Meriting Blessings – Ki Tissa 5780

D'var Torah | Exodus

The consensus among all political analysts today is that the critical problem that Israel will face in the future is securing enough potable water. Competition for water resources among Israel, Jordan, and Syria complicates an already complex situation. While Israel has taken great strides in desalinization as well as the recovery of brackish water, water sufficiency will remain a problem. Even in ancient times water affected the destiny of the Israelites.


Egypt could rely on the annual flooding of the Nile to irrigate its fields and Mesopotamia could rely on the bountiful Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for a constant flow of water. Israel, however, relied on rain. When the rain failed to provide an adequate supply of fresh water, the people looked inward, certain that the absence of rain was an act of God as punishment for sin. The Midrash (Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 17) imagines that the absence of rain and any consequent famine is a direct consequence of the sins of idolatry, promiscuity, and murder. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta’anit 7b) cites a number of authorities who, in turn, attribute the absence of rain to gossip, arrogance, neglect of tithes, theft, and the neglect of Torah study.


But the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anit 3:3, 66c) presents a rather different view. The absence of rain is ascribed to people who pledge to charity in public but then fail to make good on their pledges. The proof text for this claim is a verse in the Book of Proverbs (25:14) that states: “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not make.”


Rabbi Jacob ben Asher Ba’al Ha-Turim sees evidence to support this assessment from the juxtaposition of the passage that describes the water basin in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:17-21) with the passage that outlines the annual half-shekel for the support of the sacrificial cult (Exodus 30:12-16). The wash basin had to be filled with water so that those entering the holy precincts could cleanse and purify themselves beforehand. The water for the basin would come directly or indirectly from rainwater. That the Torah connects this passage with the giving of the half-shekel is no accident. It purposely teaches that the rains will fill the basin when the giving of the shekel is practiced. To put it somewhat differently, the rains will cease when pledges to charity fail to be honored.


What all this really teaches is that communal prosperity is a function of individual integrity. When each person keeps his or her word and minds his or her responsibilities, God will ensure that His blessings will be forthcoming.


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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