AIMeMTorah would like to thank Mark Cheirif for filling in this week.
This week’s Parasha, Re’eh, starts off in a sort of peculiar way. Before entering the land, Moshe tells Benei Yisrael about the brachot and klallot, blessings and curses, which go along with keeping or transgressing the mitsvot. He commands Benei Yisrael to place the tribes that represent the bracha on Mount Gerizim and those that represent the klalla on Mount Eval.
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה: אֶת הַבְּרָכָה אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם: וְהַקְּלָלָה אִם לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְסַרְתֶּם מִן הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתֶּם: וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ וְנָתַתָּה אֶת הַבְּרָכָה עַל הַר גְּרִזִּים וְאֶת הַקְּלָלָה עַל הַר עֵיבָל:(Devarim 11:26-29).
But why should the bracha and klalla be pinned to topography? What does geography have to do with brachot and klallot regarding all of the mitsvot?
There are many ways to classify the mitsvot of the Torah, one being מצוות התלויות בארץ versus מצוות שאינן התלויות בארץ. In other words, some mitsvot are applicable only in the Land of Israel, and some are obligatory regardless of location. Perhaps the brachot and klallot only apply to mitsvot of the Land, making the connection between the brachot specifically on Mount Gerizim and klallot on Mount Eval fitting.
The only problem with this explanation is that if one reads the brachot and klallot written later on in Parashat Ki Tavo (actually, only the klallot are mentioned explicitly), they are not all based on the Land of Israel itself; Idol worship, cursing one’s father and mother, are both worthy of klalla, as are moving one’s fence or border back, thereby stealing land. (Actually, the latter happens to be the only klalla that pertains directly to the land.)
So why must the mitsvot, even those regarding monetary and interpersonal relationships, be tied to the land? And why must the land be connected to those mitsvot? Which is more fundamental to Torah, the land or the mitzvot?
This isn’t merely a technical issue for ancient scholars, the land and mitsvot dichotomy is manifested through modern Jewish society. Generally speaking, there are two groups of thought in the world today. The stereotype is that members of one group emphasize the importance of the land over the performance of other mitsvot, while the other believes the opposite. Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification, but the duality exists on some level.
In reality, the juxtaposition of all the mitsvot and the Land of Israel are a theme throughout the Torah, not just the opening of our parasha. But it isn’t entirely clear if mitsvot or the land should be the emphasis. Rashi on Genesis 17:8 famously comments:
לאחוזת עולם: ושם אהיה להם לאלקים, אבל הדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו אלוק:
Astonishingly, according to this comment, even if one does mitsvot and worships Hashem perfectly out of the Land of Israel, it is as if he “has no God”! Similarly, Ramban comments on Leviticus 18:25:
ומן העניין הזה אמרו בספרי ואבדתם מהרה... אע"פ שאני מגלה אתכם וכו' והנה הכתוב שאמר ואבדתם מהרה ושמתם את דברי וגו' אינו מחייב בגלות אלא בחובת הגוף כתפילין ומזוזות, ופרשו בהן ובתפילין ומזוזות כדי שלא יהו חדשים עלינו כשנחזור לארץ כיעיקר כל המצוות ליושבים בארץ ה'....
That is to say, that even mitsvot that don’t directly relate to the land, such as Tefillin and Mezuza, although still required in exile, were really intended to be fulfilled in the land of Israel!
But on the other hand, living the land of Israel is not a given for Benei Yisrael. As we see in several places in the Torah, Hashem always intended that some members of the Jewish people would reside outside of Israel. Additionally, the mitsvot can’t be secondary to the land because our dwelling upon it is contingent upon our keeping the Torah. Anything less and the land will spit us out.
It seems that both the land and the mitzvos are interdependent. Benei Yisrael are a nation that collectively engages in relationship with God; they are a people governed by a symbiosis of national homeland and commandments. One without the other would create a fragmented, incomplete people.
May we, as a people, soon have the ability to bridge our social and existential gaps, finding our place in Torah and our inheritance in the land. After all, as Rashi explains in his first explanation on the Torah, Benei Yisrael were meant to always be in Israel and the world was created through the Torah; thereby showing that both Torah and Israel are the thrust and direction of Creation and history.
Mark Cheirif originally hails from Dallas, Texas. He has studied in Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem and currently studies in Lander College for Men in Queens, New York. This is his second time contributing to AIMeM.
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