Judaism: Ohr Torah on the Parsha
Rabbi Shlomo RiskinThe writer is the founding and Chief Rabbi of Efrata, Gush Etzion, as well as founder and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, author of Torah Lights and other well known Judaic texts.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill… Give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you" (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)
These verses comprise a paean of praise to the beauty, fruits and natural resources of the Land of Israel. In these four verses, the word eretz (land) is repeated seven times as a refrain and twice it is described and defined by the word tova (good).
This description of the Land of Israel takes the form of a poetic song, which is very different from a descriptive narrative. A narrative depends upon logic to make its point; a song is the product of profound emotion and heartfelt commitment.
The general Hebrew term for “inheritance” is yerusha. But there are two objects that the Bible designates as morasha (heritage): the Land of Israel (Exodus 6: 8) and the Torah of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:4).
The difference between yerusha and morasha is that a yerusha comes very easily, usually in the form of a bequest which the recipient may use however he wishes, even wasting it on useless or unnecessary acquisitions; a morasha is acquired by hard work and must be given as a precious heirloom to the next generation.
The word morasha is therefore in the causative (hiph’il) tense – to “give over.” A sum of money is a yerusha; a Sabbath candelabra or a kiddush cup is a morasha.
The root letters of both yerusha and morasha are the same (yod or vav, resh and shin) and when these same letters are written in a slightly different order, they spell out the word shir (song).
We have seen here how the Bible describes the Land of Israel as a song; the Bible also calls the Torah a song (Deuteronomy 32:44). Moreover, our Sages interpret the word morasha as if it were written me’orasa, which means a fiancée; both the song of Torah and the song of the Land of Israel are expressions of profound love and commitment.
Hence, the people of Israel seem to be wedded in eternal marriage to the land – and the land assumes an almost personal form, like the beloved bride of her husband, Israel. The Israelite people “comes” (biah) into the land and sends out his seed upon it.
The Bible even uses the phrase kidashtem – “And you shall sanctify the land [from the same root as kiddushin, engagement] on every fiftieth Jubilee year” (Leviticus 25:10).
The Land of Israel will relate and respond only to the people of Israel just as a loving wife and husband will only relate to one another. Hence, whereas the land always yielded its produce for Israel, during the 2,000 years of our exile the land refused to give its produce to those who came in her place. None were able to bring forth the luscious fruit from it. Indeed, this is what gave rise to the “Green Line”: where Jews farmed the land, it was green and where the Arabs worked the land it was brown. And although our nation may have been separated from our land, we were never divorced from it. Israel the land remains our first love and eternal bride.
When the Jews worked the land in accordance with the dictates of the Torah, allowing it to lie fallow every seventh year, giving tithes to those who were landless and providing food for the teachers and ministers of the Holy Temple, the land responded in kind and produced abundantly for Israel. But when the Israelites neglected the sabbatical years and the tithes, the land gave itself over to our conquerors and became desolate, making up for all of the years when we did not leave it fallow in the sabbatical years (see Leviticus 26:34). Israel and the land have a mutual mandate to act with mutual respect and loving-kindness.
When I first came to Israel, I heard a radio interview with Ya’acov Hazan, one of the founders of Mapam (the United Workers Party) and the Shomer Hatza’ir kibbutzim. The interviewer knew that Hazan came from a very religious and anti-Zionist family, and therefore asked him the origin of his Zionism. Hazan explained that when he was about 10 years old, he fell ill with anemia, and his father was advised by doctors to apprentice him to a Lithuanian farmer in order to “strengthen his blood.”
The young boy worked hard alongside the farmer. What amazed him was how the farmer constantly smiled while engaged in this backbreaking work.
When the youth asked him the source of his joy, he answered, “Don’t you hear the music and the song of the land as it begins to yield its produce?” The young boy bent down and cupped his ear to the ground, but heard nothing at all. With a knowing smile, the peasant farmer explained, “You see, it’s not your land. If it were, you too would hear the song and smile at the sound of the music.”
At that moment, Hazan decided that as soon as he was old enough, he would go to his land and hear its song. The interview ended with the final words of 96-year-old Ya’acov Hazan: “I still work the land and I still hear its music.”