> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > The Guiding Light

The Connection between Israel and the Jewish People

Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Vayikra, 26:32: “And I will make the land desolate, and your enemies who dwell on it will be desolate.”
Rashi, 26:33: Dh: VehashimoTi: “This is a good measure for Israel, that the enemies will not find satisfaction from their land, in that it will be desolate for its dwellers.”
Ramban 26:16: Dh: V’eileh: And that which it says, ‘the land will be desolate for your enemies is a good tiding and teaches that in all of the Exiles, our land will not receive our enemies. And this is a great proof and promise for us, that you will not find anywhere a land that is as good and open…and it is now as desolate as it is, because from when we left, It does not accept and nation or language, and they all try to settle in it and they do not succeed.”

The devastating curses are outlined in this week’s Torah Portion. In the midst of these curses, the Torah relates that the land will remain desolate while our enemies inhabit it. On superficial analysis, one may think this is also a bad thing, yet the Sages point out that this is actually positive. Rashi and the Ramban both cite sources making this point, and the Ramban notes that this is a proof of clear Divine Providence in that the land is incredibly fertile when the Jewish people inhabit it, but totally desolate when they are in Exile.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch1 elaborates on this point and notes that throughout the centuries, the non-Jewish nations have fought for the land, but none were able to successfully cultivate it. He adds that this is a great proof to the truth of the Torah, that this prediction was made thousands of years ago, and it came true.

Indeed, Aish HaTorah have a class called the ‘Seven Wonders of Jewish History’2, and one of the wonders is the interdependence between Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people. They point out that Eretz Yisrael was part of the area known as the Fertile Crescent because of its fertility. Yet, as soon as the Jewish people leave the land, it becomes a desert and none of the many nations that have inhabited it have succeeded in cultivating it. The degree to which this is the case is demonstrated by an account written by the famous author, Mark Twain, when he visited the land in 1867.

"We traversed some miles of the desolate country, whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds, as silent, mournful expanse. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tavor safely. [Tavor is in the north, in the Galilee, the most fertile part of the land.] We never saw a human being on the whole route. We pressed on towards the goal..., renowned Jerusalem. The further we went, the hotter the sun got, the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bound the approaches to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mournful, dreary and lifeless. I would not desire to live there."3

Taking this idea even further, the Mei Daat4 notes that around the same time as Mark Twain, expert English agriculturalists analyzed the actual ground of Eretz Yisrael and concluded that it impossible to grow anything on it, except perhaps potatoes. Imagine how they would have reacted had they seen the land several decades later and how only the Jewish people manage to successfully grow all kinds of produce from it, and at the same time, the areas owned by non-Jews in Eretz Yisrael remain barren.

In the Aish HaTorah class, they note the phenomenon and rhetorically ask:

“Has this ever happened anywhere else in the world? The white men came to this country and took it over from the American Indians. It had amber waves of grain. Did the land suddenly become a desert? Of course not! It doesn't make a difference who's living in the land. If a land is fertile, it's fertile; if it's a desert, it's a desert.”

When we discuss ‘proofs’ of the veracity of the Torah, this idea is often overlooked, but there are really two aspects to why it is so powerful – the obvious one is the fact that this never happened anywhere else, but the second is the fact that the Torah itself predicted it. Only a Divinely-written document could so confidently make such a bold prediction that, if proven wrong, would disprove Its veracity. In addition to the proof aspect of this phenomenon, it should also strengthen the Emunah in all believers in that it clearly demonstrates God’s Providence over us and our relationship to the land.

  1. Taam V’Daat, cited by Mei Daat, p.200.
  2. For a written version of this class, see:
  3. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, Vol. II, Harper and Brothers, 1922, NY.
  4. Ibid, p.201.


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