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Hirsch At Your Table

Defiling the Land

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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.אל תטמאו בכל אלה כי בכל אלה נטמאו הגוים אשר אני משלח מפניכם. ותטמא הארץ ואפקוד עוונה עליה ותקיא הארץ את יושביה. (Lv 18:24-25)
The Torah summarizes the corrupting influences of immoral practices on society. The Jews are forbidden from participating in these activities and becoming טמאים, defiled. These sins defile both the people and the land, and eventually, the land will expel the inhabitants who have become טמא and have infected the land with their טומאה.

The Torah describes a process where the טומאה caused by the immoral conduct of the people is so pervasive that it contaminates the land itself and makes it טמא.

This is but one example of the powerful connection between man, אדם, and the land, אדמה. The actions of man can directly affect the land. We see this connection in the creation story as well.

During the six days of creation, no rain fell on the earth until אדם הראשון was created. This reflected a basic law that governs the Divine plan: The natural world functions properly and successfully only with the presence and active involvement of mankind.

The word טומאה is from the root ט-מ-א "to contaminate." The words אדם and אדמה are from the root א-ד-ם "to be solid and God-directed." The basis of the root refers to the mission given to man by God. The land is tied to man, who must develop its potential.


Elsewhere, the Torah uses the word חניפה, pretension, to describe the defilement of the land by man’s corruption, based upon the verse לא תחניפו את הארץ (Num. 35:33). The term suggests that the land as it were "pretends" to function properly but does not actually perform its expected role.

The word לא is from the root ל-א-ה "to tire and give up". As an adverb, the word לא means "no". The word תחניפו is from the root ח-נ-ף "to deceive" expectations.


The rules of behavior that apply to the גוים, the nations, of the world certainly apply to God’s people. God chose the Jewish nation to initiate a moral rebirth for mankind, and He chose the Land of Israel as the location for that rebirth. In the future, all of humanity will be dedicated to performing God’s will, and the entire earth will be the arena. But for now, this task falls on the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Therefore, God’s land and His people have a special duty to maintain a flourishing society of the highest moral caliber. When the people living in the land observe God’s commandments, the land will be fruitful and sustains them in every way. However, when the people become morally corrupt, the land will vomit (תקיא) and purge itself of its inhabitants, יושביה.

The word גוים is from the root ג-ו-ה "to concentrate disparate elements" as a nation included peoples from many backrounds. The word תקיא is from the root ק-א-ה "to spew out." The word יושביה is from the root י-ש-ב "to dwell".


If an individual becomes degenerate, the nation can realize God’s laws of morality through its system of justice. The land itself, in such cases, is not affected. However, if immorality pervades the nation as a whole, the land will expel the entire people.


Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
Rabbi Matityahu Clark
Served in principal/director positions throughout North America. One of the founders of the Educator's Council of America, and former president of the Council for Jewish Education. Former Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.
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