Remembering the Land Brings Compassion for Am Yisrael
The sli’cḥot which are said during Musaf of Rosh HaShana and the Ten Days of Teshuva include asking God to remember “the covenant of the first ones …” as well as other remembrances, such as that written in the Torah: “And I will remember My covenant (with) Yaacov, and also My covenant (with) Yitzchak, and also My covenant (with) Avraham I will remember. And I will remember the Land.” [Vayikra 26:42]
Both in Musaf and in the sli’cḥot, referring to God’s remembering is part of Israel’s request for forgiveness and mercy.
The sli’cḥot are composed of confession of sins, the Thirteen Attributes [Sh’mot 34:6-7] and finally, pesukim (verses) which convey Divine mercy for Am Yisrael. One group of pesukim is called “zechirot” (remembrances).
One of the zechirot is the posuk quoted above: “And I will remember My covenant (with) Yaakov, and also My covenant (with) Yitzchak, and also My covenant (with) Avraham I will remember. And I will remember the Land.” This posuk appears in Parashat Becḥukotai, one of whose major themes is the tochaḥa (admonition). While the posuk appears within the tochaḥa, the reference to remembering is a connected to mercy, and is an expression of Am Yisrael’s (the Nation of Israel’s) hope that despite their sins, the path to repentance remains open to them. As noted, this verse constitutes part of sli’cḥot and of the Musaf of Rosh HaShana. We shall attempt to explain the unique nature of the posuk and its connection to sli’cḥot and to mercy.
The meaning of “remembrance” ("זכרון") in the Torah is broad and varied. Since the concept of forgetting cannot apply to the Master of the Universe, the use of remembrance in connection with God is merely a simile. When a human being remembers something, he has created an attachment to that thing which indicates its importance to him. Conversely, forgetting something indicates the lack of that thing’s importance and a relationship of indifference to it. By way of example, it is inconceivable that a parent would forget a child. However, a person may forget whom he has met or events which he has experienced. Clearly, the connection to a child is sufficiently strong that parents will never forget their child. While remembering a child conveys a relationship of importance, it does not necessarily imply a relationship of mercy. Yonatan ben Uziel’s first century Aramaic translation of the verse teaches that God’s remembering is merciful:
And I will remember with mercy the covenant I made with Ya’akov at Bet El, and also that which I made with Yitzcḥak on Mount Moriah, as well as the Covenant between the Pieces, which I made with Avraham, and I shall remember the Land in mercy.
1) What is the connection between remembering the Forefathers and remembering the Land? Seemingly, the two are separate dimensions unrelated to each other; on the one hand, three holy men and on the other, the Holy Land.
2) Since the purpose of this remembrance is mercy on behalf of Am Yisrael, we must understand how the Land can achieve mercy on the nation’s behalf.
3) On the level of p’shat (the simple meaning of the verse), why does the word “brit” (covenant) appear in connection with the Forefathers but not the Land?
A Land which Brings Up its Children
Midrash Vayikra Rabba [36:5] states:
Why does the posuk mention the merit of the Forefathers in conjunction with the merit of the Land? Reish Lakish says it is comparable to a king who has three sons who are reared by his handmaiden. Whenever the king inquires after the welfare of his sons, he also inquires after the welfare of their nanny. Similarly, whenever the Holy One, blessed be He mentions the Forefathers, He mentions the Land with them. This is what the posuk states: “And I will remember My covenant (with) Yaakov, and also My covenant (with) Yitzchak, and also My covenant (with) Avraham I will remember. And I will remember the Land.”
This Midrash defines the Land as the “nanny” who brings up God’s children. The intention is that the Land is not merely the nation’s living space, but she actively contributes to the Israelites’ development. According to this Midrash, we may say, for example, that had Ya’akov Avinu not grown up in Eretz Yisrael, he would have been a different person – he may have been righteous, but not on the same level. By way of example, a child who speaks Hebrew, but is educated in a place which speaks a different language will not be able to realize the full linguistic potential with the Holy Tongue which he could achieve in a Hebrew speaking environment.
The connection between the nanny and her charges is so great that the king is connected to her as well; thus, when God inquires after the welfare of His sons, He inquires after their nanny, the Land, as well. Therefore, when God arouses memories of the Forefathers, He does not forget the Land which reared them and helped them achieve their potential.
This Midrashic insight, that the Land brings up her children is crucial in understanding the order of the parasha which contains our verse.
The Merit of the Fathers and the Covenant of the Fathers
Before answering the questions we raised, we shall elucidate the concept of “brit,” commencing with the comment of Rabbeinu Tam (c. 1100–71):
While the merit of the Fathers has ended, the covenant of the Fathers has not, as the posuk states: “And I will remember My covenant (with) Yaakov, etc.,” even after the exile. Indeed, we do not mention the merit of the Fathers, but their covenant. Tosafot, Shabbat 55b, Tama Zechut Avot
Rabbeinu Tam teaches that even when we can no longer expect God’s mercy as the result of the merits of the Forefathers, the covenant of the Fathers continues to aid us. What is the distinction between the merit of the Fathers and the covenant of the Fathers?
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l explains that “brit” is made by God with us and not the other way around.
Throughout the Torah we do not find Avraham (or anyone else) initiating a brit with God. Just as Divine “choice” is not a matter of picking one of several alternatives, but a creative act, so too brit is a Divine aspect of the creation of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) and its Forefathers.
This connection, which does not depend upon merit, but on God’s choice, i.e., His creation is eternal. The Forefathers reached this level through their faith in God and dedication to His covenant.
This point will allow us to understand the posuk. God remembers the covenant of the Fathers, that is, their great faith and devotion to Him and the covenant He made with them, starting with Avraham through Ya’akov. This covenant has not expired because it is an essential aspect of the creation of the Am Yisrael and is therefore independent of the nation or the Fathers’ merits.
The Land is mentioned in connection with the Forefathers because she is not simply a geographic location, but a significant component of the development of the Forefathers, which facilitated their reaching the high spiritual levels which they achieved.
Perhaps the mention of the Land conveys double consolation. Firstly, even if Am Yisrael sins and are distanced from God (as mentioned in Parashat Beḥukotai), they are not lost; when they return to the Land, she will bring them up and return them to a lofty level, as Chazal (our Sages) taught: “the air of Eretz Yisrael conveys wisdom.” Secondly, though the Children of Israel have been exiled from their Land, they are aware that their connection to the Land is living and eternal, since she is not merely their homeland, but the Holy Land. This realization brings the nation to retain its hopes of returning to their precious Land, despite their exile, just as they are aware that their connection to God will never be severed due to the covenant of the Fathers which is eternal.
Answers to the Three Questions
We learn from our Forefathers that even if Israel sins, it is something external, but internally they remain righteous. Eretz Yisrael teaches the same lesson – the Nation of Israel is connected to the Land and just as she is holy so is the nation. In addition, Eretz Yisrael makes her children holier, therefore even if Israel sins, they can repent via the Land. We can now understand the aspect of mercy which pertains to the Forefathers and the Land. Since both teach that even when Am Yisrael sins, they remain close to God, this arouses Heavenly mercy to judge Israel based upon its internal dimension.
Our third question – why brit is mentioned in connection with the Forefathers and not the Land can now be answered. God establishes a brit with the human beings based upon their deeds; since the Land does not have free will, but is an inherently holy Divine creation, the concept of brit cannot apply to her.
The Land’s Mention in the Tochacḥa
As noted, our posuk appears in the tochacḥa, where God reprimands the Israelites for not fulfilling the mitzva of shemitta, the obligation to refrain from working fields in the Land every seventh year. This mitzva can be fulfilled only through great faith in God. The Gemara refers to the Order of Zera’im, the section of Mishna which deals with the agricultural mitzvot, as “Beliefs” [Gemara Shabbat 31a], explaining that “One believes in the Eternal One and plants.” All agricultural work requires faith and refraining from such work does as well.
Parashat Becḥukotai deals with lack of faith which generates ignoring the mitzva of shemitta and brings punishment for that infraction. However, lack of faith is not an inherent trait of Am Yisrael, but a chance occurrence. Perhaps this is the meaning of “And I will remember the Land:” even if Am Yisrael stumbles and lacks faith, which can lead to its exile, God, as it were, says returning the nation to the Land will renew their faith, since Eretz Yisrael “raises her children.” Therefore, the lack of faith is temporary.
There is a well-known story of Rabbi Salman Mouẓafi, who grew wheat in his yard. In the pre-shemitta year, the yield was three times the normal, as the Torah says “I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years” [Vayikra 25:21]. One who has true faith in God will be amply repaid by God.
In this Dvar Torah we dealt with the connection between remembering the Land and sli’cḥot. We saw that God’s “remembrance” implies mercy and that remembering the Land evokes mercy on behalf of Am Yisrael for two reasons: 1) the Land inclines Israel to believe in God and to make them more righteous; 2) the very connection to the Holy Land indicates the lofty level of the Nation of Israel.
We saw that the concept of brit is a connection which God creates with men and why this concept does not apply to the Land.
We concluded by noting that Eretz Yisrael aids Am Yisrael in strengthening its faith and that a Jew who lives in the Land will have a stronger and clearer faith. Based on this, we explained the insertion of posuk into the tochacḥa.
May we merit being “remembered” by God in mercy and that He “remember the Land” and we be privileged to settle all her boundaries, and to have complete faith in God and in the impending arrival of Mashiacḥ, speedily in our days. May all our prayers be accepted in mercy and all our sins be forgiven. Amen.
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