Friday, August 15, 2014

sefas emes on eretz yisrael

If you've been reading this blog the past few weeks you can probably guess that I'm going to focus not only on the parsha, but on Eretz Yisrael.  If you are going to look at a Sefas Emes this week, let me recommend this piece from 1888.  Our parsha sings the praises of Eretz Yisrael and the Sefas Emes makes the lesson even richer and deeper. 

We are promised in the parsha we recite twice daily, “v’haya im shamo’a,” that if we do mitzvos Hashem will bless the land with rain and crops and we will eat and be satisfied and satiated.  But (see Rambam Hil Teshuvah ch 9) don’t we have a principle of “schar mitzvah b’hai alma leika,” that G-d does not give reward for mitzvos in this world?  The Sefas Emes quotes the Midrash at the beginning of our parsha that there is an exception to the rule when it comes to the reward for shabbos, as shabbos is a taste of olam ha’ba.  Similarly, Eretz Yisrael is a taste of olam ha’ba as well. 

The meforshim (see Rashi, GR”A,) interpret the pasuk in Mishlei (5:15), “shtei mayim m’borcha v’nozlim m’toch b’ercha,” using the symbolism of water = Torah.  Learning Torah is like drawing water from a well – it’s hard work that involves great effort (see GR”A).  Our parsha describes Eretz Yisrael as a land of “nachalei mayim,” where rivers flow in the valleys and the mountains.  Torah is everywhere in Eretz Yisrael.  It’s called an “eretz tovah” because, says the Sefas Emes, “ain tov elah Torah,” Torah is found in every nook and cranny.  We have alresdy been zochek to see the flourishing of Torah in Eretz Yisrael beyond whatever could be achieved in chutz la’aretz.

We say in pesukei d’zimra, “v’charos imo habris lases es eretz hakena’ani… lases l’zaro.”  Why do we repeat the “lases” twice?  The Sefas Emes explain that the second “lases” is not talking about the land, but rather it’s talking about the bris itself.  We are given Eretz Yisrael (the first “lases” in the pasuk) because Eretz Yisrael is the place and the means by which Hashem canmake manifest (the second “lases”) his covenant with us. 

The mitzvah of birchas hamazon after eating that appears in our parsha is a command, yet the Torah doesn’t phrase it as such.  V’achalta v’savat u’beirachta” is a description, not an order.  The gemara (Brachos 35) suggests that the requirement to say a bracha is a sevara; it’s something logical and natural.  Maybe the Torah here is alluding to that point -- a command is not needed, as a person is naturally inclined to thank G-d after eating.  The Sefas Emes goes a step further and suggests that the Torah is telling us that the bounty of Eretz Yisrael, “v’achalta v’savata,” inspires a person to bless G-d.  An amazing chiddush: a physical act can produce a spiritually uplifting outcome.  And the Sefas Emes goes yet another step further: the achila itself of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael is an act of praise to G-d.  Celebrating the land is not a means, but is the very essence of what celebrating Hashem is all about.

Chazal tell us that the bracha of “hazan” in bentching was composed by Moshe while the bracha of “al ha’aretz” was composed by Yehoshua.  It sounds like these brachos refer to two different phenomena – just like you say ‘ha’eitz” on an apple and “mezonos” on a piece of cake and never the twain shall meet, so too, Moshe composed a bracha on the mon and Yehoshua composed a bracha on the produce of Eretz Yisrael and never the twain shall meet.  So why do we say both together?

It must be that these two brachos are really thanks for the same thing.  Whether Hashem’s bracha to us is packaged as mon that falls from the sky or is packaged as figs and dates that grow on trees in Eretz Yisrael, it’s the same underlying shefa.  We just perceive it differently and receive it differently.  You want to know what it was like to eat the mon?  Eat peiros of Eretz Yisrael with the right kavanah and you will find out.

We end off the Torah portion of bentching with the bracha of “u’bnei Yerushalayim.”  What does rebuilding Yerushalayim have to do with the food on my plate?  Based on the previous point of the Sefas Emes the answer is obvious.  The food of Eretz Yisrael provided not just material and physical sustenance, but it provided spiritual sustenance as well.  Eating in Eretz Yisrael is an act of avodah.  When I look at the food on my plate in chutz la’aretz and it’s just that – food on a plate and nothing more – it should arouse a longing for what was, for a rebuilt Eretz Yisrael with a Yerushalayim that houses a Beis haMikdash, for a world where “v’achalta v’savata” was itself an act of “ubeirachta.”  The point is not just to give a little sigh and remember what was.  The point is that that yearning for what was transports us to the Yerushalayim that should be – even if we can’t physically be there, we can be there in mind and spirit, and in that way have a taste (excuse the pun) of the ideal.

What I wrote barely scratches the surface of this one piece and what I wrote doesn't do justice to it. 

One final point: After promising that Eretz Yisrael will be land of bountiful harvests, the Torah tells us (8:9) “lo techsar kol bah,” that nothing will be lacking there.  Why give us the whole goody list of the shivas haminim and the promise that there will be no shortage of bread or water, asks the Maor v’Shemesh, if at the end of the day the Torah promises that nothing will be lacking?  If nothing is lacking, then by definition anything we can think of is included and goes without saying!?

He doesn’t quote the Ramban in Braishis 24:1 but I think his answer follows the same line of thought. Commenting on the pasuk, “V’Hashem beirach es Avraham ba’kol,” Ramban explains that “kol” doesn’t mean “everything in a general sense, but refers to a specific spiritual quality:   

אבל אחרים חדשו בפירוש הכתוב הזה ענין עמוק מאד ודרשו בזה סוד מסודות התורה, ואמרו כי "בכל" תרמוז על ענין גדול, והוא שיש להקב"ה מדה תקרא "כל", מפני שהיא יסוד הכל, ובה נאמר (ישעיה מד כד): אנכי ה' עושה כל, והוא שנאמר (קהלת ה ח): ויתרון ארץ בכל הוא, יאמר כי יתרון הארץ וטובה הגדולה השופע על כל באי עולם בעבור כי בכל היא, והיא המדה השמינית מי"ג מדות
After listing all the material blessings that will come to us in the Land, the Torah tells us that material comfort will not come at the expense of moral growth – the land will not lack that quality of “kol,” of spiritual presence and direction.

I would add that the “bah” in the pasuk “lo techsar kol bah” is perhaps referring to the very same fruits and bread that the previous pesukim promise.  The spiritual promise of Eretz Yisrael is not a gift in addition to the material blessings of the Land, but is a quality inherent in those very same gifts, if they are seen and used in the right way.

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