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The Chosen Land

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

At the end of Parshat Eikev, as part of Moshe's speech to the people of Israel on the eve of their entry into the Promised Land, he compares the Land of Israel to the Egypt:

“For the land to which you are coming, to possess it - it not like the land of Egypt, from which you came out, where you sowed your seeds and watered with your foot, like a vegetable garden. The land to which you are passing over to inherit it is a land of mountains and valleys; it drinks the water of the rain from heaven. It is a land which Hashem your God cares for; the eyes of Hashem your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."

Which land comes off sounding better in this comparison? On the one hand, the vegetable garden sounds pretty nice. But can it be that on the eve of entering the land, Moshe would praise Egypt and denigrate Canaan? Rashi goes out of his way to prove that it must be that these verses are meant to highlight the benefits of Israel. He explains that a vegetable garden is used here not to describe and idyllic lush place but rather to emphasize how thirsty the land of Egypt is, that rain would not suffice to irrigate it but rather you had to wake early in the morning and toil, to bring water by foot from the Nile to your outlying fields. In Canaan, however, you can sleep late, and Hashem will do the work for you, literally bringing the water to your doorstep.

Other mefarshim, such as the Ramban and the Rashbam, explain these verses in their narrower context. The psukim before and after these psukim emphasize the importance of keeping mitzvot and heeding G-d's word. In Egypt, where there is a constant source of water, it is much easier to delude ourselves and believe that we are in control of our livelihood. Israel is a land with no natural bodies of water. It is completely dependent on the rains. We all know how hard it is to accurately predict the weather, let alone control it! And so in Israel, we are more likely to feel our dependence on Hashem for our very lives. And this is perhaps what is so special about Israel. It is the chosen land because it is the place where it is most conducive to a relationship with Hashem.

Dependence on rain does not only make Israel special on a spiritual level; it also encourages excellence on a bein adam l'chaveiro level. In Egypt, where success is simply dependent on hard work, there is no reason to feel sympathy for someone less successful. Why should I feel sorry for a lazy bum? He could have worked harder and not been on welfare! In Israel, where the equation is much more complex, the sense of community is encouraged and much more likely to be felt. After all, it does not rain on an individual. And if, as we are told in "vehaya im shamoa", the verses which follows ours, rain at its time is a direct reward for keeping mitzvot, maybe the reason I was successful this year was because of the tzaddik living on the next hilltop, or maybe the reason we were all less successful this year is because of my aveirot! There is much more of a sense of being in it together.

This social advantage of the land of Israel and its dependence on rain is illustrated in the story of Sodom. Lot chooses to live in Sodom because it is lush and reminiscent of the land of Egypt. And we all know the character of Sodom – it is a land of evildoers, and the cause of their evil is their lack of dependence and their satiety, as Yechezkel says "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (16:49)

The land of Israel was chosen because it was the place where we would be most likely to be a nation of chessed, in a constant relationship with each other and with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom.




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