Thursday, August 18, 2011

The land of Tov, and the need to bless Eretz Yisrael

Summary: In a fascinating construction by Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz, the blessing of the land, lack of barrenness, etc., was needed to combat the natural negative nature of Eretz Yisrael, as accurately described by those well-known tzaddikim, the meraglim. Or else there was 'natural' blessing, as a result of taking off maaser, and the 'supernatural' blessing, of exceedingly large amounts, which was all the more impressive and a demonstration of love, since it violated the 'natural order' of blessings.

Post: I saw this interesting commentary by Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz on parashat Ekev. The pasuk in Ekev states that due to our keeping the mitzvos, {Devarim 7:13}

13. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your cattle and the choice of your flocks, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you.יג. וַאֲהֵבְךָ וּבֵרַכְךָ וְהִרְבֶּךָ וּבֵרַךְ פְּרִי בִטְנְךָ וּפְרִי אַדְמָתֶךָ דְּגָנְךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ שְׁגַר אֲלָפֶיךָ וְעַשְׁתְּרֹת צֹאנֶךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לָתֶת לָךְ:

Rav Eibeshitz writes, after citing the pasuk,

"Even though the scouts said that it was 'a land that consumed its inhabitants', and truly it would be awful to believe that that they would lie and utter a falsehood, for they were righteous men and yesodei olam. However {with this blessing}, Hashem would perform outside the realm of nature, and bless the fruit of your womb, and would also bless your grain, wine, and old, which for this reason would {otherwise} not sustain in a rich land like Eretz Yisrael. And He will also bless the offspring of your cattle and the choice of your flocks, even though Eretz Yisrael was not a place of cattle, as was stated by the children of Gad and Reuven, who requested their portion in a land of cattle, over the Yarden River. And despite this, He will bless the offspring of your cattle.

Or it appears that behold, a blessing is not found except upon that which is concealed from the eye, and not that which is found. And in Eretz Yisrael, the obligation applies to separate terumah and maaser, and this needs to be in measure. And even so, I will increase it exceedingly. And if so, this is a wonder upon the change in nature, and an extra act of love to change the order of the world on your behalf. And behold, by Yiftach is written, 'and he went to the land of Tov', and it is stated in the Midrash that he went outside the land of Israel, to be exempt from maaser. And this is difficult -- now, is this the goodness, to be exempt from maaser. Rather, it appears that it is stated, 'take maaser {aser} in order that you become wealthy {tisasher}. And it is stated in the midrash, 'if you sow 100 kav, you will reap 1000 kav, for the blessing in it is 10X, via maaser.' And if so {?}, in Eretz Yisrael, the goodness of the land is not recognizable, for it could be that it is blessed via the maaser. But, in a place which is exempt from maaser, the blessing of the land is felt. And this is what is stated, 'and he went to the land of Tov / the good land'. And it is difficult, how did he know? And therefore it is stated 'to outside the land, which is exempt from maaser', such that he could well sense this."

The assumption that the spies would not lie, and that this was not, as per other midrashim, by the design of Hashem to make the spying easier, is an interesting one, and enables the contrast R' Eibeshutz makes.

Regarding the midrash about Yiftach and the land of Tov, I found it in Yalkut Shimoni on Shofetim, but given its attribution, it is drawn from a much earlier source:
ויברח יפתח מפני אחיו וישב בארץ טוב 
 אמר ר' יהושע בן לוי:
למה נקרא שמה טוב?
שהיא פטורה מן המעשרות. 
On a peshat level, the land of Tov refers to the land of Gilead, which is in Ever Hayarden, part of the portion of the Bnei Gad, Bnei Reuven, and Half the tribe of Menasheh. Could it be, then, that the midrash is speaking not of absolute Chutz LaAretz but of this area? I am not a baki in this area of teruma and maaser, but based on this dvar, many poskim maintain that while Ever Hayarden is exempt from bikkurim, they are chayav in terumos and maaserot; but that the Rambam, in Hilchos Terumah, perek 1, halacha 8, states otherwise. (See footnote [7] in the linked-to dvar-torah; and the midrash in Bemidbar Rabba 22:7, at the top of this page, is brought as proof of its Chutz LaAretz status.)

Why would the area then be called 'tov', according to this midrash? Well, it has a certain status of Eretz Yisrael. But, one is exempt from terumah and maaser. And some people liked this, since they got to keep more of their stuff. After all, they invented the haarama, the halachically legitimate loophole, of bringing produce into the house via the roof or window to prevent it from becoming subject to terumah and maaser. If so, we don't need to resort to the contortions described above. Not that the contortions did not make for a very neatly constructed and thus impressive system.

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