A number of years ago I created a mosaic for the Naiberg Family who now reside in Israel. They asked me to design a piece of art that would fit into a niche in their dining room.
I used the Seven Species as my inspiration, and designed a tree to be crafted as a mosaic. Learning how to cut glass I cut the tiles, using 17 different colours. I designed the mosaic, cut thousands of tiny glass tiles, assembled the composition, and it was installed in their Israeli home.
Last week the “Seven Species” were mentioned in the Torah reading of Eikev. As a departure from the regular haftarah blog I decided to write about parshat Eikev and the Seven Species.
“Eikev” is a beautiful introduction to the children of Israel describing land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey. Moshe reassures the people that God is with them. They must remember that the bounty of the land is a gift from God, and they should not be afraid of the large and powerful enemies they will encounter. God will protect them. (Remember the haftarah painting from last week? It showed a Little Russian “David” fighting against a huge Czarist “Goliath”- an example of God protecting His people.)
After reminding Bnei Yisrael of their sins while in the desert Moshe describes the abundance of the land. He says that if Bnei Yisrael keeps the commandments God will give them every place the sole of their foot treads and no enemy will be able to stand against them.
In the parsha it says, “The Lord your God brings you into a good land- a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills. A land of wheat and barley and grapes and fig trees, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” (Deuteronomy ch. 7: 7,8) Moshe goes on to say that there will be bread and the land will produce iron and brass. But he warns them. He says, “Beware lest you forget the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments.” (ch. 7:11)
God knows how easy it is, when living in a land of plenty, to forget God. The first generation will remember the difficulties and discomfort of the desert and be grateful for the new abundance but the memory will be hard to sustain. After working the land, harvesting the crops, eating the bread and honey and fruits; digging, smelting and crafting the brass and iron- it will be easy for someone, especially in later generations, to take credit for the bounty of the land and for his or her success. It makes sense that when we work hard we feel satisfaction for what we have achieved. And we forget that the land, the weather, and the results are God’s gifts to us.
In reference to this parsha Nechama Leibowitz said it is easy to overlook the hidden miracles. Success is a hidden miracle. The Ramban (Nachmanides) said- No man has a portion in the Torah of Moses until he regards all that befalls him as a miracle.
Both Nechama Leibowitz and the Ramban reminded us, in different ways, of what Moses was telling Bnei Yisrael . And what Moses told Bnei Yisrael holds true for us today. We can read the words and put it in the past tense for the nation that was entering Canaan for the first time, or put it in the present tense for the Jews who live in Israel today.
The Land of Israel is a gift from God. Bnei Yisrael is a tiny nation- much smaller than the nations surrounding it. If we do what we are commanded to do we will inhabit the land, we will keep the land, the rains will fall and the crops will grow. But we are not to forget that it all comes from God.
The giving of Tzedakah (charity) – 10% of our income- makes sense. It is a way we are reminded that our bounty is not because we are so smart or we work so hard. Our success is a hidden miracle from God. The money isn’t ours. It is ours to share.
In ch. 10:12, 13 Moshe asks the nation, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? But to fear the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. To keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you this day for your good.”
The parsha ends with the last paragraphs of the Shema – one of the key prayers in our liturgy. It reminds us of the richness of the land, the richness of nature, and tells us to remember God always- to teach our children and to remember these lessons of gratefulness throughout our day, every day.