By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
This week’s parashah opens with an allusion to one of the seminal events in Jewish history: the assembly of our nation that would take place on the mountains of Gerizim and Eval immediately upon their entrance into Eretz Yisrael. This event is described at greater length in the middle of Parashas Ki Savo. There, the Torah lists a number of violations for which a person would be subject to a Divine curse. However, the flip side of this harrowing experience was the promise of blessing in the form of material bounty for those who adhered to G-d’s word. Specifically, the Jewish people would enjoy material abundance, in the form of children, harvest and livestock.
And it will be if you obey the Lord, your G-d, to observe to fulfill all His commandments which I command you this day… all these blessings will come upon you and cleave to you… You shall be blessed in the city, and you shall be blessed in the field. Blessed will be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your soil, the fruit of your livestock, the offspring of your cattle, and the flocks of your sheep. (Devarim 28:1-5)
Earlier, in parashas Bechukosai, we find a similar linkage between carrying out Hashem’s expectations and the assurance of materialistic, specifically agrarian, reward.
If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. (Vayikra 26:3-4)
Why did Hashem specifically choose to reward adherence to His mitzvos with agricultural bounty? And why does He often use challenging farming conditions as the consequence for non-adherence? (See ibid. 16, 19-20, et al)
Perhaps one answer is that a blessing of agrarian abundance is less likely to develop within the beneficiary a misguided sense of arrogant attribution. In order for a farmer to succeed, he must work hard for months on end to ensure that each of the requisite steps for a successful harvest was taken. Yet, he still appreciates the fact that there are variables, such as weather conditions (including rainfall) and vermin, which could significantly impact his crops and his livestock, often at a moment’s notice. No matter how well he plans, plants, plows and waters, he cannot succeed without help from Above.
It is partially for that reason that Eretz Yisrael is presented as superior to the land of Egypt, despite the latter’s proud claim to the Nile River, which would crest and irrigate neighboring lands. In the new Jewish homeland, there would be rainfall irrigation for all lands, not just nearby low-lying areas, assuming, of course, that the Jewish nation would duly observe Hashem’s commandments.
Keep all the commandments that I command you this day, in order that you may be strong and come and possess the land to which you are crossing… For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. (Devarim 11:8-10)
The land of Egypt required bringing water from the Nile by foot in order to water it; you had to rise from your sleep and toil. And only the low-lying areas were watered, but not the high land, so you had to carry up water from the lower to the higher areas. But [Canaan], while you sleep in your bed, the Holy One, blessed is He, waters both low and high areas… (Sifrei, quoted by Rashi)
Ramban explains that successful farming in Eretz Yisrael required continuous tefillah for rain. Without Hashem’s continued, willful munificence, the crops would not grow. (This concept, says Rav Yechezkel Levenstein [Yad Yechezkel], extends to the entire Jewish historical experience. Without continuous siyatta diShmaya, we could never have survived our long, difficult exiles.)
While we certainly do not look forward to times of agricultural leanness, it must have minimally been comforting to know that we can directly trace all of our land’s output to our relationship with our Maker. As we approach the month of Elul, let us redouble our efforts to fulfill His Will, so that we can benefit fully from His largesse in the coming year.