The Point of the Land of Israel (Ekev)
Every great person has first learned how to obey, whom to obey, and when to obey. -William Arthur Ward
The Torah repeatedly declares the primacy of the Land of Israel. The whole purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was to bring the Jewish nation to that land “flowing with milk and honey.” The Land of Israel is an inheritance to the Children of Israel, from the days of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The whole focus, the whole goal of Israel’s journey through the desert is to eventually get to the Promised Land. The entire book of Deuteronomy revolves around preparing the people for their entry into the land.
Therefore, it may seem counterintuitive and even shocking, that with such definitive historical, legal, and textual centrality that the Land of Israel has for the people of Israel, that the connection between land and people is conditional.
Deuteronomy 8:1 states:
“You shall faithfully observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your fathers.”
The Meshech Chochma on that verse reads the statement as conditional. If you observe the commandments, then you will possess the land. If you don’t observe the commandments, you won’t possess the land. This is not an original statement, as the Torah in various places states this unequivocally. Not only will we not possess the land, but we will be kicked out of the land for lack of obeying God’s laws.
What is noteworthy about the Meshech Chochma’s analysis is his statement that not only will we not possess the land if we don’t follow God’s directives, but that the entire purpose, the entire reason why the Children of Israel were given the Land of Israel, was exclusively to follow God’s commands. Once we stop following God’s commands our very reason for having the land disappears. That deal is nullified, broken, revoked.
The Meshech Chochma takes this understanding a step further. One might have thought that if the deal of possession of the land is void, then all of the “strings,” all of the responsibilities and commandments which were placed on Israel would likewise be voided, that we would be absolved of further wrongdoing. However, that conclusion would be wrong, especially in the area of idol worship. We are still liable. The covenant is not broken, despite our “treason.” God holds us accountable regarding His commandments, even if we don’t think we are.
The Meshech Chochma brings as proof the fact that the prior inhabitants of Israel were expelled, in part, because of their idolatrous practices, and all of humanity, since the time of Noah, had already been warned and commanded to refrain from idolatry.
May we become worthy of possessing the land of Israel.
To the 15th of Av, one of the happiest days of the year in ancient times.