“Parsha to the Point” – Ekev 5777

Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

Rabbi David Stav 

In Parshat Ekev, Moshe continues his series of farewell addresses to the People of Israel. I would like to focus on the promising and encouraging component of his address that describes the virtues of the Land of Israel, which is “…a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths that emerge in valleys and mountains. A land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates…you will lack nothing in it, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose mountains you will hew copper” [Deut. 7: 7-9].

Truth be told, every time I reach these majestic words, I feel a bit ill at ease. Our land is truly beautiful, but can we really say that it lacks nothing? I am sure we would all be very happy with our own version of the Niagara Falls, or some more cool Alpine air in the heat of summer, for starters.

As for natural resources, though we have been fortunate enough to have recently discovered enormous quantities of natural gas within our borders, copper and iron are not exactly our top commodities. Why, then, does the Torah go to these lengths to create the illusion that we will want for nothing in the Holy Land?

Incidentally, all the abundance promised to the Jewish people will only come into being after they enter the Holy Land, and this accentuates the contrast between the situation the nation was in during this address and when it had been wandering in the desert.

Moshe recalls the nation’s suffering during its sojourns in the desert. His description is surprisingly harsh: “And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know…” [ibid., 8:3].

We might have thought that once the Jewish people had been given the manna in the desert, they would have had assured daily rations, so they could never be threatened with starvation. Yet Moshe insists on describing their condition as one of ongoing starvation and suffering. Naturally, we ask why.

We could explain the suffering as the effect of eating food with which they were not acquainted, as implied by the aforementioned verse, “…which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know…”. This might be a good explanation for how they felt during the first week in the desert, when they needed to get used to their new diets, but certainly not for the second generation, the generation that was born or grew up in the desert and had eaten manna for forty years.

Alternatively, some suggest that the starvation and suffering were felt before they had eaten the manna, but that after eating it, those sensations dissipated. That, too, is problematic, since it deviates too far from the simple meaning of the text.

Perhaps, the mere fact that one needed the manna every day to survive was suffering in and of itself. A person may have plenty of food to eat, but still feel hungry. Today, we say that “it’s all in your head”, especially in reference to manna. Each of us can acknowledge our desire, or even our obsession, to buy products, clothes and food in quantities far beyond what we truly need.

Many have experienced the frequent conversation between a child and his parents, the one that ends with “you can have more once you’ve finished what’s on your plate.” This is a clear indication of a very natural human desire (or, in this case, a child’s natural desire) to feel that a limitless supply of whatever we want is in our grasp.

Similarly, we watch adults stuffing their plates at hotels, “sampling” almost everything in the buffet bar, as if they’d just marched through the Sahara and were about to continue their trek after their hotel stay was over. They are fully aware that they couldn’t possibly consume all that food in one sitting.

Assuming they had no intent of causing harm to the owner of the hotel, or of simply wasting the food, we can presume that a firmly rooted personality trait leads to this kind of behavior. It is, rather, an expression of our desire to feel that we have whatever we need, here and now. This desire is all too human, but it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate faith or maturity.

When our people were in the desert, people lived on food rations. The manna would decompose the very same day it appeared, so it couldn’t be stored for the following days, and if anyone violated Hashem’s instructions by storing food, it would immediately become moldy. For many, the very thought that tomorrow’s food can’t be stored in the refrigerator or in the pantry, and that they must instead rely on Hashem’s good will for sustenance, must have been a cause for suffering and feeling deprived.

Those who lack faith in themselves and in Hashem will have a tough time getting on in such an environment. The sense of deprivation is a psychological and social phenomenon, rather than a reflection of reality, and this is exactly the suffering that occurred in the desert.

The blessing that Moshe bestows upon us as we enter the Holy Land is to reach a place where “we will lack nothing”. This does not necessarily mean that we can obtain or purchase anything we want in the Land of Israel. The essence of the blessing is that we won’t feel that we lack anything. During the 1950s, Israeli society lived through periods of austerity, yet felt satiated and blessed on account of the challenges and realities of life at that time. Likewise, we can also live in a utopia and still feel that we lack certain things.

Solomon, the wisest of men, once said, “One who loves money will never have enough of it” [Ecc. 5:9]. This statement holds true for all facets of our material lives. True happiness is acknowledging what we have, and knowing that we should not gauge our happiness based on the material possessions that we have managed to amass, nor by how much we feel we lack, but rather on what we have merited to give to others. Giving is what infuses content and meaning in our lives, and by giving more and more, we will reach the place where the blessing of “you will lack nothing in it” will come to fruition.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]
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