As the Jewish People stand at the gateway to the Land of Israel, the Torah promises them that it will be a land beyond their wildest imagination [Devarim 8:7-10]: “G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it, a land whose stones are iron and out of whose mountains you will hew copper. And you will eat and be sated and you shall bless G-d for the good land He has given you.” It all sounds so wonderful. And yet, something seems out of place. The Torah describes the Land of Israel as a veritable Garden of Eden, a land bearing all kinds of fruit and grain. How do iron and copper fit in? Unless the Torah is talking about vitamin supplements, it is unclear how metals can help a person to become “sated”.
Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno sheds light on this question by looking at the verses holistically. According to the Seforno, the Torah is promising a vibrant economy that will provide financial security, made possible by extensive food and mineral resources. The Seforno explains that Israel is “a land which is the confluence of numerous good, desirable qualities not found together in other districts of the globe”. Israel is a land that lacks for nothing. Really? Let us take a hard look around and see if the Torah’s promises, as understood by the Seforno, have come to fruition.
The Land of Israel is located between Africa and Asia and as a result, it has a varied climate. The northern part of Israel is characterized by a Mediterranean climate while the southern part is arid. A narrow, semi-arid strip separates the two. Israel’s climate is varied enough to support growing a wide variety of fruit: Grapes grow in the Golan Heights, Galilee, Judean Hills and even in the Negev desert while pineapples are grown in the Jordan Valley. That said, the best fruits in Israel are the ones that the Torah mentions: dates, figs, olives, pomegranates and grapes. Figs are especially hearty. We have two fig trees – one that we planted and one that, to the best of our knowledge, grew after one of our children dropped a half-eaten fig on the ground. The fruit from our rogue fig tree is especially delicious – the perfect combination of tartness and sweetness. Israeli pineapples are another story. While they taste quite good – far better than the pineapples imported from the Dominican Republic – they are extremely small and extremely expensive: thirty shekels will buy you a pineapple about a third the size of the ones we used to buy at the side of the road in southeast Queensland, three for five dollars. There is a reason that Israel exports olive oil and wine but not pineapples.
Another problem with Israeli agriculture is that Israel is exquisitely sensitive to rainfall. The Torah is aware of this, warning [Devarim 11:13-21] that the amount of yearly rainfall is a function of our deeds: Observance of the Torah will be rewarded by rain and disregarding the Torah will cause drought. But even when it does rain, the amount of rainfall is still relatively small. The rainiest parts of Israel receive less than 900 mm of rain a year. Compare this with New York City (1200 mm), Miami (1570 mm) and Rio de Janeiro (1250 mm). Further, rain in Israel is seasonal, falling only from October to May. Israel stores her rainwater in the Sea of Galilee and in underground aquifers in Samaria. These must be kept above a “black line” lower than which an incursion of salts will cause irreversible damage. To conserve water, Israel has become a world leader in drip irrigation and water desalination. Even so, it does not produce water-intensive crops such as rice or sugar.
Now we turn our attention to metals – specifically copper and iron. Archaeological excavations indicate that copper mines in Timna Valley north of Eilat were probably part of the Kingdom of Edom and operated by Edomites during the 10th century BCE, around the time of King Solomon. Iron is another story. Professor Naama Yahalom-Mack asserts that “The site of Mugarat Al-Warda in the Ajlun, near Amman, biblical Rabbat bnei Ammon, is the only iron deposit with evidence for Iron Age exploitation.” Modern Israel has neither copper mines nor iron mines. Israel imports three billion dollars of iron and steel each year, much of it from China. Neither does Israel have any meaningful deposits of “rare earth elements”, defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as “necessary components of more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products.” Again, China is Israel’s primary supplier. Not encouraging news for the Start-Up Nation.
Agriculturally and geologically, Israel cannot stand alone. Without imports of critical foods and metals, Israel would be in a precarious situation. How does this mesh with the explanation of the Seforno? Insight can be offered in a beautiful comment made by Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik. Writing in “Derashot HaRav”, Rabbi Soloveichik dissects the words “You will eat and be sated and you shall bless G-d for the good land He has given you”. How can a human being bless an Infinite G-d, the Everlasting King of Kings? Rabbi Soloveichik answers that man must provide “assistance” to G-d, as it were, to “help” Him reveal His Divine Presence in the world. G-d conceals Himself, in a cloud, as it were. “The obscuring cloud takes on any number of guises. For the physicist, the cloud is a mathematical formula. For the biologist, it is a chemical reaction… For the general, the power of his army. The cloud is any manifestation of nature or man that promotes the illusion that the world operates autonomously, concealing the reality that G-d is responsible for all that occurs on earth.” When a person recites a blessing, he is revealing G-d: “You are hidden behind a cloud… Yet as I drink this glass of water, I reveal your presence. The very fact that I can eat, that my body absorbs food, that I can digest… is testimony to your presence. Through this recognition, I am removing the obscuring cloud: I am revealing you”. The Land of Israel was never meant to be an agricultural or metallurgical juggernaut. While the importance of a vibrant economy is not to be taken lightly, the end-all and be-all of Israel was never to become “the Singapore of the Middle East”. Israel was meant to be a land in which G-dliness is revealed. G-d gives us the resources with which to do so. For a seventy-five year old country, Israel is an economic miracle. Our shops lack for nothing, seventy percent of our energy is produced from natural gas that we discovered under the floor of the Mediterranean, and our high-tech industry, while currently suffering a slowdown, has more than doubled its output in the past decade. If you live in Israel and you cannot see G-dliness, you’re simply not trying.
The Talmud in Tractate Berachot [20b] describes a conversation between G-d and His ministering angels. The angels ask G-d why He shows favour to the Jewish people. G-d answers, “How can I not show favor to Israel, as I wrote for them in the Torah: ‘You will eat and be sated and you shall bless G-d’, yet they are exacting with themselves to recite Grace after Meals even if they have eaten only as much as an olive-bulk or an egg-bulk.” How can the Jewish people be lauded for making a blessing that they need not make (bracha l’vatala)? Is this not considered taking G-d’s name in vein? The answer is that if we are thankful for what we have and not how much we have, if we recognize Divine source of all that is ours, then not only do we not take G-d’s name in vein, we sanctify it.
Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783
Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yehuda ben Tzivia, Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, and Rina bat Hassida.
 Ovadia ben Jacob Seforno, known as “The Seforno”, lived in Italy at the turn of the 16th century.
 Certain fruits that do not grow anywhere in Israel – I am thinking of tropical fruits, specifically mangosteen.
 Rabbi Soloveichik was one of the leaders of North American Jewry in the latter half of the 20th century.
 I remember during the beginning of the COVID pandemic, when toilet paper had become a luxury item in the United States. The supermarket had just dropped of our order, which was spread out across our kitchen and living room floor. My son looked at me and said “This is austerity??”
 While “other districts of the globe” might exceed Israel’s wealth, none of them were created for the purpose of revealing G-dliness.