Perspective – Ekev 5779

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

Israel was never a country blessed with natural sources of water. The Sea of Galilee was geographically too distant to serve as a water supply for central and southern Israel and the few rivers running in parts of Israel were no more than mere streams.  In fact, a number of Biblical texts show the primary source of water to be the collection basins or cisterns that filled up during the rainy season.


For example, a sign of prosperity was the pleasure to drink water out of the family cistern.  Thus King Sennacherib of Assyria tried to lure the Israelites into making peace with him saying: “Make your peace with me…and come out to me, so that you may all eat from your vines and your fig trees, and drink water from your cisterns” (II Kings 18:31; cf. Isaiah 36:16). Cisterns were so prevalent that Bible mentions that In the dry season,  two men could easily be hidden inside one (II Samuel 17:18-19). The prophet Jeremiah condemns the disloyal Jews of his day as those who “have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).


Despite the dearth of natural water sources in the land of Israel, Moses describes the land of Israel that the people were about to enter as a land filled with streams and rivers, springs, and fountains (Deuteronomy 8:7).  From what is known about Israel’s geography this is hyperbole bordering on misrepresentation. But before condemning scripture as false and misleading, an alternative explanation should be considered. To a people that had to scrounge for every drop of water they needed over forty years, a land with even a modest amount of water resources would seem like a veritable garden spot.  In a similar way, to a person denied a variegated diet for a period of time even a solitary piece of fruit would be considered a feast. The Torah is not really exaggerating the bounty of the land of Israel. The Torah is teaching the effect of perspective.


Depredation gains you perspective. Freedom was all the sweeter for the Israelites following two hundred ten years of slavery and toil.  Small houses will seem palatial to those who suffered homelessness. Walking with crutches is a blessing to a person previously confined to a wheelchair.  The lesson to learn is not to measure value by what is the highest degree possible but by how much better it has compared to what you had.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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