5756 - #21


The Move to Israel

The transition from the desert to Eretz Yisrael was one of the most significant occurrences within our nation's history. Even prior to this move, the philosophical implications of this passage plagued the generation of the desert as marked, most significantly, by the episode of the spies. Life in the desert, under the direct and open guardianship of the Divine, represented one type of existence; it was to be lived under one set of rules. Life in the land, it would seem, with the application of derech hateva, the laws of nature, would entail, though, a different type of existence with a different set of rules. Resistance, fear and concern about this change-to-be filled the minds of the desert population and represented the root of many of our forefathers' problems in the desert.[1]

The question can be posed, though: was the transition into Eretz Yisrael really to be such a major change in the nation's essential rules of life? On the surface, entry into the land with an accompanying commitment to the natural order of existence would seem to, indeed, entail a vast change. The desert experience was marked by the clear, direct Presence of Hashem and the suspension of the rules of nature. In effect, what this essentially represented was that the desert experience operated on a unique set of rules of cause-and-effect dependent fully on righteousness; G-d, in the desert, would react directly and miraculously in response to what an individual truly deserved. In the land, though, as the natural rules of cause and effect became applicable, the rules of cause-and-effect would be dependent upon a different system and not be responsive as directly to one's righteousness. Entry into the land would thus demand other concerns: the recognition of other mechanisms of cause-and-effect. Life in the land would seem to entail a vastly different existence than the desert; no wonder the concern.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Devarim 8:3, though, implies exactly the opposite: that the rules of life in the land of Israel were to be exactly the same as the rules of life in the desert. In fact, the desert - with G-d's Presence so clearly visible - was the place where we were to learn these rules and the reality that everywhere, in the desert and in the land, what occurs is the direct result of Divine Providence. Rabbi Eliyahu KiTov, Sefer HaToda'ah, "Av" adopts a similar approach in explaining the essential sin of the spies. They, in fact, wanted a new set of rules upon entry into the land. Life under the clear, direct overview of G-d was overpowering; they hoped that the application of derech hateva in the land would provide somewhat of a buffer between them and the Divine Overseer. Their negative feelings for the land arose when they finally recognized that the cause-and-effect rules within the land would be exactly the same as in the desert. [2] According to these views, entry into the land did not represent a new regime but the continuation of the same rules of existence that existed in the desert, with the same level of Divine Providence.[3] If this was so, though, if the basis of existence in the land was to be exactly the same as the basis of existence in the desert, what was the purpose of going into the land?

One possibility is that the challenge of the land was exactly this: to maintain the same perception. Entry into Eretz Yisrael did not represent a change in the rules of cause-and-effect, in how essentially G-d related to this world, but the recognition of this reality would demand greater effort. In the miraculous world of the desert, this understanding of Hashem's direct involvement was clear; derech hateva, though, clouds the matter. The challenge of the land would be to see beyond this smokescreen. But what would be the purpose of this exercise?[4] Furthermore, the gift of Eretz Yisrael would seem to have its own value, far beyond a role as a test of faith?

The rules of Divine intervention were not to change with entry into the land but, perhaps, the definition of righteousness was to change. The suspension of the rules of nature in the desert represented an existence that demanded a specific behaviour in the fulfilment of G-d's Will. Entry into Israel did not mean that Hashem would be any less directly involved with the nation but it did mean that the behaviour G-d would want from the nation would be different. Derech hateva does not only represent rules of science but also a Divinely-ordained set of rules of cause-and-effect. While how these rules connect with our understanding of righteousness continues to be the most difficult of questions, there must be inherent righteousness within the basic rules of derech hateva. Simply, there is a righteous cause-and-effect in the farmer, through working his land, reaping the benefits of his labour; his labour does not lead to produce simply within a natural cause-and-effect but this is also a result of righteous cause-and-effect. It is this point that is perhaps the basis of the second paragraph of Shema:[5] when there is a full righteousness in the land then the righteous cause-and-effect within labour will also be allowed to flow clearly. Entry into the land did represent a new relationship with Hashem: not because, though, His connection to us would change but rather because His demands upon us were to change.

The challenge that faced the nation entering Eretz Yisrael must also have been to find and understand this righteousness of derech hateva. Working the land, building a country, were not only necessary to survive in a world of derech hateva, but were righteous acts that brought forth direct reward from the world of direct Divine intervention, from the world of righteous cause-and-effect. And so the Torah also describes the beauty of Eretz Yisrael, for it is also righteous to perceive the beauty of this reality and to thank G-d for His gifts of this beauty. The transition from the desert into Eretz Yisrael did not represent a move from direct Divine intervention to the cloudiness of derech hateva. It though did represent a great challenge as the nation would have to move from a world of spiritual starkness to a much more complex world where the parameters of righteousness became more complicated, the direct involvement of Hashem would not be so easily perceived but nonetheless the rules of righteous cause-and-effect would govern just as it did in the desert.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


[1] See also Spark of the Week 5753-#2.

[2]According to Rabbi KiTov the spies thought that in the land, with the application of the rules of nature, life would be a bit more relaxed. When they saw the giants, though, and recognized that the conquest of the land would also have to be in a manner beyond the rules of nature -- that the Divine Providence in the land would be exactly as it was in the desert and that they would be subject to the same scrutiny inherent in a encompassing system of cause-and-effect based on righteousness -- the spies rebelled.

[3] We can also ask the age-old question of how this level of Divine Providence and derech hateva merge.

[4] The argument that G-d must hide Himself in order to allow for faith and specifically bechira, free choice, is one that I find most difficult. Rather than presenting doubt and the cloudiness of reality as the environment for the challenge of faith, the sources actually point to doubt and lack of knowledge as a legitimate defence for lack of faith and, even, the violation of Torah law. The tinok she'nishba, the child captured by idolaters, is a case on point. A full exploration of this matter is called for but is beyond the parameters of this Spark.

[5] Devarim 11:13-21

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