Hashavua Study Center
Ekev 5769/ August 8, 2009
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-
in Ramat Gan,
project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman
Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on
the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-
International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for
Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Land of Israel, Exile and Redemption
The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world for the sake
of the Torah and for the sake of Israel, each one individually being
called reshit, "beginning".
When Noah divided the world, the land of Canaan
was allotted to Shem, and when Abraham entered the land of Canaan
he conquered it from Shem.
The Holy One, blessed be He, promised him
that he would inherit the land and also that his offspring would be as the dust
of the earth (Gen. 13:16) and as the stars of the heavens (Gen. 15:5-8).
In response to Abraham’s question as to how
he was to know that he would inherit the land, the Lord entered into the
Covenant of the Pieces with him, but noted that there would be periods of time
during which his descendants would be in various places of exile (Gen. 15:12).
The covenant would hold if, and only if, his
offspring would obey the Lord’s commandments (Gen. 18:18-19).
The beginning of Parashat Ekev
portrays the ideal condition of the people and the land when both parties
uphold the terms of the covenant. The
people of Israel
will become more numerous, agriculture in the land will flourish, and the
cattle and flocks will thrive both in quantity and quality.
The Promised Land has many sources of water,
it is a “land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of
olive trees and honey” (Deut. 8:8); “a land whose rocks are iron and from whose
ills you can mine copper” (Deut. 8:9).
G-d will fight for the children of Israel to defeat their enemies
(Deut. 9:3), and they will dwell in security.
This idyllic description continues into Parashat
Alongside this depiction, however, comes a warning to the people not to
ascribe all this beneficence to their own great merits or might (Deut.
Maimonides discusses why such a strong connection was made
between observing the commandments of the Torah and maintaining the state of
abundance in the land, noting as follows:
We are promised in the Torah that if we uphold it with joy
and good spirit and constantly ponder its wisdom, then He will remove from us
all those things that stand in our way of observing it, such as illness, war,
famine and the like, and will shower on us all the good things that support us in
following the Torah, such as plentiful sustenance, peace, an abundance of
silver and gold, so that we not be busy our entire lives in seeking the things
that the body needs, rather that we be free to acquire wisdom and occupy
ourselves with good deeds so that we merit life in the world to come.
As we noted, the Lord
intimated to Abraham as early as the Covenant of the Pieces that the people of Israel would not dwell continuously in the land of Israel, rather that there would be
interruptions (during which they would go into exile) due to failure to observe
the commandments of the Torah. There
would be four periods of exile:
- The exile in
Egypt, lasting at least 210 years, based on the numerical value of the
word redu (= descend), beginning in 1,522
B.C.E. and ending in 1,312 B.C.E.
- The Assyrian
exile, which had two stages:
initially, the king of Assyria exiled many of the people belonging
to the two and a half tribes dwelling east of the Jordan River and in the
Galilee; later, when Shalmaneser conquered the
kingdom of Israel, he exiled all its inhabitants to Halah,
at the [River] Habor, at the River
Gozan, and to the towns of Media (II Kings 17:3-6;
18:9-10). The kingdom of Judah
remained, and there the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi were
- The Babylonian
exile, beginning in the seventh century B.C.E.
Assyria had grown very weak by then, and
a struggle for control of our region began to develop between Egypt and Babylonia.
In the end Babylonia defeated the
Egyptian army and control over our land passed into the hands of
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia.
He fought against the kingdom of Judah,
destroyed the First Temple and removed its treasures, burned the
city of Jerusalem
and exiled its inhabitants (II Kings 24:10-16).
Edomite (Roman) exile, beginning with the destruction
of the Second
Temple in 70 C.E., and lasting
longest of all the exiles – 2,000 years.
The people were dispersed throughout many countries, suffering
humiliation, persecution, blood libels and harsh decrees.
This suffering reached its peak during
the Second World War, when the Germans with the aid of their henchmen in
other nations planned to annihilate the entire Jewish people, slaughtering
six million of them.
Throughout the Torah we are told that the reason for exile
is failure to fulfill the commandments of the Torah.
Above we mentioned the Covenant of the Pieces
and the relevant verses in Parashat Ekev that
draw a connection between observance of the commandments and dwelling securely
in the land. Here we present a few more
examples: “Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its
iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25); “I will lay
your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate… I will make the land
desolate… And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will
unsheath the sword against you.
Your land shall become a desolation and your
cities a ruin. Then shall the land make
up for its Sabbath years” (Lev. 26:31-34).
These verses indicate that not only will the people be exiled from the
land, but that as the land becomes emptied of its inhabitants it will become
ravaged and desolate.
What sins constituted the primary reasons for these exiles?
- The exile to Egypt.
(Nedarim 32a) deals with this question
and three of the views given there ascribe this exile to a sin of
Abahu, citing Rabbi Eleazar,
says that Abraham sinned when he used rabbinic disciples in his war
against the four kings in order to rescue Lot,
for it is unfitting to interrupt the studies of rabbinic disciples to
impose other tasks on them.
Rabbi Samuel was of the opinion that Abraham’s sin lay in
his skepticism, when he asked, “how shall I know that I am to possess it (the
land)?” However, biblical exegetes on this passage say that Abraham did not
promise that his offspring would inherit the land.
In their opinion, his request for a sign was
intended to assure that they would inherit the land even if he or his offspring
were to commit sins which would cause them to lose the land. Perhaps the
Canaanites would repent and then the Lord would leave the land in their hands.
Rabbi Johanan says that Abraham’s
sin lay in his accepting the offer made by the king of Sodom that he [Abraham]
return to him the persons whom he had taken captive in the war (Gen.14:21).
Abraham, after all, since the time he came to
know his Maker, had occupied himself with converting people to monotheism, and
had he not returned his captives to the king of Sodom he would have been able to convert them
as well. Nahmanides
explains that Abraham’s sin lay in endangering his wife’s life by saying, “she
is my sister,” when he went to Egypt
during the famine.
Although he did so for fear that the
Egyptians might kill him on her account, nevertheless he should have trusted
the Lord to deliver himself and his wife from their hands.
In the light of this explanation, it is clear
was chosen as the place of exile, for judgment is meted out in the place where
the sin is committed.
Other exegetes hold that the exile to Egypt occurred for another reason – not because
of Abraham’s sin, but the sin of Jacob's sons prior to and after their coming
lay in the poor relations between the brothers in Jacob’s family, which in the
end led to Joseph being taken down to Egypt and sold as a slave.
Therefore they themselves became slaves to Egypt.
According to the Midrash,
after Joseph’s death the children of Israel decided to live as Egyptians
and ceased to circumcise themselves, thus
also violating the terms of the Covenant of the Pieces.
- The Babylonian
exile. The gemara
(Yoma 9b) discusses the reasons for this
exile: “Why was the First Temple destroyed?”
claims it was for three grave sins committed in those days – idolatry,
illicit sexual behavior, and bloodshed – and cites several verses
indicating that these sins were rife among the people at the time.
Edomite (Roman) exile.
In the Second Temple period the people indeed studied Torah,
observed the commandments, and acted charitably, nevertheless the Temple was destroyed
because of wanton hatred. The
gemara remarks further that this teaches us
that wanton hatred is of equal weight to the three grave sins committed in
the First Temple period.
Further on the gemara
says that the sin of their predecessors (in the First
Temple period) was known and the
end of their exile was revealed, as well; whereas the sin of people in the
Second Temple was not revealed, nor was
the end of their exile. Even though the population in the First Temple
period committed sins of great magnitude, and although the people in the Second Temple period the observed the
Torah, the status of the former was greater than the latter. Indeed their
period of exile was quite short and some of them had the good fortune to
see the building of the Second Temple, whereas we have not yet been so
fortunate as to see the building of the Third Temple.
After each period of exile came a period of
redemption. Such was the case after the
previous two periods of exile (Egyptian and Babylonian), and such shall be at
the end of the long period of exile, the exile by the Romans.
This redemption, known as the final
redemption, will not occur all at once, rather it will resemble the gradual rising
of the sun, like “the morning star … such shall be the redemption of Israel,
beginning little by little and waxing stronger as it proceeds.”
In the wake of the coming of the Messiah
conditions in the land will be terrible in all respects,
so that many amoraim said they did not wish to
be alive in such an era.
When, at the end of days, redemption does
come, the prophets promise that a new era will dawn.
There will be peace throughout the world, an
ingathering of the exiles, the economic situation will improve, people will
enjoy the fruit of their labors, and the people will become firmly established
in their land, nevermore to be uprooted from it (Amos 9:14-15).
The prophet Isaiah promised that in days to
come the House of the Lord will be of supreme importance in the eyes of all
nations. They will come to the House of
the Lord in order to learn the Lord’s ways and follow them, “For instruction
shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord
(Isaiah 2:1-5). Religious life will
flourish and the economy will prosper, as the Lord promised the people of Israel.
Some of the things we have described appear to be
materializing today; it has been said of these omens that “there is no ultimate
redemption which is more revealed than this” (Sanhedrin 98a).