But it held one Divinely ordained lack: No massive river.
Ancient Babylon & ancient Egypt relied on their massive rivers for irrigation & to meet variety of other needs.
But not Eretz Yisrael.
Hashem held plans for Am Yisrael.
Am Yisrael needed to rely on the unpredictability of rain.
And, as always, that reliance on something so unpredictable led to our betterment.
Keeping Eyes & Minds Focused in the Right Direction
A society dependent on rain constantly checks the sky.
Is that a rain cloud—or a storm cloud?
Is that crop-destroying hail?
Is it snow?
Is that a tornado-spawning cloud?
Or is that a cloud of locusts?
Throughout Laura Ingalls Wilder's biographical novels of 19th-Century America, clouds play a huge role.
They're almost characters of their own.
She and her family always notice what's going on with the sky.
Wintertime meant constantly checking the north sky for a blizzard cloud.
Throughout the summer, they watched for the revolving dark greenish clouds that spawned tornadoes.
A rain of hail at the wrong time destroyed crops.
Sometimes, a cloud of smoke indicated a wildfire sweeping across the prairie.
Yet the right clouds in the right time bode well for farmers.
Laura's father-in-law, a wealthy farmer of that time, often stated, "Snow is a poor man's fertilizer."
People dependent on agriculture also watch the sky in hope of snow & rain in the right time.
A God-fearing farmer turns to Hashem as he turns to look at the sky.
Part of Am Yisrael's joy during Sukkot derived from their joy over the generous crops brought by an abundance of rain at the right times.
And that's why Hashem created Eretz Yisrael in this way. Page 5:
Eretz Yisroel was a prescription for the benefit of those who were there – it was for the purpose of making them the very best that they could become.
And it was a very big thing for them because they were reminded of Hashem!
Ahh, the great achievement of life!
And finally when their prayers were answered and rain came down, it was a tremendous simcha of thanksgiving to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
How can our hearts turn astray if we always look to the sky in hope & prayer, then reap & enjoy in thanksgiving to HaKadosh Baruch Hu?
Big Fat Atheism
"Vayishman Yeshurun vayivat—Yeshurun got fat and kicked" Devarim 32:15.
When people are well-fed, they tend to rebel against Hashem.
Of course, we have God-fearing wealthy people—those religious Jews strive to maintain an awareness of & gratitude toward Hashem.
And it IS a struggle to maintain one's awareness & gratitude when life is so good.
Rav Miller notes that atheism & evolution flourished in one of the most well-fed nations of that time: England.
Atheism flourishes when there’s abundance because a man whose stomach is full doesn't want to have competition in the world.
He becomes arrogant and he wants to be all alone; Hakodosh Boruch Hu is making it too crowded for him.
“There's just not enough room in this universe for me and Him” (Sotah 5a).
Whether you like it or not that’s what you’re thinking – that's the result of being overfed.
Anyway, Rav Miller emphasizes that it's not about being rich, but well-fed.
He notes what we all see today, that America's poorest people tend to be the fattest.
In fact, when you see a truly obese person in the US, don't you instinctively assume the person must NOT be rich?
If someone would request your automatic impression of the economic standing of a very obese person, wouldn't you instinctively say that person is probably lower-middle class or even on welfare?
But if being well-fed harms us spiritually, then why does Eretz Yisrael yield such an abundance—especially when Am Yisrael behaves as it should?
Why does Eretz Yisrael end up feeding us so richly if a full stomach impinges on our spiritual level?
Don't Let the Kosher-Looking Pig Fool You
That's why He gives us so much.
That's why Eretz Yisrael yields so much.
As Rav Miller emphasizes on page 8:
Now it’s a big chiddush what I’m telling you now.
It’s such a chiddush that most frum Jews will not accept it, but listen anyhow because actually it’s the most important element of avodas Hashem.
More than anything else, the foundation of kol hatorah kulah is hodu l'Hashem ki tov.
Avodas Hashem means to think of what He’s doing for you and to serve him in terms of gratitude.
On those same pages, he also trashes the assumption that the non-Jewish cultures surrounding us are so happy.
He gives his own examples, which are best reading in the dvar Torah itself, so here I'll give you mine.
I once endured the misery of temporarily living in one America's wealthiest neighborhoods.
(In case you're wondering...why such misery? Well, our particular apartment was a piece of garbage, plus I missed my frum neighbors & frum environment. And I really hated driving through extremely narrow streets lined with cars on both sides, plus dealing with stressful parking issues, and getting my big pregnant stomach in & out from under the steering wheel all the time. Plus my 2 oldest sons, who rarely fought, would suddenly start trying to kick each other in the face in the backseat davka at the times when I needed full concentration on the driving & also not at a place where I could stop the car.)
Surrounded by young (under 30) white & Asian yuppies living in luxury apartments & driving Mercedes, I noticed that most seemed unhappy.
I saw this at the local grocery store serving this successful populace, on the street, running into neighbors, and so on.
Most of the guys wore sour expressions & an undercurrent of biting resentment lay under their speech.
The sweet young women walked around with eyes full of insecurity & unhappiness, even when they smiled.
A non-Jewish couple lived near us with their 5-year-old daughter, who was the same age as our oldest son.
They were nice and the wife was super-nice, but again, an undercurrent of unhappiness always hovered around the wife. And the husband, even in his jovial moods, always carried his own undercurrent, as if he might lash out at any moment.
Hollywood & a lot of non-fiction best-sellers do everything they can to sell certain ideas to their global audience.
The innate nature of Edom/Esav resembles the pig.
With its split hoof, it looks wholesomely kosher on the outside.
Yet inside, no cud-chewing mechanism exists—it's as treif as a slug.
Unfortunately, most people buy into it.
How to Prevent a Full-Bellied Rebellion
- Frugality—limit your intake of food & its variety (i.e., eat what you need to live) & live with necessities, not luxuries.
- Gratitude—Make sure to say a happy-hearted bracha before eating, give tzedakah to those less fortunate, learn Torah, feel your good fortune, etc.
And what happens to people who don't invest in the above 2 methods (especially method #2—gratitude)?
Rav Miller describes their reality on page 14:
...you’re in trouble; pen yifteh levavchem vesartem – you'll turn away, chas v’shalom.
It doesn’t mean you’ll go to India and join the Hare Krishna chas v’shalom.
It doesn’t mean you’ll become a ‘Jew for Cheeses’.
You’ll still do everything!
You’ll go to the synagogue three times a day and you’ll bentch after every seudah and you’ll keep Shabbos too.
But you'll turn away from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Because how much are you thinking about Hashem?!
How much are you thanking Him?
How much are you looking up to the heavens for your daily needs?
And if you’re not thinking about Hashem, that’s already atheism; it’s frum atheism but it’s atheism nonetheless.
Our purpose in life is gratitude to Hashem.
It's connecting to Hashem, maintaining an awareness of Hashem, and bringing Hashem into the world & into our lives—into ourselves.
May we all succeed in forging a very real & joyful connection with our Creator.