Parashat Va'etchanan: The Goodness of the Land and its Special Mitzvot
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Did we inherit the Land of Israel to eat its fruit – or "only" to observe its mitzvot? On the sanctity intrinsic to the Land of Israel.
In honor of the parasha that opens with Moshe Rabbeinu's supplications to enter the Land of Israel, we will explore the sanctity of Israel's produce.
Based on Hilchot Ha'aretz, preface to the Laws of Orlah, pp.119 –120.
Did we inherit the Land of Israel to eat its fruit?
In the beracha me'ein shalosh, we say: "on the trees and on the fruit of the trees and on the produce of the field, and on the beloved, good, and expansive land that You wanted and you apportioned to our forefathers so that we may eat from its fruits and be satisfied by its goodness."
"And some say 'and we will eat from its fruits and we will be satisfied by its goodness.' And this should not be said, since we should not desire the Land of Israel for its fruits and its goodness, but rather to perform the mitzvot dependent on it."
In the Smak's opinion, we did not inherit the Land of Israel in order to partake of its fruits and be satisfied by its physical goodness, rather to fulfill our spiritual mission as a nation.
The Smak bases his statement on a Gemara in Sotah 14a:
Rabbi Simlai taught: For what reason did Moshe our teacher desire to enter the Land of Israel? Did he need to eat of its produce, or did he need to satisfy himself from its goodness? Rather, this is what Moshe said: Many mitzvot were commanded to the Jewish People, and some of them can be fulfilled only in the Land of Israel, so I will enter the land in order that they can all be fulfilled by me. The Holy One Blessed be He, said to him: Do you seek [to enter the land to perform these mitzvot] for any reason other than to receive a reward? I will ascribe you credit as if you had performed them.
In the Bach's gloss (on the Tur ibid., 12), he questions the Smak's conclusion:
It is puzzling: the sanctity with which the Land of Israel is imbued also influences its produce. The produce is nourished by the sanctity of the Divine Presence, which resides within the Land of Israel. And it is for this reason that [the Torah] states the warning at the end of parashat Masei: "You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I the L-rd abide among the Israelite people" (Bamidbar 35:34) and it is for this reason it is correct that we include in this blessing "and we will eat from its fruit and we will be satisfied by its goodness," since by eating its fruits we are nourished by the sanctity of the Divine Presence and its purity and we will be satisfied by Its goodness.
Recent studies indicate that organic produce has a different compositional makeup than conventionally grown produce (British Journal of Nutrition), containing up to 69% more antioxidants and many other additional benefits. In a similar vein, the Bach here informs us here that even if Israeli fruits and vegetables might seem no different to the naked eye than their counterparts abroad, their compositional makeup is radically different. The sanctity of the Land of Israel and the Divine Presence that rests within it influence the produce growing there. It follows that eating Israeli produce carries significant spiritual benefits – direct nourishment from the Divine Presence!
The mitzvot that depend on the land, or the land that depends on the mitzvot?
Regarding the mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop ([1882–1951], Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav and Rabbi of the Jerusalem Sha'arei Chesed neighborhood; Mei Marom, Ma'ayanei HaYeshua, p.314) writes as follows:
The sanctity of the Jewish People is independent and intrinsic and is not dependent on any external reason. It is precisely for this reason that the Holy One blessed be He gave them the Torah and mitzvot, since He wanted "to grant merits to Israel, therefore He gave them many laws and commandments" (Mishnah, Makkot 3:16). The same is the case regarding the sanctity of the Land of Israel, which is an independent, intrinsic sanctity. And it is for this reason that there are special mitzvot that are tied only to it. It is not that the sanctity of the Land of Israel is tied to its mitzvot; on the contrary: it is due to its sanctity that these mitzvot are commanded that are tied to it. By performing the mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel, we uncover the Land's independent sanctity.
Rabbi Charlop explains that the mitzvot depend on the Land of Israel; that is, the sanctity of the Land of Israel is the reason for the obligation of theses mitzvot. For this reason, the term is the "mitzvot dependent on the Land" and not "the Land dependent on the mitzvot." The uniqueness of the mitzvot dependent on the Land of Israel is that these mitzvot especially reveal, express, and actualize the Land of Israel's sanctity.
The land-dependent mitzvot are mitzvot that pertain to the soil and to crops that grow in the soil. However, the produce or soil are not merely means for performing the act of the mitzvah, rather the mitzvah is performed with them because of the special nature of the produce and soil. That is, because there is sanctity inherent in the object (cheftza)—the produce and soil—there are mitzvot tied to the Land of Israel. This is the deep significance of the term mitzvot hateluyot ba'aretz, the precepts dependent on the land, as opposed to ha'aretz hatelyua bamitzvot, the land dependent on the mitzvot.
May we all merit to partake in the sweet and spiritually nutritious Israeli produce and perform the special mitzvot that depend on the Holy Land!