When does a person excel? Think of athletes, actors, musicians. Those who excel are driven to demand much of themselves. They perfect themselves, they perfect their performance. No one who truly excels can ever rest on his laurels. This week’s parasha demands an entire people to excel, to demand much of itself collectively:
כי הארץ אשר אתה בה-שמה לרשתה לא כארץ מצרים הוא אשר יצאתם משם אשר תזרע את-זרעך והשקית ברגלך כדן הירק: והארץ אשראתם עברים שמה לרשתה ארץ הרים ובקעת למטר השמים תשתה-מים: ארץ אשר-ה’ אלקיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ה’ אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה: For the Land to which you come, to possess it – it is not like the Land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. Rather the Land you are about to cross and possess, a Land of hills and valleys;, soaks up its water from the rain of heaven. It is a Land that Hashem your G-d looks after; on which Hashem your G-d, always keeps His eye, from the beginning of the year to the year’s end. (Deut.11:10-12)
Is this passage praising Eretz HaKodesh, or is it a threat?
The entire parasha can sound like a warning: Look at you guys – you lived the easy life in Egypt. Even in slavery, Egypt was the ancient bread-basket. No one starved. You just threw out a few seeds, and scooped up the produce. Egypt was the land to which the forefathers fled in times of famine. Continuous water from the Nile, alluvial soil. Easy street.
But this…this dry, arid, parched land – it’sa huge contrast. You want it to provide for you, you’d better be willing to invest every fiber of your being in it, to make it yield its fruits. And even then, it will be a struggle:
ארץ אשר-ה’ אלקיך דרש אתה תמיד
G-d seeks out this land – G-d keeps His eye on it, particularly – He isolates it and holds it to a different standard. And more so, He does the same to the people who would inhabit it.
דרש – Drishah – it’s a pretty strong word.
So Eretz HaKodesh isn’t easy street. The opposite. If we want to keep it, we will continuously struggle to possess it. Someone will always claim it’s not ours by right. The rest of the world will judge us and say we have no right to it at all. Has anything changed? Doesn’t sound like it.
ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלקיך שאל מעמך? Now, Israel, what does Hashem, your Lord ask of you? (Deut.10:12)
Who hasn’t asked that of themselves? What Now? What else could G-d possibly want of me?
Ahh – No. The parasha might be written in the singular, as if to a single person. But in fact, it’s addressed to the collective – to all of Am Israel.
כי אם ליראה את-ה’ אלוקיך ללכת בכל-דרכיו ולאהבה אתו ולעבד את-ה’ אלהיך בכל-לבבך ובכל נפשך: לשמר את-מצות ה’ ואת-חקתיו אשר אנכי השמים הארץ וכל-אשר-בה: What does G-d want of US? Only to fear Hashem, our G-d, to follow all of His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem, your G-d with all your heart and your soul, to observe the commandments of the Lord your G-d, and all of His decrees, which Hashem commands us today, for your benefit.
G-d will water the land and protect it, guarantee that we will flourish in it, but only by maintaining our continuous relationship with G-d.
The success of those who will dwell in the Land does not ever depend upon the opinion of others. Not other individuals, not other peoples, not other governmental bodies.
It depends only upon the opinion of G-d.