Parashat Vayelekh

A Land Flowing With Milk & Honey

The health of the land depends on our responsible behavior.

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As a result, many of Israel's most populated areas suffer from terrible air pollution. Automobiles also require a lot of valuable land for roads as well as for parking, gas stations, repair shops, etc. For Israel, a small and heavily populated country, this means tangibly less land for housing, schools, parks, or other purposes that large numbers of people benefit from.

Weighing the harm caused by automobiles, including long-term ecological damage, against the short-term benefits to those who benefit, it would appear that an automobile-based transportation system does not fit well with yishuv ha'aretz. Interestingly, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, one of the Torah leaders of the previous generation, was quoted as saying that had there been a Sanhedrin (Religious High Court) in his day, they may well have forbidden the use of private automobiles in Israel.

Conditional Flowing

There are still other interpretations of the expression "flowing with milk and honey" that merit our consideration. In our parashah, the mention of halav u'dvash is in a negative context: "For when I shall have brought them into the land of which I swore to their fathers, one flowing with halav u'dvash; and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat; then they will turn to other gods, and serve them, and provoke me and break my covenant (Deut. 31:20)." From this verse we clearly see how the same material abundance which is such a blessing can also lead to forgetting the Creator who provided it.

This leads to the examination of one additional interpretation by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the expression a "land flowing with milk and honey." Instead of focusing on the meaning of milk and honey, Rabbi Hirsch focuses on the meaning of the word for flowing (zavat), and writes:

"It is very characteristic that the abundance of produce by zov only occurs in reference to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel)? In Tanakh, the word zov never means overflowing. It occurs mainly to describe a human pathological condition, and otherwise as a flowing forth caused by miraculous power?It does not seem to describe a land that develops the abundance in accordance with its natural fertility, but a land that only does this under special conditions. Palestine is a hard land? which can only blossom and flourish 'under the continuous special care of God for it, from one end of the year to the other.' When it gets water, it blossoms luxuriously. But it only gets the water from above. It is a land that makes it necessary for its inhabitants to be good."

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Rabbi Yuval Cherlow

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva, is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a retired major in the IDF. Rabbi Cherlow was amongst the founders of the Tzohar Foundation, a central Modern Orthodox foundation which works to build bridges between the religious and secular worlds.