Eikev: For Better or for Worse
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
כי הארץ אשר אתה בא שמה לרשתה לא כארץ מצרים הוא אשר יצאתם משם אשר תזרע את זרעך והשקית ברגלך כגן הירק: והארץ אשר אתם עברים שמה לרשתה ארץ הרים ובקעת למטר השמים תשתה מים: ארץ אשר ד' אלקיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ד' אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה
Because the land that you will be entering to inherit is not like the land of Egypt that you left from; where you can plant your seeds and water them manually by feet like a vegetable garden. The land which you will be passing over to inherit is a mountainous and valley terrain; it requires the rains of the heavens to irrigate; it is a land that Hashem constantly seeks; from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.
Moshe Rabbeinu contrasts the land of Egypt from where the Jews left, against the land of Eretz Yisroel to where they will be entering; the strange thing is, it isn’t readily apparent if Moshe means to say the land of Eretz Yisroel is better than the land of Egypt-or worse!
Rashi actually entertains both possibilities, and proves conclusively that Moshe means to say that Eretz Yisroel is indeed superior- hills and mountains are actually better than flat terrain, because they provide more surface area for planting. Not having irrigation canals to use, but rather having to rely on the rain is actually better because the rain will water the fields effortlessly; a vegetable garden is actually harder to maintain because the rain is insufficient and it requires constant watering, while other crops can subsist entirely on the rain, and so on.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hashem’s Promised Land is better, but the question remains- why is it presented in such a veiled way, that we require an entire Rashi commentary to explain? Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to give us a land that is clearly the best?
The Ramban sees in this a powerful message, that is relevant in many areas of life:
The simple explanation is that this serves as a warning; if you heed Hashem’s commandments, and keep the mitzvos, the land will indeed be a land that flows milk and honey. Hashem will cause it to rain in the proper time, and the land will yield beautiful produce; however, the land is not like Egypt, that has built in irrigation canals. Rather it is a hilly terrain that requires rain. And the land requires Hashem’s constant surveillance and intervention. It is naturally dry. If you violate the commandments and don’t listen to Hashem, it simply will not rain; and the land will be able to produce nothing.
The Ramban explains that although Hashem is all-powerful and can obviously dry up the most bountiful sea and canals, human nature is such that when we have our reservoirs full, we feel complacent. The truth is that a healthy person needs Hashem’s constant compassion and kindness just as much as someone seriously ill, but we don’t always perceive it that way. We tend to lean on our perceived security and sometimes forget that it is Hashem Who protects us.
So, is Eretz Yisroel superior to other lands or inferior? Of course, it is superior, both physically and spiritually. But it is set up in a way that we cannot forget about Hashem. As long as we turn to Him, the potential for bounty is greater, but there is no room to forget; Hashem, for our benefit, forces us to ‘live on the edge’ in order that we don’t forget Him, and can constantly rely on Him.
This is the message of Eretz Yisroel, and this is the lesson of life; as long as we are connected to Hashem, we have it the best- but we mustn’t forget that!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!