Posted on March 23, 2011
by Judah Ari Kerbel
August 8, 2009/18 Menachem Av 5769
From the popular song by Woody Guthrie:
“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me”
I believe this song has a wonderful message about land – that not one person or group of people is completely entitled to all land. Who are people to monopolize land, thereby subjugating others to a second-class standing? Is it up to individuals to control who can step on what land?
The Torah makes it clear for us that land, while maybe being “made for you and me,” is owned by God. Throughout Parashat Eikev, Moshe discusses the issue of land with the Israelites. He reminds the Israelites that they are not worthy in any way of inheriting the land, but rather gain that opportunity because of the promise God made to the patriarchs and because of the “wickedness” of the other nations. If the Israelites stray from God’s mitzvot, they will be punished; the land will not yield for them and they will lose it. Additionally, Moshe discusses in the parasha how the Israelites will need to conquer the land, for it’s not handed to them on a silver platter.
The Israelites are repeatedly told that they are being brought to a “good” land. In Parashat Eikev (Deut. 8:7-10), Moshe says it’s a good land “with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey [7 species]; a land where you may eat food without sting, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you” (Etz Hayim translation). That last sentence serves as the source for Birkat Ha-Mazon, and we recite it in the blessing itself. B’nei Yisrael is reminded that they are lucky to be inheriting such a “good” land, and they must acknowledge and give praise to it, for after all, they are barely worthy of inheriting the land. Their residence on the luscious land is contingent on their observance of mitzvot.
In the Talmud (Berachot 35a), Rabbi Akiva teaches that “it is forbidden for a person to taste anything before he recites a blessing” (Schottenstein Edition Translation). However, the rabbis dispute that there is no source for having to recite a blessing before eating (the verse in Eikev only proves for blessing after), and they conclude that it is based off common sense that we are required to bless before eating. Then we have a sort-of “Yo Mama”-off of what a person who eats without blessing should be compared to. The rabbis teach in a baraita that one who derives benefit from this world without reciting a blessing is like one who steals directly from Beit Ha-Mikdash property. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel says that one who derives benefit from this world without blessing is like one who stole from the sanctified property of Heaven. Rabbi Chanina bar Papa said that one who derives benefit from this world without blessing is like one who steals from God and the Assembly of Israel. The Sages took eating very seriously in that eating without a blessing is basically eating at a restaurant without paying and is a very serious matter.
The mission of the Jew is often captured in the idea of being a “light unto the nations.” What the Torah here demonstrates, and hopefully the world will learn, is that we are not entitled to everything that’s just there – it’s not “mine, mine, mine” like the seagulls in Finding Nemo claim. We share the land with other people, like Woody Guthrie teaches us. It is also a divine gift that we earn only through our acknowledging of its source. If we can acknowledge the source, then perhaps we will treat our resources better and utilize it in ways that will benefit creatures of God and the earth itself.
Did you know …
… that the section of ma’ariv “Baruch Hashem l’olam Amen v’Amen” was once a substitute for thema’ariv Amidah? In the Gaonic Era of Jewish History, minyanim would gather in fields for ma’ariv before dark, and in order to finish the service before dark so people could get home safely, they would recite this at ma’ariv and say the Amidah at home. It is often not said on Saturday nights after Shabbat (since no one would have been working in the fields that this would be needed), and in Israel it is completely omitted.