(Photo: Howie Mischel)
A Land of Olive Oil and Honey
BY RABBANIT SHARON RIMON
The Land of Israel is described in Devarim as a good Land, with abundant water and fruit, and full of all good things: “For Hashem your G-d is bringing you into a good Land, a Land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a Land of olive-trees and honey; a Land where you will eat bread without scarceness, and will not lack anything in it…” (Devarim 8:7–9).
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, lacking sources of water and sustenance, the Torah promises the people of Israel that they will finally enter a good Land where miracles will not be needed to survive – where water flows in streams, the soil is fertile, and trees grow and bear fruit. All that remains to be done is to eat and thank G-d: “And you will eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem your G-d for the good Land that He has given you” (ibid., 10)
Reading these verses, you might think that the Land of Israel is idyllic, a place where people can live without any effort, like Gan Eden. However, in reality, Israel is not characterized by large streams and has few water sources in comparison to other countries. Throughout history there have been many periods of drought and famine in Israel, and even today we have dry years without rains in which there is serious concern about low water levels in the Kinneret and the nation’s water supply.
In fact, the Torah itself describes the difficulty of obtaining water in Israel and the Land’s dependence on rain. However, this weakness is actually an advantage; the dependence on rain reminds us of our dependence on G-d and the need to turn to Him in prayer (Devarim 11:1–17). The Land of Israel will become deserted like a desert if we cut off our connection with G-d, or it could be full of goodness like Gan Eden, so long as we hear G-d’s voice walking in the garden.
The period of wandering in the desert was a preparation for life in Israel, for we learned to deal with suffering and difficulty: “And you shall remember the journey which Hashem your G-d has led you these forty years in the wilderness, to afflict and test you… And He afflicted and made you hungry, and fed you manna… so you would know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every thing that comes from the mouth of Hashem does man live” (Devarim 8:2–3).
During times of suffering, we realize that G-d also gives us the strength to cope, holds our hand and helps us through the difficulties. From this we understand that G-d is causing our suffering, as a father does to his son, in order to educate him: “And you shall know in your heart, that as a man chastens his son, so Hashem chastens you” (ibid., 5)
On the other hand, we also experienced miraculous divine abundance in the desert, and learned how to relate to it: “Your clothing did not wear out, nor did your foot swell, these forty years… Who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers knew not, to afflict you and test you, to do good for you in the end” (ibid., 4, 16).
The manna was the daily miracle that we received in the desert every day, and thus constituted a test in itself: would we feel the hand of G-d, even when we received in abundance? Would we trust in G-d to give us everything we need, just as He brought us manna every day? Would we be thankful for the good things we had, and not complain and ask for more? Would we respect the rules G-d set for us regarding the manna, gathering it at the right time and in the right amount? And would we remember this abundance was a gift from G-d, or take it for granted?
During the journey in the desert, our people learned that in times of difficulty, G-d would always take care of us. And on the other hand, we learned that G-d’s hand is behind the abundance we receive, and that we always depend on Him. Both the good and bad are governed by G-d, Who watches over everything and controls all.
These critical lessons accompany us every day, in both times of adversity and times of plenty, when all we must do is eat, be satisfied and bless G-d for the good Land He has given us.
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon teaches Tanach and is Content Editor for the HaTanakh website.