The Land of israel
What’s Under the Hood?
By Shlomo Katz
Volume 25, No. 46 20 Menachem Av 5771 August 20, 2011
Today’s Learning: Tanach: Iyov 21-22 Mishnah: Eruvin 4:6-7 Daf Yomi (Bavli): Chullin 55 Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Pesachim 32
This week’s parashah speaks extensively of the praises of Eretz Yisrael. R’ Chaim Palagi z”l (1788-1868; chief rabbi of Izmir, Turkey) writes: The sefer Reishit Chochmah [quoting the midrash Kohelet Rabbah] notes that Tanach uses similar terminology to describe the human body and the earth. This is because, just as a person’s limbs and organs differ in their qualities, so do various parts of the world differ in their qualities. Some produce iron, some copper, some silver, some gold, and some produce gems. In contrast, Eretz Yisrael’s worth is not determined by the minerals it produces, but rather by the fact that it is infused with the Shechinah, which is more precious than gems.
Why then, asks R’ Palagi, does our parashah (8:9) seem to praise Eretz Yisrael as: “A Land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper”? He answers: The correct interpretation of this verse is that, after the Torah praised the Land, it added that if we do not observe the mitzvot, the Land will not produce fruits, as if it was made of iron or copper. The reason for this is that Eretz Yisrael does not produce fruits naturally, as do other lands. Rather, as we read later in the parashah (11:13-14), “It will be that if you listen to My commandments . . . then I shall provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.”
R’ Palagi adds in the name of his son, R’ Yitzchak Palagi [z”l]: In the verse quoted above, the Hebrew word “Avanehah” / “its stones” has the same letters as “Bana’ehah” / “its builders.” The initial letters of the Hebrew phrase, “Avanehah barzel u’mei’hararehah tachtzov” / “its stones are iron and from its mountains you will mine [copper]” spells “Avot” / the Patriarchs. And, “barzel” / “iron” is the initial letters of Yaakov Avinu’s four wives: Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah. This teaches that Eretz Yisrael is built on the merits of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. (Artzot Ha’chaim p.26)
“You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your Elokim, led you these forty years in the Wilderness so as to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would observe His commandments or not.” (8:2)
What does it mean that Hashem tests a person? After all, Hashem knows in advance what the outcome will be! R’ Moshe ben Nachman z”l (Ramban; 1194-1270) explains: Hashem presents people with challenges in order to reward them, for even though Hashem knows that someone is capable of withstanding a particular challenge, a person who merely has the potential to do something heroic is not as deserving as someone who has actually done something heroic. Indeed, Hashem only tests those who can pass the test. Why then is it called a “nisayon” / “test? Because, from the perspective of the person being tested, it is a test, for he has free will and does not know in advance how he will perform.
For this reason, Ramban continues, Bnei Yisrael were tested in the desert [as our verse relates], i.e., so that they could be rewarded for tolerating the inconveniences of, and frightening times in, the desert. Thus we read (Yirmiyah 2:2), “So said Hashem, `I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown’.” [See below] In addition, Ramban writes, a person who withstands a test is deserving of reward because, through his heroism, Hashem’s Name is sanctified and other people are led to love and fear Him. (Sha’ar Ha’gmul)
Did Bnei Yisrael really pass their test in the desert? Surely they complained a great deal!
R’ Yoel Sperka shlita (Detroit, Michigan) explains: Commentators ask why the Torah identifies all of the places where Bnei Yisrael camped in the desert, and they answer that the Torah is informing us that Bnei Yisrael followed the Clouds of Glory to a series of extremely inhospitable places. And, while the Torah tells us that some of Bnei Yisrael complained on some occasions and were punished for their complaints, those were the only times that they complained. Overall, Bnei Yisrael did, in fact, follow Hashem through the desert and tolerate all of the inconveniences that they encountered. (Chazon Yoel, note 182)
R’ Mordechai Yosef Leiner z”l (1801-1854; the Izbica Rebbe) writes that a person sometimes faces a challenge which he cannot pass, as was the case when Yehuda encountered Tamar (Bereishit 38:15). (Mei Ha’shiloach: Pinchas)
What is the purpose of such a test? In fact, a challenge that cannot be passed is not considered a test. Rather, the test is how a person will react to his failure. In Yehuda’s case, the test was whether he would confess and spare Tamar’s life (as he ultimately did). (Heard from Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky shlita)
In other cases, the test may be whether a person allows himself to become depressed by his “failure,” or whether he uses his fall as an opportunity to strengthen his prayer and Torah study. (Ayin Tovah)
“He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the mahn that you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” (8:3)
As related in Parashat Beshalach, Hashem did not feed Bnei Yisrael the mahn until they cried for food. R’ Dr. Avraham J. Twerski shlita explains that had Hashem anticipated all of the Jewish People’s needs — for example, had He provided the mahn before they were hungry — they would never have developed trust in Him. This, writes R’ Twerski, is an important principle in parenting as well. If parents anticipate the needs of their child and provide for them before the child has had an opportunity to identify those needs, the child may never learn that his needs will be met. A child must be allowed to feel his needs. When the parents respond in a way that meets those needs, then the child learns to trust his parents. (Successful Relationships p.32)
“You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your God, chastises you.” (8:5)
R’ Itamar Schwartz shlita (Yerushalayim) observes that many people have difficulty serving Hashem with the feeling known as “yirat ha’onesh” / “fear of punishment,” because they find that attitude depressing and would prefer to think of Hashem as a loving G-d. Our verse teaches, however, that these two feelings are one and the same. Why does a father chastise his son? Because he loves him. When one takes this view, R’ Schwartz writes, yirat ha’onesh becomes inspirational, not debilitating. (B’lvavi Mishkan Evneh vol.2 p.178)
“For if you will observe this entire commandment that I command you, to perform it, to love Hashem, your Elokim, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him.” (11:22)
The midrash Sifrei teaches: “To walk in all His ways”–This refers to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in the verses (Shmot 34:6-7), “Hashem, Hashem, Kel, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, etc.” We read further (Yoel 3:5), “It will be that anyone who calls in the Name of Hashem will escape.” The midrash asks: How can a person be called in Hashem’s Name? [The midrash reads the verse as if it says: “It will be that anyone who is called in the Name of Hashem will escape.”] Rather, says the midrash, just as Hashem is compassionate, so you should be compassionate; just as Hashem is gracious, so you should be gracious; and you should perform acts of kindness for all people. The midrash continues by quoting the verse (Yeshayah 43:7), “Everyone who is called by My Name and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have fashioned, even perfected.”
R’ Aharon David Goldberg shlita (Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio) writes: The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are significant for two reasons. First, they are the attributes through which Hashem bestows mercy on the world. This is alluded to by the verse from Yoel. Second, they are the attributes through which a person can emulate the Creator. This is alluded to by the verse from Yeshayah, which teaches that man is fashioned in G-d’s image. (Ve’halachta B’drachav al Tomer Devorah p.92)
Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Bet Hamikdash: . . . (8) the people stood crowded together, yet prostrated themselves in ample space; . . . (10) no man ever said to his fellow, “There is insufficient space for me to stay overnight in Yerushalayim.” (Chapter 5)
R’ Yisrael Dan Taub z”l (1928-2006; the Modzhitzer Rebbe) observes that we find a similar phenomenon in connection with other aspects of the Bet Hamikdash as well, for example, in the Kodesh Hakodashim / Holy of Holies. Our Sages say that the Aron Hakodesh / Holy Ark took up no space; it stood in the center of a room 20 amot / cubits wide, but if one measured from each side of the Aron to the nearest wall, the resulting measurement would be 10 amot.
We find that Eretz Yisrael has the same character. The Gemara (Gittin 57a) teaches that the Land of Israel is called Eretz Tzvi / the land which resembles a gazelle. One characteristic of a tzvi, the Gemara says, is that its hide shrinks when it is removed from the animal so that it seems too small to have come off of the animal. So, too, Eretz Yisrael appears too small to hold all of the Jewish People, yet it seems to expand to accommodate all who settle there.
Why is this? R’ Taub explains that wherever one finds holiness, there he will find a blessing that allows him to be satisfied with less. This is reflected many times in the Torah, for example, in Devarim (12:7), “You shall eat there [in Yerushalayim] before Hashem, your G-d, and you shall rejoice with your every undertaking, you and your households, as Hashem, your G-d, has blessed you.” When you eat “before Hashem,” your happiness is guaranteed. This is reflected also in the construction of the Mishkan, where Moshe had to announce that no more donations should be brought. The more one connects himself to Hashem–the “Ein Sof” / “Limitless One”–the more one finds that his belongs are not bound by ordinary limitations. (Yad Le’banim)
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