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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5774

Ein Ayah: The Impact of the Characteristic of the Land on Peoples Daily Conduct

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:3)

Gemara: [The mishna lists various activities, including eating, that one should not start soon before the time to daven Mincha and states that if one had already started, he may continue.] What is considered the beginning of eating? Rav said: from the time he washed his hands. Rabbi Chanina said: from the time he loosens his belt. And they are not arguing: this is for us; this is for them (Rashi – the people of Bavel would fasten the belt firmly and loosen it before eating; the people of Eretz Yisrael did not have the practice of loosening the belt before washing their hands). 


Ein Ayah: The practices of etiquette have a connection to the nature of a nation, which is related, albeit to varying degrees, to the nature of the land.

It is possible that the tight fastening of a belt demonstrates a situation in which the body is prepared for very hard work. In contrast, for one who is connected to the use of intellect, the situation of girding one’s loins is not the proper one, as he must remove anything constricting from the body so that he can be free like the spirit of logic that elevates him. The Land of Darkness (i.e., Bavel – see Pesachim 34b) is not blessed with an affinity for high-level intellectual inquiry, and therefore its people are more drawn toward a situation that is connected to preparations for physical activities. One such situation is having one’s belt fastened firmly, which shows physical diligence. Eretz Yisrael is different. Its air wisens its inhabitants, and their expected goal is to be learned in the ways of Hashem and to be steeped in intellectual/philosophical inquiry. Only at times, when there is a need, do they enter into physically rigorous activity.

It is true that laziness is the enemy of wisdom and that it is proper for the study of Torah to be accompanied by work (Avot 2:2). Still, though, the lifestyle in Eretz Yisrael is one that draws one into a situation that is more appropriate for the work of the spirit than physical work. This is in line with the pasuk: “This nation I created for Myself; My praises they will tell” (Yeshaya 43:21). The navi speaks positively about a situation in which “foreigners will stand up and will graze your flock, and the sons of strangers will be the farmers, and you will be called the priests of Hashem, the servants of our G-d” (ibid. 61:5-6).

Not only in the times of Mashiach but even in the past, at the time of Shlomo, much of the hard physical work was handed over to non-Jews, who were more naturally inclined toward it. The Israelites, in contrast, were doing great things in the realm of the spirit, in Torah study, ethics, and pursuits of wisdom, whether in the field of practical leadership or purely intellectual matters of Torah and philosophy. This is the special characteristic that Israel has among the nations, as the pasuk says, “His nation belongs to the portion of Hashem” (Devarim 32:9).

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