August 7, 2018

Israel as a standard setter (Ekev)

As the Jewish people prepare to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moshe reminds them of the unique beauty and bounty of the land, telling them “your God is bringing you to a good land… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and dates” (Devarim 8:7-8), and in his commentary to the Chumash, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch cites a stunning explanation of this verse which we should all take to heart.
Having mentioned the Gemara (Brachot 41a) which notes that all the fruits listed in the verse are used by the Rabbis as halakhic measurements (for example, a dried fig is the measurement of what may be taken out of the house on Shabbat, while a large date is the quantity which renders one liable for eating on Yom Kippur), Rabbi Hirsch then quotes an incredible insight from a work whose author and title were unknown to him, but whose insight is recorded in his commentary for perpetuity.
This nameless book explained that it was the practice of the ancient world to use fruits as units of weight and measure, and since the fruit of Eretz Yisrael was recognized as the very best, units of measure and weight were set according to the produce of the land of Israel.
While this is a beautiful idea , I believe it also serves to teach us that just as the fruit of Israel set the standard of measure in commerce, the people of Israel should endeavour to set the standard in moral behaviour. As Rabbi Hirsch elsewhere explains, it is the task of the Jewish nation to behave in a way so that other people “base their lives on the foundation on which [Jewish] life is based” (commentary to Bereishit 12:2).
Especially in light of recent events in Israel and the Diaspora,  this message serves as a perfect reminder that we should view ourselves as standard setters, and consequently, we should ensure that we live our lives as positive examples to the world.

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