“You shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you” (Deut. 8:10)
Ekev first and foremost provides us with a paean of praise to the Land of Israel; its very special fruits and its beautiful topography.
It also gives us the “mother of all blessings,” the source for all of the blessings we make on objects of physical enjoyment: “You shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you,” our grace after meals.
This is the only time in the Bible where we are commanded to make a blessing. But this blessing is strange, because instead of thanking God for the food, we are thanking Him for the land. Why bless the land? My suggested answer partly explains why we have become a pariah nation, and why we seem to be losing our legitimacy especially in the eyes of Europe, which was originally so supportive.
Yoram Hazony, head of the Shalem Institute, argues that it is not the actions of Israel but rather the values of the Western world that have changed. In the wake of the horrors of Auschwitz, not only the Jews but the Western world understood that it was the powerlessness of the stateless Jewish people which facilitated the tortures and tribulations that we suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. Therefore, the need of the Jews for a nation-state became almost axiomatic – despite continuing anti-Semitism.
During the last decade, the paradigm of the Western world has changed. It has become apparent to many political scientists and even spokespeople of popular culture that indeed it was the power of individual nation states like Germany that led to Auschwitz; by continuing such nation-states, we are merely preparing the way for another Auschwitz.
They argue that the world is now changing from a separatist-nationalist paradigm to a world of united peoples, individual rather than national rights, universal ideals and ultimate demilitarization. The most powerful example of this is the European Union in which countries like Germany, France and the UK are losing their particularities and national histories in favor of a more universal cultural expression. In this milieu, Israel has become an anachronism; it is only because of this new mind-set that Israel can be called an Auschwitz state and it becomes accepted rhetoric.
In an excellent article which appeared in the Shalem Institute’s Azure journal (Spring 5770- 2010), Dr. Daniel Gordis trenchantly argues that our Bible would vigorously disagree with this new paradigm, arguing that we’ve already “been there, done that” in the story of the Tower of Babel.
The story opens with a world of “one language and uniform ideas” – and that uniformity led to a mass totalitarian state, devoid of individual worth and rights, which ultimately self-destructed in the manner of the Nazi axis and the former Soviet Union.
The message is rather one of universal ethical absolutism, but with separatist and national pluralism, a world of nation-states, each with its own cultural narrative and ethnic expressions, but “they will all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9) when “nation will not lift up sword against nation and humanity will not learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
It is within the individual ethnic expressions that cultural creativity is fostered, that national pride, which – when limited by proper ethical norms based upon every individual having been created in the image of the Divine – will produce an idealistic national purpose that will provide the impetus to continue the narrative into succeeding generations.
It is specifically in cultural diversity that we begin to appreciate the glory of a God who created people who look and think differently, which leads to creative accomplishment and healthy competition.
Indeed, the European Union is lying down dead before the steady march of Islam, which is taking it over with lightning speed. The nation-state Israel may be an anachronism in the minds of the post-modern world, but the paradigm of Israel is the only way to go. Witness the uniform facelessness of the despotic Soviet Union which had no recourse but to return to the separate cultural and ethnic entities that humanity needs in order to survive creatively.
Food, the staff of life, is an interesting and valid expression of cultural separatism; hence different nations have their own distinctive foods, like the pasta of Italy and the wines of France. The Land of Israel produces unique fruits that have become an expression of the uniqueness of the Jewish people who live on it and eat from its bounty, the Seven Species for which we make a special blessing.
In respect to cultural separatism, our Bible crafts the blessing “You shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” – the fruit of Israel, which is unique to the Land of Israel, the patrimony of the people of Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.