Taking Responsibility for the Land

Eikev By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Aug 15, 2014 / 5774 | Israel

Parashat Eikev deals heavily with the theme of entering and securing the Land of Israel. Multiple blessings are part and parcel of entry into the Promised Land. The people are promised a “good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains” (Deut. 8:7) and one that is replete with seven species (wheat, barley, dates, pomegranates, figs, olives, and grapes; 8:8). But those blessings are dependent on the observance of the mitzvot and the loyalty of the Israelites. Betrayal of the covenant is reflected in the people’s relationship to the Land: observe the commandments and receive rain at its proper time; pursue other gods and mimic the ways of the Canaanites and be faced with drought, sickness, and starvation. While the threat of punishment may propel one to observance, a deeper message is ingrained in this week’s parashah.

Joseph Bekhor Shor comments on this divine supervision, focusing on Deuteronomy 11:12, “it is a land which the Lord your God looks after.” He writes that God looks after both the Land and its citizenry “to remember the land and its inhabitants, and to take careful accounting of their deeds. ‘God always keeps His eye’ to check them and to be sure they are nourished according to their deeds.” Weaving this notion into the theology of Deuteronomy, the Bekhor Shor explains that the destinies of the peopleand the Landare intertwined. God notes well the deeds of the people. The Land will respond accordingly.

Such sensitivity, or perhaps hypersensitivity, may teach us volumes both about general respect for the environment and the particular case of living in modern Israel. Torah compels us to take responsibility for our behavior. We are not islands of being. We are deeply connected to each other and to the environment in which we live. To think otherwise is to delude ourselves and to destroy the rebirth of the Jewish people in its own Land. Being respectful of God and our fellow humans nurtures the world around us—enabling each of us, with God’s blessing, to bring forth the fruit of the earth and savor its sweetness.     

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