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For the week ending 16 August 2014 / 20 Av 5774

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The last section of this Parsha deals with the unique status of the Land of Israel and its relationship to the Jewish nation. There are three dimensions to this relationship, which is based on the nation’s adherence to the observance of both the positive and negative commandments of the Torah. The Land of Israel is essentially a gift to the Jewish people, a reward for their fidelity to the Torah. The first reward is the inheritance of the Land itself. The second reward is the permanence of that inheritance. The third reward is the ability of the Land to provide for the needs of its inhabitants.

The Torah makes it clear that the Land of Israel is unlike the land of Egypt that they had left, “Where you could plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden” (Devarim 11:10). The Land of Israel does not possess a constant and dependable source of water like the Nile River. Rather it is a land of hills and valleys totally dependent on rainfall from above, “from the rain of heaven will it drink water” (Devarim 11:11). The word ‘heaven’ is not just a reference to the clouds in the sky, but rather refers to G-d’s direct providential intervention in order to sustain the Jewish nation. Looking up to the sky in anticipation of life-giving rainfall symbolizes the Jewish awareness that all material success is a result of Divine intervention, which is based on our adherence to the Torah.

Even though the constancy of the water of the Nile in Egypt is also a product of G-d’s direct will, Abarbanel quotes the Ramban who points out the difference between the Divine Providence in Israel and as opposed to that in Egypt. Dependency on the Nile can be compared to a healthy, complacent individual who, although he recognizes that his good health is a gift from G-d, does not feel the immediate need to scrutinize his deeds and constantly turn to G-d with prayer. Depending on capricious rainfall, on the other hand, requires the residents of the Land of Israel to be ever-vigilant in their observance of the Torah. The Jews of the Land of Israel are like the infirmed whose lives are always hanging in the balance.

Finally, the reward for Torah observance is not simply adequate rainfall. Rather, the Torah makes it clear that the rainfall will occur at precisely the right times and in the right quantities to insure the maximum agricultural benefit. Furthermore, it will occur at night in order not to disturb the farmers working the Land.

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