Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ekev 5769/ August 8, 2009

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A 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- Ilan University's 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, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

The Land of Israel, Exile and Redemption

Prof. Yehoshua Ivri

Meitar

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". [1]   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. [2]   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). [3]   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 Re’eh.  Alongside this depiction, however, comes a warning to the people not to ascribe all this beneficence to their own great merits or might (Deut. 7:12-20).

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: [4]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 concentrated.
  3. 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).
  4. The 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?

  1. The exile to Egypt.   The gemara (Nedarim 32a) deals with this question and three of the views given there ascribe this exile to a sin of Abraham’s.  Rabbi 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 doubt   G-d’s 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. [5]  

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. [6]   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 why Egypt 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 to Egypt.   In Abarbanel’s opinion, [7] the sin 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, [8] thus also violating the terms of the Covenant of the Pieces.

  1. The Babylonian exile.  The gemara (Yoma 9b) discusses the reasons for this exile:  “Why was the First Temple destroyed?”   The gemara 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.
  2. The 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.” [9]     In the wake of the coming of the Messiah conditions in the land will be terrible in all respects, [10] so much so that many amoraim said they did not wish to be alive in such an era. [11]   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 from Jerusalem” (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).  

                                                                                                                                           

 



[1] Rashi on Gen. 1:1.

[2] Rashi on Gen. 12:6.

[3] Rashi, Nahmanides, and Radak on this verse.

[4] Laws of Repentance, chapter 9, in its entirety.

[5] Gen. 15:8 (cf. Sforno, Radak, and Nahmanides on this verse).

[6] See his commentary on Gen. 12:11-13.

[7] Abarbanel’s commentary on Gen., pp. 302-303.   Regarding the explanation that the Egyptian exile was due to Abraham, Abarbanel asks how it could be that the sinner (Abraham) not be punished – for he is told, “you shall go to your fathers in peace” – whereas the sons are punished for the sins of their fathers.  The explanation which we attributed to Nahmanides is presented by Abarbanel, who attributes it to Maimonides, and adds that Abraham’s sin lay not only in saying, “she is my sister,” but also in leaving the promised land after having been told to come to it. 

[8] Exodus Rabbah 1.8.

[9] Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot ch. 1, p. 1.

[10] Sotah 49a-b (Mishnah).

[11] Sanhedrin 98b.