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   by Jacob Solomon

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You shall observe the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, to go in His ways and fear him. For the L-rd your G-d is bringing you into a Land… with streams of water, springs and underground water emerging in the mountains and the valleys… a Land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a Land of olive oil and honey. A Land where you will not eat bread out of poverty, a Land that lacks nothing. A Land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper. (8:6-9)

Thus Moses described the Holy Land to the Israelites. It appears that Moses selected the above features to contrast Israel’s superior natural resources with Egypt’s: in the spirit of the Talmud (Sotah 34b), which claims that the worst parts of the Holy Land were seven times better than the best parts of Egypt.


  1. Widespread fresh water resources meant that the Israelites could settle throughout the Holy Land - in contrast with the entire Egyptian population, who were confined to the delta and the very narrow strip along the Nile (today forming about 8% of its land area). Indeed virtually every ancient settlement in the Holy Land was sited where fresh water was naturally available – Jerusalem, situated on the Shiloach being no exception.
  2. The seven fruits (plus the milk and meat from the sheep and goats which they brought with them from the desert) would supply a balanced, healthy diet. Together with fresh water, they included the six essential nutritional categories – proteins (from grain, meat and milk), sugars (fruits), starches, (grains), fats (olive oil), vitamins (grains and fruits) and roughage (grains). In this context, Abarbanel quotes Galen (whom he refers to as ‘the chief of the physicians’) who writes that a person should limit himself to the substances from the seven fruits, which are the prime edibles that promote health.
  3. Several of these products were unsuitable for Egypt’s climate and gave the Israelites trading advantages. For example olive oil – used as an essential ingredient in food, cosmetics, and medicines: King Solomon traded 1,000 kor of wheat and 20 kor of beaten oil annually in exchange for a steady supply of cedar and cypress wood from Sidon (Kings I 5:24–25; Chron. II 2:14–15).
  4. Excellent supply of building materials: the Targum Yerushalmi understands the above verse to mean that Israel contains quarries of hard rock which will be ideal for constructing homes, walls, and guard towers. That contrasts with surrounding countries such as Egypt, whose people build structures from the locally available clay bricks that are dangerous for their inhabitants. Indeed most of the hard limestone rocks of Jerusalem contain iron – which give the local soils a reddish color after they have been oxidized.

The questions which come out from the above are as follows.

  1. What is the connection between the first part of the quoted verses - You shall observe the Commandments of the L-rd your G-d, to go in His ways and fear Him, and the second part, which details the superior natural resources of the Holy Land? The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b, based on Deut. 5:16) brings the tradition that ‘there is no reward for a Mitzvah in this World’. R. Dessler (quoted in a shiur by one of his students – Rabbi M. Miller of Gateshead) explains this to mean the following. Expecting a reward for even the smallest of Mitzvot performed lishma (sincerely, as part of G-d’s service) is like someone who asks the cashier of the village bank to cash a check for a million pounds sterling on the spot. Like the village bank, This World does not contain enough resources to reward even one mitzva done lishma. The reward has to wait until the World to Come…
  2. Moses told the Israelites to observe the Torah because G-d was about to bring them into the richly endowed Promised Land. Is that a reason to observe the Commandments?

By way of an answer, consider the following.

The Book of Ecclesiastes (5:9) states:

He that loves money will never be satisfied with money.

On that verse the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 10:10) comments that a person who loves Torah will never be satisfied with what he learns (or does) – he will always want to learn and perform more.

If greed for money is a negative trait, how does one relate to ‘greed’ for Torah? Surely never being satisfied cannot be a good thing?

The difference is as follows. Take the example of an immigrant to Israel who, by dint of hard work and perseverance, scraped together the necessary funds to buy a modest home. With great happiness, he moved into his apartment, thanking the Almighty that he no longer has to fear sudden rent rises and evictions, and that he is now surrounded by walls that he may call his own. However, as the years went by he became less happy, as his friends and colleagues were moving into larger homes, villas, and penthouses. In fact he feels the lack of a penthouse more keenly than he ever felt the lack of modest apartment. He became ashamed of inviting his now wealthier friends into his place… In short he hated his present home and was the poorer – not for a home, but for a penthouse.

Contrast that with a love for learning Torah and performing Mitzvot. Reuven has completed his study of Mesechet Bava Metzia with Rashi, but he wants to learn other Mesechtot or the same Mesechte with more commentaries. Shimon manages to scrape the funds on his meager salary to give 10% of his income to tzedaka, but he looks forward to the day when he will be affluent enough to donate 20% (the generally fixed maximum amount). Levi managed to get through a week without speaking or listening to Lashon Hara, and he wishes to keep this up for the rest of his life…. All these cases contrast with the person who loves worldly goods. The materialist does not only suffer anguish for what he does not have, but looks down on what he does have. The person who does his best to climb the Torah ladder is delighted with the progress that he has achieved and he only wants more…

This is the meaning of “You shall observe the Commandments of the L-rd your G-d, to go in His Ways...” It is natural for a person to have ambitions, but they should be channeled in the right direction. If one’s ambitions are in the sphere of Torah – and that includes activities of personal character development, positive bringing up of children, and service to the community, one may lack total satisfaction, but will see a trail of worthy achievements behind him. Moses’ message therefore was as follows: You will not look over your shoulders at other nations materially better off, because your ambitions will be in more positive direction.

In sum, the Almighty did not promise that Israel would be the richest or most advanced place on Earth – he did not promise them gold, silver, or the latest technology. What He promised them was to cater for their needs in most suitable way, in such a way that they could fulfil their role as being a ‘Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation’ (Ex. 19:6) ultimately developing into a ‘light to the Nations’ (Isaiah 49:6).



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