Mizmor Hodu: Understanding Chevel, Nachala & Land of Canaan
(טו) זִכְרוּ לְעוֹלָם בְּרִיתוֹ דָּבָר צִוָּה לְאֶלֶף דּוֹר: (טז) אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת אֶת אַבְרָהָם וּשְׁבוּעָתוֹ לְיִצְחָק: (יז) וַיַּעֲמִידֶהָ לְיַעֲקֹב לְחֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּרִית עוֹלָם: (יח) לֵאמֹר לְךָ אֶתֵּן אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן חֶבֶל נַחֲלַתְכֶם: (יט) בִּהְיוֹתְכֶם מְתֵי מִסְפָּר כִּמְעַט וְגָרִים בָּהּ: (כ) וַיִּתְהַלְּכוּ מִגּוֹי אֶל גּוֹי וּמִמַּמְלָכָה אֶל עַם אַחֵר: (כא) לֹא הִנִּיחַ לְאִישׁ לְעָשְׁקָם וַיּוֹכַח עֲלֵיהֶם
מְלָכִים: (כב) אַל תִּגְּעוּ בִּמְשִׁיחָי וּבִנְבִיאַי אַל תָּרֵעוּ:
Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles I) 16:15-22 – A Psalm of Thanks
(15) Remember His covenant forever, the word He commanded to a thousand generations, (16) The covenant He made with Abraham; the oath He swore to Isaac. (17) And established as a law for Jacob, and to Israel as an everlasting covenant, (18) Saying: "To you I will give the land of Canaan, the portion of your heritage." (19) When you were but few in number, and not only few, but temporary residents there too. (20) And they went from nation to nation, And from one kingdom to another people. (21) He allowed no one to oppress them; He rebuked kings on their behalf, (22) (Saying) "Do not touch My anointed ones or harm My prophets."
The Simple Meaning (P’shat) of the Pesukim (Verses):
God tells the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel) to always remember two things. The first is the Divine covenant which He made with the nation, a covenant which is eternal and unconditional. Thus, the posuk (verse) states “remember His covenant forever.” The second is the Divine command, which renews itself “for a thousand generations.” That is, it is renewed for each generation throughout time, since it applies to each individual in each generation.
The exposition of the content of the Divine command appears in posuk 18: God gave Israel the land of Canaan, which is the “portion (cḥevel) of the heritage (nacḥala)” of Am Yisrael within the world. The word “saying” expresses God’s addressing each Jew individually to perpetually remember and mention his portion within Eretz Yisrael. We may comment that the word “saying” (leimor) is similar to the phrase used in Pirkei Avot: הוא היה אומר"“ (“he used to say”), which implies a statement which was frequently on the lips of a particular sage. “Covenant” includes both the general covenant with Israel to be God’s special nation [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:6, et al.] and the specific covenant with Abraham to give Eretz Yisrael to his descendants. [Bereishit (Genesis) 15:18]
Two Questions Concerning Verse 18:
1) What is the meaning of the terms “cḥevel” (“portion,” also meaning “rope”) and “nacḥala” (inheritance) which appear in the sentence?
2) Why does the posuk use the phrase “the land of Canaan?” Given that the Canaanites were the most debased nation, [Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:3] how can the holiest Land in the world be named for this nation?
The Land of Israel – The Portion of Every Jew:
The above posuk, which is recited in the daily morning prayers, contains the command “remember.” Every morning we are to remind ourselves of our eternal portion of the Land of Israel. In this posuk, God addressed each individual Jew, regardless of their level, enjoining them to remember their portion of the Land and to settle it in practice, as the eternal national heritage of Israel, and thereby fulfill the eternal covenant with God.
The word “cḥevel” accurately conveys the depth of the connection of Jews to the Land of Israel as well as the connection to God through the Land.
Shela enlightens us concerning the Bible’s use of the word “cḥevel,” explaining that the use of the word “cḥevel” is an application of a tangible term to convey a spiritual reality – a rope can connect upper and lower levels, and every movement of the rope below creates ripples which affect the higher place.
A Faith – Based Understanding of “Chevel” and “Nacḥala”:
“Chevel” teaches two central points: the depth of the connection between each individual and the Creator of the World, and most especially through Eretz Yisrael, which is “the cḥevel of His portion;” additionally, it teaches how great the effects of our actions are, even small daily actions. We can see an example of this in the comment of Chatam Sofer [Gemara Sukka 36a].that working the soil of the Holy Land is comparable to putting on tefilin. Even the mundane act of cultivating fields has a spiritual component parallel to putting on tefilin.
Now we must understand the meaning of “nacḥala.” Nacḥala refers to land which is passed from generation to generation as an inheritance, and conveys the special connection between generations, which is expressed through attachment to the soil. This explanation allows us to understand the reason the Divine covenant concerning Eretz Yisrael is called “nacḥala.” This is true on the simple level, but there is a deeper internal significance of the word – “nacḥala” is related to “nacḥal” (a stream of water), which provides water and thereby brings life and blessings to those in its proximity. Thus, the word “nacḥal” is not only a noun, but also conveys the meaning of abundance, blessing and life.
Now the meaning of the combination of words “cḥevel” and “nacḥala” is clear: “cḥevel” is the connection through which we arouse goodness and blessings in the world, while “naḥala” represents the effects of the goodness and blessings. Eretz Yisrael is called “cḥevel naḥalato” because it combines both qualities – it is a “cḥevel” which allows us to connect with the Creator of the World, to connect both to the spiritual and the mundane in our world; the Land is also “Nacḥala,” an independent and inherent source of positive influences, of all the goodness of life and the blessings which come to the world. Perhaps this is the intention of the Gemara [Gemara Yuma 54b] when it states that the world was created from the Holy Land.
A Faith – Based Understanding of the Phrase “Land of Canaan”:
Based upon the above comments, our second question takes on added force: Why is the holy and special Land referred to as the land of Canaan, since the Canaanites represent that which is diametrically opposed to the Land’s qualities?
Several sources note that the name “land of Canaan” relates to the lowest level, the physical and tangible level.[i]
So when Noam Elimelech writes: “Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan -” [Bereishit 37:1] “the land of Canaan” refers to the physical aspect of the Land.
Body and material require elevation and rectification; they are vessels which need to be filled with spiritual light. Rectifying and refining the mundane is neither easy nor devoid of significance, it requires fear of Heaven, pure love of God, as well as other lofty traits. It requires an additional motif, the proper setting, which will allow realization. As noted above, Eretz Yisrael provides the opportunity to connect strongly to sanctity. Rectifying the ”land of Canaan,” rectifying the material and the mundane, is especially suited for the Land of Israel which is the source from which all spiritual influence flows to the world to the individual and to the collective.
We dealt with exposition of the verse “Saying: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan, the portion of your heritage,’" which appears in the מזמור הודו (Psalm of Thanks),” explaining that “the land of Canaan” refers to the material and mundane aspects, while “cḥevel” relates to connecting these aspects to the loftier, spiritual level. We explained that the word “nacḥala” derives from “nacḥal”, which implies the source of all goodness and blessings. Therefore, we suggested that the ability to exert the influence of the “nacḥala” on the land of Canaan is specific to Eretz Yisrael, which constitutes the “cḥevel” which connects the mundane and spiritual aspects of the world. The posuk teaches that we must continually remind ourselves of our deep relationship with our Land, and at all times – “Remember His covenant forever, the word He commanded to a thousand generations.”
The Gemara [Ketubot 112a] relates that Rabbi Abba would kiss the stones of Akko, demonstrating the depth of his connection to the Land of Israel, and even to the lowest dimensions of the Land.
May we merit, with God’s help, deepening our connection to Eretz Yisrael, and daily to remember and to remind ourselves of our portion of this lofty Land, the Land desired by our fathers. May it be God’s will that we rectify and refine the mundane and physical aspects of the world and imbue them with light and vitality from the wellspring of the Land of our vitality, the holy Land of Israel.
[i] Noam Elimelech, Parashat vaYeshev; Parashat Noaḥ.
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