Parshat Ekev

In Parshat Ekev Moshe discusses the attributes of Promised Land and in Ch 8 tells us. “For Hashem is bringing you into a good land – a land with brooks, streams and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills. A land with wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, a land with olive oil and honey. A land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing, a land where the rocks (avaneha) are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” Well, who could ask for a better place to go, and this is followed immediately by the request that when we eat we should praise Hashem for the good land he has given us, which we do in Grace after Meals.

I think we would all agree, that despite our various grumbles, we do have an amazing country with the ability to grow wonderful produce (especially with the help of clever watering systems like “netafim”), but what did Moshe want to convey by adding “a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” R Ovadia Sforno explains that Moshe repeated the term “eretz- a land” five times to present the five qualities of the land – firstly – good clear water, secondly – all the basic foods, thirdly – food fit for kings, fourthly – a solid economy, and lastly good rocks and stones to build solid houses and he adds that the copper is just right for both building materials and making good cooking utensils. So, he explains, the addition of the iron and copper is to show we have all the necessary resources to create a self-supporting society with a solid economy.

The Ramban notes the importance of iron and copper as practical materials rather than silver and gold which are a luxury. He adds that there are areas where Bnei Yisrael will be able to dig out and quarry large blocks of usefully shaped stones that can be used to build houses, walls and towers, not like Egypt and the surrounding lands where the houses are made of clay and can bury their occupants alive. Interestingly there is various historical evidence to verify this, with the Timna copper mines near Eilat, volcanic stone in the north and even mention of materials used by Solomon to build the Temple.

In a different direction, the Talmud Ta’anit 4a tells us “any learned person (talmid chacham) who is not as hard as iron is not learned,” taking wide licence with the word “avaneha” for rocks and changing it to “boneha” builders, indicating that a truly learned person is one who when asked an halachic question can provide clear cut answer.

Returning to Moshe’s telling of the abundance of natural resources for a vibrant economy, the needs for a modern economy are somewhat different. Puzzlingly Hashem brought us to the one area of the Middle East without oil but magically we have now discovered natural gas which looks a suitable alternative, The Dead Sea is amazingly providing us with materials such as magnesium which are an extremely valuable resource. But perhaps the most valuable resource Hashem gave us was the Torah itself and we can note how Moshe stresses the value of learning in the two paragraphs of the Shema he presents in the book of Devarim. I was hearing recently of the fact that even though the South Koreans do not know much about Judaism they have introduced study of Talmud in their educational system as an important creative resource having seen how our culture has been nourished by our constant questioning and striving for knowledge. In fact it was interesting to hear the admission recently by Yair Lapid that he was sadden that his children had gone all the way through the school system without ever having opened a page of Talmud.

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