By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
20 Av 5764 - August 6-7, 2004
Every day, morning and evening, we are commanded to recite the
Shema. This central part of our lives is a declaration of faith and commitment
to Hashem, reminding us of our intense relationship to the Creator.
Towards the end of EKEV, Moshe teaches the second paragraph of Shema (Devarim
11:13-21), which is a meditation on the consequences of mitzvah observance. It
And it shall be, if you will surely listen to My commandments that I command
you today, to love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and
with all your soul. Then I will provide your land’s rain in its time, the
early rain and the late rain. And you shall gather your grain, your wine crop
and your oil crop. And I shall give grass in your field for your animals, and
you shall eat and be satisfied (11:13-15).
The Torah states clearly that there is a direct causal
relationship between fulfilling Hashem’s will and material success.
Many serious questions have been raised on this important passage. The Talmud (Berachot
35b) for example asks, “And you shall gather your grain” suggests that we be
expected to do the work in the field ourselves. On the other hand, the ideal
state of affairs is:
And strangers shall arise and tend your flocks (Yeshaya 61:5).
This apparent contradiction is resolved by R. Shimon bar-Yochai: When Israel
does Hashem’s will, others will do their work for them, but when they do not do
His will, they must do their work by themselves.
Tosafot raise a question based on the passage above. It states plainly, “you
shall gather your grain” as a consequence of “it shall be if you will surely
listen to My commandments.” Then, why does R. Shimon bar-Yochai call this “not
doing Hashem’s will”? Tosafot answer that the situation described is when the
people are not completely righteous.
However, Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, known as the Netziv,
1817-1893) finds Tosafot’s answer hard to understand. After all, the verse
spells out what we must do. In the Netziv’s words, “What more does Hashem ask of
In order to answer this, the Netziv develops an idea found earlier in Nefesh
HaChayim, by R. Chayim of Volozhin (1749-1821), Gate I chapter 9. He also
discusses this himself elsewhere in Haamek Davar (on Bereishit 2:5, and in
Harchev Davar on Shemot 25:20 and 40:20).
It is Hashem’s will that we work in the natural way in order to obtain our
sustenance, while simultaneously being aware of our dependence upon Him for our
success. As the Netziv comments on “And you shall gather your grain”: you will
succeed, but you must put in the effort.
The model for this existence on a national scale is in the land of Israel, with
the Temple standing (see Bava Batra 99a). Then Hashem provides for us in the
merit of two elements that are both called Lachmi, My bread:
1) Worship, as in My sacrifice, My bread (Bamidbar 28:2).
2) Torah, as it says, Come, eat of My bread (Mishlei 9:5), which the Talmud (Chagigah
14a) equates with Torah study.
These two factors are not equal, however. To explain their difference, the
Netziv utilizes an analogy from a human king, for “Like an earthly kingdom is
the heavenly kingdom” (based on Berachot 58a). The king has his subjects, and he
also has his soldiers and those who maintain the government. The king allots
land to each of his subjects, and they work the land and provide for themselves.
The revenues collected from the farmers benefit the king’s guards and royal
workers. On the other hand, the king provides for his soldiers and those who
preserve his kingdom directly from his treasuries, without expecting them to
earn their keep. Of course the king loves his soldiers dearly, and he confers
with them frequently, more so than he does with the farmers.
So is the heavenly kingdom. The farmers are compared to Divine worship, the
sacrifices, while the soldiers and those who bear the kingdom are compared to
the study of the Torah.
More than any other area of mitzvot, sacrifice is especially called AVODAH
(work), because its goal and purpose is to grant sustenance, just as one works
to sustain himself:
One who works his land will be satisfied with bread (Mishlei 12:11).
The Talmud (Ketubbot 10b) says that the word for “altar,” MIZBEIACH, hints at
what it does: MEIZIACH (removes harmful decrees), MEIZIN (sustains), MECHABEV
(fosters love between Hashem and Israel), and MECHAPPER (atones for sins).
Furthermore, a craftsman – for example, a tailor – might produce either for
himself or to sell to others. A farmer, on the other hand, is the epitome of
self-sufficiency, for what he produces he eats. Similarly, although only Hashem
knows the purpose of the mitzvot, the sacrifices clearly exist to provide
The Temple service is Hashem’s means of granting material sustenance to Israel
and the world, but it is not automatic. It requires complete faith — “with all
your heart” — and total will and devotion — “and with all your soul.”
In the absence of the Temple, we rely on prayer, which is the analogue to, and
substitute for, sacrifice. As we learn in Taanit 2a, “and to serve Him with all
your heart” means prayer. When pursued with the faith and devotion required of
sacrifice, and coupled with commitment to Torah study, prayer will bring
And it shall be, if you will surely listen to My commandments … to love Hashem,
your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Then …
you shall gather your grain, … and you shall eat and be satisfied.
The second paragraph of Shema teaches that when Israel does Hashem’s will,
meaning they learn and support His Torah, then in the merit of Divine service
Hashem grants prosperity.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In Parshat Ekev the Torah
contrasts the water supplies of Egypt and Canaan. In Egypt, fields are
irrigated by the Nile, but in Canaan, the land “…by the rain of the skies
will you drink water (Devarim 11:11).” Ramban explains that agriculture is
not easier in the land of Israel. Quite the contrary: the Nile provides a
reliable year-round water supply, while in Israel one depends on seasonal
rainfall. This, however, forces Israel to observe the commandments, or
else God will withhold rain!
The Torah continues that Israel is a land which “God cares for; the eyes
of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to
the end of the year (11:12). ” One can be of two minds about this. There
are those who would probably prefer that God not be looking over their
shoulders, so to speak. In fact, R. Meir of Rothenburg (13th century)
wrote that sinners should stay away: it is one thing to sin outside of
Israel, but quite another to rebel against the King inside His own palace!
At first glance, R. Meir’s statement contradicts a Midrash which quotes
God as saying: “Even if they profane it, would that they were in their
Land!” But there is no contradiction. On the individual level, sinners
should stay away; but as a nation Israel is the only place for the Jewish
God’s special attention to the Land of Israel boils down to this: the
destiny of the Jewish people was, is, and will be forged by what happens
in Israel. No place else on earth can make that claim.
Rabbi Yehuda Henkin
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254