Thursday, August 22, 2019

land of milk and honey

Ramban (11:6) points out a very strange omission in our parsha.  After relating the great miracle of the destruction of the Egyptian army at Yam Suf, the parsha then speaks about the midbar and focusses specifically on, "v'asher asa l'Dasan v'Aviram…" who were swallowed up by the earth.  Why does the parsha zero in on Dasan and Aviram and completely ignore the instigator of that whole rebellion, Korach?  Why focus on the supporting players and leave out any mention of the star of the show?

The Oznayim laTorah offers a brilliant analysis that takes us back to the story of the meraglim.  When the spies return and report, they tell Moshe and the people, "V'gam zavas chalav u'devash hi," (13:27) that Eretz Yisrael is ***also*** a land of milk and honey.  To the Jewish people at the time, the land of Egypt was the most beautiful, sophisticated society that they could ever imagine. If not for their being enslaved, it would have been the greatest place to live.  So when the spies report, the best thing that they could say about Eretz Yisrael is that it's also good -- Egypt is of course great, and is the standard by which we measure everything else, but (and this was their one bit of truth) Eretz Yisrael is nothing to look down on either.  From there on, the report was all downhill and led to the people rebelling against going.

Yehoshua and Kaleiv responded that G-d will bring them into (14:8) "...Eretz asher HI zavas chalav u'devash," ***IT***, Eretz Yisrael is the land of milk and honey.  "HI" in the pasuk is a miyut -- only Eretz Yisrael, no other place, can be described as the land of zvas, chalav, u'devash.  Forget Egypt -- we are promised a much better place.

This was the shakla v'treya that led to the punishment meted out to the meraglim.  Is Eretz Yisrael THE land of milk and honey, or is it A land of milk and honey -- one of many possibilities.

This set the stage for Dasan and Aviram, who went even further than that and challenged Moshe, "Ki he'elisanu mei'eretz zvas chalav u'devash la'hamiseinu ba'midbar," (16:13) "You took us out of the land of milk and honey" -- i.e. Egypt! -- "in order to kill us in the desert."  They don't equate Eretz Yisrael with Egypt, but instead reverse things completely and identify Egypt as THE true land of milk and honey. 

This is a completely different argument than that advanced by Korach, one that cuts to the heart of where Klal Yisrael should make their future homeland.

This is the argument that Moshe once again is addressing himself to in our parsha, on the doorstep to finally entering the Land.  Having just spoken about the destruction of the Egyptian armies, Moshe turns to address the question that nagged at the people's heels during these past episodes.  If Egypt was such a wonderful place if not for the fact that they chose to enslave the Jews, why not simply return there once the Egyptian army was destroyed and the Jews freed?  Why travel through the desert to some uncharted new territory when the height of culture and civilization was now open?   Why search for a new "eretz zvas chalav u'devash" when there is one already available?

That's exactly the sin of Dasan and Aviram, Moshe reminds the people.  There is only one land that is THE land of zvas chalav u'devash.

Based on this reading of the Oznayin laTorah, the conclusion of the parsha fits perfectly.  "U'shmarten es kol hamitzvah... lama'an ta'arichu yamim al... eretz zvas chalav u'devash." (11:8-9)  But why  not Egypt?  "Ki ha'aretz asher ata ba shama l'rihsta lo k'Eretz Mitzrayim hi..."  Because Eretz Yisrael is not like Egypt.  It's irrigated by rain, it's got mountains and valleys and beautiful land, it's got hi-tech (OK, I threw that one in), and most importantly, it's "eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doreish osa tamid."  (11:11-12) 

There is no other land like that. 


  1. can we not muster a defense of Dasan and Aviram?

    --Moshe himself declares two Egypts, 1) mei'eretz Mitzrayim, and 2) mi'beis avadim (8:14); the former was "a wonderful place...[before the Egyptians] chose to enslave the Jews". Remember Goshen (see, for example, next).

    --Goshen positively poured breastmilk [chalav], and in the most generous way conceivable (Shemos 1:7); who could believe the fecundity of eretz Yisrael would ever equal, much less surpass that?

    --if honey was 'definitive' in the promised land, why would Hashem give the mon, bamidbar, its particular taste (Shemos 16:31)? wouldn't that simple confuse the issue?

    --Dasan and Aviram can summon to the stand a truly outstanding character Witness: Hashem Himself. the mon fell for them, not far away, not in the middle distance, but at their very feet, as hinted at by the word b'rag'lei'hem, 11:6.

    --as for the eyes of Hashem ever upon the holy land, Dasan and Aviram didn't live to hear of it; they only knew that G-d, after blessing bnei Yisrael early b'eretz Mitzrayim, had focused extensively or even exclusively on the beis avadim, both through the many years of affliction, and for the length of ten plagues (they had left behind a land of miracles, plainly).

    --were not these two Israelites-- who in their heart-of-hearts may've hoped for a Reuvenite piece of the action --profoundly distressed, and left utterly hopeless, hearing of their inescapable deaths in the desert? they would never make it forward to the good life [while Korach the Levite, not numbered among the condemned soldiers, could still hope to celebrate]. (so they would try to 'bail', try to set the entire caravan in "reverse", try to make it back to the larger life of Egypt {or at the least, express their terrible frustration, their desperate defiance, to single-minded Moshe}).

    ...evidently this doesn't stack up for Hashem, Who has His own Desire in all of this, say Yehoshua and Kaleiv (14:8, bereishis). We know that He is the King Who desires life; that if a man, b'tzelem Elokim, desires likewise, he will heed his pesukim, in this case Tehillim 34, :13 :14 and :15 (or lose out, bigtime, at :17)...

  2. Dasan and Aviram "reverse things completely"

    because Egypt IS "THE true land of milk and honey", even when that milk and honey are imported* from Canaan! because Paro insists on his material kavod**.

    a king will do as Shmuel describes (I.8:11-17); nay, a king must do so! he shall not be mochel his kavod. 'but what do you do Moshe?', ask Dasan and Aviram, 'you separate from the one wife that you have; you fast for weeks at a time; you dominate us more and more'(16:13, later part) 'by seizing not one of our donkeys'(16:15). 'what kind of a nation will finally materialize with you for its king? a shifting encampment of a nation, that's what kind, with our tents full of nothing but desert sand, and what wealth we took out from... Egypt.'

    a king cannot be mochel his kavod.

    *Yosef enters Egypt in a caravan of imports, and eventually acquires all of her for the king (47:17,20,23)

    **late in his reign, Hashem so hardens Paro's heart that he cannot possibly be mochel his kavod

  3. Dasan and Aviram have some shakla v'treya* of their own: 'we agree, Master Moshe, that eretz Yisrael is "THE land of zvas chalav u'devash"-- it is the ONLY land where our behavior can turn a healthy flow of milk, and an extra drop of honey, into contaminated discharge! only eretz Yisrael will expel us for giving an impure name to its vital gushes and oozings, just as you so emphatically taught us [Vayikra 18:28]. in Egypt, no such thing; we will enjoy our abundance there without risk of unsavory byproducts, neither Zav! brand milk, nor Zav! brand honey...'

    *a pair of rappers who argue to a violent beat? [rhythmic hostility, that great cultural contribution! may all lands vomit them out (else swallow the offenders to soundproof pits)]