Parshat Ekev

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Global warming? This summer's 'hot' topic uncovers a direct connection between our climate and mankind's 'physical' behavior. However, according to Parshat Ekev, man's 'spiritual' behavior may also affect our climate - at least in regard to the Land of Israel.

To explain why, this week's shiur explores the significance of "matar" (rain) in Chumash.

Introduction - Which Land is Better?
In the beginning of Parshat Ekev, the land of Israel receives a very positive assessment:

"For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land... a land of wheat and barley (...the 7 species) ...a land which lacks nothing..." (8:7-9)

Yet, later in the Parsha, it appears that the land of Egypt may still be better:

"For the land which you are about to conquer is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where when you planted your field you watered it with your foot... the Land which you are about to conquer, a land of hills and valleys, receives its water from the rains (matar) of the heavens." (11:10-11)

So which land is better?

To answer this question, we must take a closer look at this biblical comparison between the Lands of Israel and Egypt.

The First 'Faucet'
We begin our study with the Torah's 'strange' description of how one waters his field (in its definition of the land of Egypt):

"For [your] land is not like the land of Egypt... where you planted your field and watered it with your foot" (see 11:10)

Why is Egypt described as a land which 'you water with your feet'? Furthermore, how is specifically this definition significant in relation to this comparison between Egypt and the land of Israel?

As you probably remember from your first class in world history, the ancient civilization of Egypt developed around the Nile Delta. The Egyptians used the Nile River to water their fields by digging irrigation ditches. Therefore, to water one's field in Egypt, one would simply open the irrigation ditch by kicking away the dirt 'with his foot'.

[To 'turn off' the water supply, he would use his foot once again to move the dirt to close the ditch (basically, you could consider this the first 'faucet' system).]

It is specifically this agricultural aspect of the land of Egypt which the Torah contrasts with the land of Israel:

"...a land of hills & valleys, which drinks from the rains of heaven." (see 11:11)

In contrast to Egypt, Israel lacks a mighty river such as the Nile. Instead its fields are dependent on rainfall. Therefore, when it does rain, the fields are watered 'automatically'; however, when it does not rain, nothing will grow for the crops will dry out.

Hence, even though the land of Israel may have a slight advantage over Egypt when it does rain [see Rashi 11:10], from an agricultural perspective the land of Egypt has a clear advantage [see Ramban 11:10].

[Any responsible family provider would obviously prefer the more secure option of Egyptian agriculture over the 'risky' Israeli alternative.
Note also that even though Israel does have a river, the Jordan - it is located very low down in the Jordan Valley (300 meters below sea level), and thus not very helpful to the water fields. It should be noted that Israel today has basically 'solved' this problem by pumping up the water from Lake Kineret (in the Jordan Valley) into a national water carrier.]

So what's going on? Why is Moshe Rabeinu telling Bnei Yisrael (as they prepare to enter the land!) that the land of Egypt is better than the land of Israel?

To answer this question, we must re-examine these psukim in their wider context.

Three Related 'Parshiot'
Take a look in your Chumash (preferably using a Tanach Koren) and note how the psukim which we quoted above (i.e. 11:10-12) form their own 'parshia'. However, this 'parshia' begins with the word "ki" ['for' or 'because'] which obviously connects it thematically to the previous parsha (i.e. 10:12-11:9). [Later we will show how the next 'parshia' (i.e. 11:13-21) is connected as well.] (See board #1)

Therefore, we must first consider the theme of the first 'parshia' and then see how it relates to our topic. Luckily, that theme is very easy to find, for the opening psukim of that 'parshia' introduces the theme very explicitly:

"And now, O Israel, what is it that God demands of you? It is to fear ("yirah") the Lord your God, to walk in his ways and to love Him... Keep, therefore, this entire 'Mitzvah'... that you should conquer the Land..." (see 10:12-14)

Not only does this parshia open with the mitzvah to fear God, but as it continues it emphasizes this same point over and over again (see board #2).

Thus, the theme of our short 'parshia' (11:10-12), where the Torah's compares the land of Israel to Egypt, must somehow be related to the theme of yirat Hashem (fearing God). But what does the water source of a country have to do with the fear of God?

To answer this question, we must read the Torah's conclusion of this comparison (in the final pasuk of our 'parshia'):

"It is a land which the Lord your God looks after ("doresh otah"), on which Hashem always keeps His eye, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." (11:12)

This pasuk informs us that God Himself takes direct control over the rain which falls in the Land of Israel (see board #3)! Hence, in contrast to Egypt where the water supply from the Nile is basically constant, the sporadic water supply in Israel becomes a direct function of God's will. Hence, because one's survival in the Land of Israel is dependent on rain, and the rain itself is dependent on God's will, then to survive in the land of Israel one must depend on God - a dependence which should increase one's level of yirat Hashem!

Who Stopped the Rain?
In other words, the Land of Israel is not better than Egypt, rather it is different for its agriculture is dependent on the abundance of rain. A good rainy season will bring plenty, while a lack of rain will yield drought and famine. Hence, living in a land with this type of 'touchy' rainy season, dependent on God's will, should reinforce one's fear of God.

The next parshia which follows [i.e. "ve'haya im shamoa..." (11:13-21)] follows this same theme, and actually forms its logical conclusion:

"If you obey the commandments... I will grant the rain ("matar") for your land in season... then you shall eat and be satisfied...
Be careful, lest you be lured after other gods... for Hashem will be angry ... and He will shut up the skies and there will be no rain ("matar")..." (see 11:13-16)

Thus, according to Sefer Devarim, the "matar" (rain) acts not only as a 'barometer' of Am Yisrael's faithfulness to God, but also as a vehicle of divine retribution. Through the "matar", God 'communicates' with His nation in their special land; rainfall, at the proper time, should be considered a divine reward for national 'good behavior', while a drought (the holding back of "matar") should be understood as a sign of divine anger (see board #4).

So which land is better? The answer simply depends on what one is looking for. An individual striving for a closer relationship with God would obviously prefer the Land of Israel, while an individual wary of such direct dependence on God would obviously opt for the more secure life in Egypt (i.e. "chutz la'aretz").

Back to Avraham Avinu
At the onset of our national history, we find this very same comparison between the lands of Egypt and Israel.

Recall, that when Avraham Avinu first 'made aliya', he traveled together with his nephew Lot. As Avraham was childless and Lot had lost his father, Lot was most probably considered Avraham's natural successor. Yet, after their return from a trip to Egypt, a quarrel broke out between them which ultimately led to Lot's 'rejection' from Avraham's 'chosen family'. In the Torah's description of that quarrel, note how a similar theme (connected to "matar") emerges:

"And Avraham said to Lot, let there not be a quarrel bus... if you go to the right [=south], i'll go to the left [=north] (& visa versa)..." (see Breishit 13:8-9)

[Note that Avraham suggested that Lot choose either North or South (13:8-9), not East or West as is often assumed! See Tirgum Unkelos which translate right & left as 'south' or 'north' (see also Sforno). Throughout Chumash "yemin" always refers to the south, kedem - east, etc.]

In other words, Avraham Avinu, standing in Bet El (see 13:3), is offering Lot a choice between the mountain ranges of "Yehuda" (South) or "Shomron" (North). To our surprise, Lot chooses neither option!. He decides to divorce himself from Avraham Avinu altogether, choosing the Jordan Valley instead. Note how Lot's decision to 'go east' relates to his most recent experience in Egypt:

"Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the whole plain of Jordan, for it was all well watered (by the Jordan River)... just like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt..." (13:10-12)

Lot, after his brief visit to Egypt, could no longer endure the hard life in the 'hills and valleys' of the central mountain range of the Land of Israel. He opted for the more secure lifestyle by the banks of the Jordan River, similar to the secure lifestyle in Egypt by the banks of the Nile River. [The reference in the above pasuk to the "Garden of the Lord", Gan Eden, also relates to its four rivers, i.e. to its abundance of water.]

Lot departs towards Sdom for the 'good life', while Avraham Avinu remains in Bet El, at the heart of the Land of Israel (13:14-16, see also previous shiur Matot/Masei).

Note how Rashi (on Br.13:11) quotes a Midrash which arrives at this very same conclusion:

"Va'yisa Lot mi-kedem... He traveled away from He who began the Creation ("kadmono shel olam"), saying, I can no longer endure being with Avraham nor with his God." ("iy efshi, lo be-Avraham, ve-lo be-Elokav").

Thus, once could understand this quarrel between Avraham and Lot as reflective of a conflict between two opposite lifestyles:

A) A life striving for a dependence (and hence a relationship) with God (=Avraham Avinu);
B) A life independent of God (=Lot).

The path chosen by Avraham Avinu leads to 'Bet El' - the house of God, while the path chosen by Lot leads to 'Sdom'- the city of corruption (see 13:12-13).

Back to the Creation
Just as we found this concept at the onset of our own national history, so we find a similar concept at the onset of the history of all mankind.

Recall how the Gan Eden narrative (2:4-3:24) opens with a statement concerning "matar" (rain) in a similar context:

"...When Hashem made heaven and earth... And no shrub of the field had yet grown in the land and no grains had yet sprouted, because Hashem had not yet sent rain ("matar") on the land, nor was there man to work the field..." (Breishit 2:4-5)

At first glance, this statement appears to contradict earlier psukim (in the first account of Creation [="perek aleph"] which tell us that water was everywhere (even though rain itself was never mentioned). Furthermore, we all know that shrubs and grains grow very nicely even without man's help. Yet, according to this second account of Creation it appears as though nothing could grow without "matar" (rain) and without man.

Without going into all the details of the comparison between 'perek aleph' and 'perek bet' in the story of Creation (see shiur on Parshat Breishit), we will simply note our conclusion that 'perek bet' focuses on the special relationship in the Creation between man and God, as reflected in the Gan Eden narrative ("olam ha'hitgalut" b'shem "Ha'vaya"), while 'perek aleph' focuses on the creation of all 'nature' in seven days ("olam ha'teva" b'shem "Elokim").

Thus, according to the Torah's second account of Creation, i.e. from the perspective of man's relationship with God, "matar" (rain) and "adam" (man) emerge as the two essential ingredients for all growth and development. The concept of "matar" emerges as more than just a source of water, but more so as a symbol of any connection between the heavens and earth, i.e. between God and man.

Once again, Rashi cites a Midrash on this pasuk which alludes to this same concept:

"ki lo himtir...": And why had it not yet rained? ... because "adam ayin la'avod et ha'adama", for man had not yet been created to work the field, and thus no one had yet recognized the significance of rain. And when man was created and recognized their importance, he prayed for rain. Then the rain fell and the trees and the grass grew..." (see Rashi 2:5)

In the ideal spiritual environment, as reflected in the Land of Israel, "matar" serves as a vehicle by which Am Yisrael can perfect their relationship with God.

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Ronni Libson.

For Further Iyun

A. The word "matar" appears many other times in Chumash, note its use in each and relate it to the above shiur. For example:
1) By the Flood, Breishit 7:4-5
2) By the punishment of Sdom, Breishit 19:24!
3) By the manna, "hineni mamtir lachem lechem min hashamayim" - see Shmot 16:4 and its context.
(that should keep you busy)

B. Throughout the time period of the Shoftim, and even during the time period of the First Monarchy, many Israelites worshipped the 'Ba'al' - the Cannanite rain god.
1) Relate the nature of this transgression to the above shiur.
2) Relate this to the mishnayot of mesechet ta'anit, which requires national fast days should rain not fall in sufficient quantities early in the rainy season.
3) Relate to Kings I 17:1 & 18:21 and context of perek 18!

C. In the psukim by Lot, the Nile and Jordan rivers are compared to the rivers of Gan Eden.
1) Does this indicate that there may be a positive aspect to the supply of water by a River?
2) Why should a river be appropriate for Gan Eden, while rain is more appropriate for Eretz Yisrael?
3) Relate this to Zecharaya 14:7-9 & Yechezkel 47:1-12!

D. In last week's shiur we noted that the "Mitzvah" section of the main speech includes 'mitzvot' given originally during Ma'amad Har Sinai, as well as 'tochachot' added in the 40th year by Moshe Rabeinu.
1) Show textually why from 8:1 till 10:11 must be an 'addition' of the 40th year, while 6:4-7:26 is most likely 'original'! Prove your answer. Use Shmot 23:20-33 in your proof!
2) 10:12-11:21. Would you say that these parshiot are also 'additions' or originals, or possibly a combination. Support your answer, and relate it to the above shiur!

E. The story of Chet Ha'egel is repeated in chap 9.
1) In what context is this story now being brought down. Relate to 9:4-6, and especially to "ki am kshe oref ata" (9:6). Relate also to 9:7
2) What other examples of this behavior are cited in this perek?
3) Based on this observation, explain why the story about chet ha'egel is broken up in the middle by psukim 9:22-23, and later by 10:6-9.
4) What is the primary theme of this short 'tochacha'?

F. Read 9:25-29 carefully. Is this simply a review of Moshe's request that God invoke His "midot ha'rachamim" after the incident of chet ha'egel, or do you find a theme from "chet ha'meraglim" as well? Support your answer by comparing Shmot chapter 34:1-9 and Bamdibar 14:11-25.
Based on the context of chapter 9, can you explain why?

G. Relate the famous Midrash Chazal of "ain mayim elah Torah" [the true water is really the Torah] to the above shiur.

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