.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.