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By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Eikev, the Torah describes the essential difference between the land which bnei yisrael left, Egypt, and the land they are about to enter, Canaan. Chapter 11, verses 10-12 say: “For the land, which you enter to possess, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came out, where you sowed your seed, and watered it with your foot, as a garden of vegetables; But the land, which you are going over to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water from the rain of the skies;. A land which the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

In this comparison, it is unclear which is the better land.  Rashi goes out of his way to prove that it must be Canaan.  He begins his commentary on the words “is not as the land of Egypt” with the words “but better than it.”  Since Moshe says these words as part of his speech to Bnei Yisrael upon entering the land, Rashi states that it must be the case that the purpose of the comparison is to reassure and encourage them; the alternative is unthinkable. 

The Ramban and the Rashbam, on the other hand, have a more measured approach.  They connect these lines to the more general context in which they appear, as part of the warnings that Moshe is giving the people: heed G-d’s commandments, or else you will not deserve the land.  The Rashbam states: “This is the approach of these sections: you must observe God's commandments.  Because this land is better than all others - for those who heed the commandments, but worse than all others for those who do not, because the land which you will enter is not like the land of Egypt which does not need matar and, whether one is good or one is bad, according to the effort expended in watering their fields will they have bread.  But in the land of Israel, if you observe the commandments, "the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."

            The verses following this section are familiar to us, the second paragraph of Shema.  In it the connection between keeping the land and the observance of mitzvot is there made clear, and is symbolized by the word “Matar”, rain.  If we go back to the verses we began with, we can see that the essential difference between the countries being described is in terms of sources of irrigation.  Egypt has a constant source of water, its famed Nile River, always to be counted on.  While this comes with a certain hardship, in that only the lower banks are watered directly and those fields higher up require hard work to be irrigated, but it also lends a great sense of security.  Canaan has no such security, but is completely dependent on the rain which is seemingly beyond their control.  The obvious advantage there is that when plentiful, the rain reaches every doorstep, and life is easy.  As Rashi describes, the Canaanite farmer can sleep late and relax, and let G-d do the work for him, whereas the Egyptian farmer needs to arouse himself in the early morning, and drag the water with his feet from the Nile to his field.

            Why did Hashem specifically choose the land of Canaan?  There is another perhaps less obvious advantage to the system in Canaan.  In Egypt, one has the illusion of control over his fate.  Everything that one accomplishes seems to be determined by one factor: how much work he puts into it.  There is no need for anyone else – not G-d and not one’s fellow man.  In Canaan, however, it is much clearer that one has limited control over his success.  In an agrarian society, so dependent on the weather, the Canaanite farmer daily looks up to the heavens and hopes, and prays, that the rains will be beneficial.

The Torah makes clear what the recipe for success will be in the new land: keep mitzvot, and Hashem will see to it that all will be well.  However, stray from His teachings, and the land will not be able to hold us.

This has ramifications on a spiritual level, as well as on a social level.  In Egypt, one has no need for the other, and therefore if the other is in distress, it is of no concern of mine.  If my neighbor is destitute, there is no reason to sympathize with him.  Why, it must be due to his own laziness!  However, when times are hard in Canaan, it cannot be blamed simply on laziness.  A drought will effect all alike.  Perhaps it is my sins that are the cause of the distress?  Perhaps our success is due to my neighbor who must be a tzaddik.  This lends itself to a community of chessed, befitting the children of Avraham Avinu.

In my experience, life in modern day Israel reflects this idea.  The average income is much more, shall we say, modest, and there is less variation in lifestyles.  We feel the changes in the rain levels, on a practical level, and we feel our dependence on Hashem, and on each other, more deeply.  May we be deserving through our mitzvoth of having Hashem’s eyes on us l’tovah for the upcoming year.




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