Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parshat Ekev

The Mountainous Country

In this week's parsha, Moshe describes a major difference between the Land of Israel and 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" (Devarim 11:10-11).

The ancient Egyptians built a series of canals that allowed the water to flow directly to their farms, avoiding their homes. The Egyptians directed the canals by opening and closing the vents with their feet, or by carrying the water with their feet from the river, or by a foot pump.

Biblical Israel however is mountainous. Farmers could not water the fields. They had to rely on rainfall. The rain would come down the mountains in wadis and the fields would be watered. However, if it did not rain, Israel would be in serious trouble.

Therefore, even though Israel is considered to be "a land of honey" (Bemidbar 13:27) it is also described as a “land that devours its inhabitants” (ibid. 32).

The Torah considers the fall and lack of fall of rain as being dependent on Israel's loyalty to God: "a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it" (Devarim 11:12). If Israel is loyal to God, the rain will come. If Israel is not loyal to God "He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain" (ibid 17).

However, it is for this reason that throughout ancient history Egypt was always a wealthy country and a super-power, while Israel had long periods of impoverishment and vassal status. Is this really good?

In Bereshit we see that the richness of Egypt's land is compared to two other countries: Sedom and the Garden of Eden: "Lot raised his eyes, and saw the whole plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, (before the Lord destroyed Sedom and Gomorrah), like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt (Bereshit 13:10)".

What is in common with all these places?

Firstly, each place "was well watered", as they were fed by full flowing rivers: Egypt had the Nile, Eden had four rivers (Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates), while Sedom had the Jordan (The Torah here relates that after Sedom's destruction, the area was no longer well watered; the destruction may have altered the Jordan River somehow.

Another factor they had in common was: sin. In Sedom the "sin has become very grave" (ibid 11:20), that God destroyed it. Adam and Eve were driven from Eden as a result of their sin (ibid Chapter 3), while Israel is frequently warned to avoid acting: "Like the practice of the land of Egypt" (VaYikra 18:3).

The wealth of the water led to sin. Therefore, Israel was given a land that would help keep them on God's path: "a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it" (Devarim 11:12).

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "The Two Arks" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ekev entiled: "Shema 1 and Shema 2" appears at

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