The Good Land – Haaretz Hatova

This week's Dvar Torah is by Hanoch Shalev, former Shaliach in Melbourne (2003-04) who currently works as an engineer in IAI.

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This Dvar Torah is based on the wise words of Israel Eldad z"l in his article for our parsha, Ekev, in his book "Hegyonot Mikra"

In our parsha, Chapter 8, verses 7-10, Moshe elaborates upon the lands' qualities:

כִּי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ,

מְבִיאֲךָ אֶל אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה

אֶרֶץ, נַחֲלֵי מָיִם עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת, יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה בָהָר

אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן;

אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ.

אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא בְמִסְכֵּנֻת תֹּאכַל בָּהּ לֶחֶם

לֹא תֶחְסַר כֹּל, בָּהּ;

אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲבָנֶיהָ בַרְזֶל, וּמֵהֲרָרֶיהָ תַּחְצֹב נְחֹשֶׁת.

וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ,

עַל האָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ.

These verses are a well-organized song, arranged in a symmetry resembling the shape of a 7 branch menorah. These branches follow the seven mentions of the word "Eretz" – land. Let us delve into the menorah from the outer branch inwards to reveal the land's wonders and qualities.

The first branch, made up of the first and seventh "Eretz", create together an envelope for the entire section. At first there is a land and it is good – eretz tova. At the closure, it isn't just any land it is THE land and this specific land is good – Ha'aretz Ha'tova. This envelope forms a vector consisting of a value and orientation. We know hereafter that we are to learn how a land becomes The Land and how its good qualities are inherent to it.

The next branch, consisting of "eretz" #2 and #6, take us through the scenic route of the land. We encounter hills and valleys, rock and stone, rivers and springs. This second layer emphasizes the lands' natural resources. At first, we are presented with water flowing above, beneath and through the rocks. Then, with a closer observation, we see that the stone and rock, before just a means to the end to channel the water, have independent value as well; minerals, iron and raw materials.

Later on, in chapter 11, the Torah will clarify that these values are unique to this land and are not similar to what this nation knows from the desert or from Egypt:

"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.

But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven"

This is no wasteland. Nothing goes to waste. Eldad emphasizes that these attributes provide national independence as the land offers not only life (water), but also shelter and economic independence.

The third branch of the menorah, the third layer of symmetry, resides in "eretz" #3 and #5. We have now advanced from the inanimate water and stone to vegetation and nourishment. These two sides of the branch correspond to each other in a relationship of the raw and the processed. Wheat and barley on the one side, bread on the other. This special land provides food as well as water and materials for economy and security.

And so we have reached the core – the central candle of the menorah: 

"אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ"
"a land of oil producing olives and honey"

 I think this core is the pivot around which a good land – "ארץ טובה" – becomes 'The Land that is Good' – "הארץ הטובה". This is because up to this point, the land has given essential, basic needs, critical for the survival of the nation dwelling on it. But to provide oil and honey – these are luxuries, not critical to the survival of the nation. Nevertheless, that is what characterizes this One Land and creates a unique relationship with this One Nation.

Now, after peeling layer after layer, trying hard to reach the core of Moshe's love song to the land he yearns to enter, we must stop and zoom out. We must zoom out and view the land from across the Jordan as Moshe is viewing it, as he sings this song.

Moshe structures a seven segment poem, easily memorized by child and adult, hoping that after the nation enters the land, they will not forget all 7 segments. They enter the land and walk deep into the menorah's branches. They encounter the streams and the stones. They work hard to grow the wheat and bake the bread. They indulge on the lands luxuries of olive oil and honey… and forget.

They forget the outer branch, the first and last verses of the song. They forget that the difference between just another land (
ארץ טובה) and The Good Land (הארץ הטובה) lies in them, in their ability to appreciate and to be thankful:

"And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you"

Eat, nourish and enjoy the land… but don't forget to bench.

And that has made all the difference ("The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost)

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