Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Va'etchanan
To dedicate this lesson

The Land of Israel Hidden in the 10 Commandments

If all 613 commandments are included in the Ten Commandments ... where is the Land of Israel?


Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel

Av 15 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

This week we will read the Torah portion of Va'etchanan, which includes the Ten Commandments. The renowned 10th-century Rabbi Saadia Gaon wrote that all 613 Torah commandments are included somehow in these Ten (see Rashi, Sh'mot 24,12). That is to say, the Ten Commandments are general principles, and the other mitzvot are details that are included thereof.

But shouldn't one of these great principles be Eretz Yisrael, the holy Land of Israel, which we know is something that includes the entire Torah (see Sifri to Parashat Re'eh)?

The answer is that though the Land is not one of the Ten Commandments, it certainly is included among them – in the fifth commandment! As the Torah states: "Honor your father and your mother… so that your days will be lengthened and so that it will be good for you on the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you" (D'varim 5,16). So we see that Eretz Yisrael is there!

And the Netziv wrote (Haamek Davar to Sh'mot 20,12) that the reward specified here is uniquely applicable to the Land of Israel more than outside the Land. (The Ramban writes, to Vayikra 18,25, that this is true for all the mitzvot.)

And so, we must clarify this: What is it about the mitzvah of honoring parents that entitles it, alone among the Ten Commandments, to a mention of Eretz Yisrael?

There is, in fact, a strong connection between the Land and honoring parents. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) tells us that one who honors his parents is considered as having honored G-d Himself. This is because the primary and end-all Torah goal is for us to know that we are temporary beings. Unlike G-d, Who is true and absolute reality, we and everything else are not here forever. We were not here before we were born, and after we die, we will barely leave a trace.

This knowledge is most important in order that we appreciate our true worth, or lack thereof, and we will thus gain the trait of humility and humbleness.

By honoring our parents, we express the understanding that if not for them, we would of course not have been born. Everything we have is from them. And via this important mitzvah, we also reach another conclusion, namely, that without G-d's help, mothers would give birth to an organic mass without intelligence, soul, consciousness, or awareness. Not for naught did the Sages teach that (Kiddushin 30a) there are three partners in the creation of every person: G-d, father, and mother.

Don Isaac Abarbanel, the great 15-century Torah commentator and Spanish statesman, explained that of the two Tablets of the Law with which Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Mt. Sinai, the first one had the five commandments between man and G-d, such as the ban on idols, and the second one contained commandments between man and his fellow, such as not to steal. Contrary to what we might have guessed, the mitzvah of honoring parents is found on the first Tablet! The reason is because it truly is a matter between man and G-d, as just explained above.

Similarly, the concept of Eretz Yisrael – like that of honoring parents – is very much related to the presence of, and our belief in, Hashem. As the 19th-century Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin wrote:

"The main aspect of the sanctity of the Land of Israel is in our recognition of G-d Who has given us this Land, as is written: "… the Land that G-d has given me" (D'varim 26,10). We must connect the gifts of the Land, [such as] its fruits, with He Who gave them to us. If one separates the Land from He Who gave it to us, he is basically turning the Holy Land into a regular piece of earth."

Rav Tzadok further writes:

"That which we say in Psalms 23,4 "I will not fear evil," is the very heart of the sanctity of the Land, to know that "You are with me" (ibid.).

And furthermore:

"Whoever lives in the Land of Israel, is as if he has G-d" (Ketubot 110b) … "If you wish to see the countenance of the Divine Presence in This World? Engage in Torah in the Land of Israel!"  (Medrash Tehillim 105)

One of the main reasons why our Land is called the Land of G-d is because of the great Divine Providence with which G-d perpetually watches over it: It is a "land that Hashem your G-d seeks; G-d's eyes are on it at all times" (D'varim 11,12, and see Rabbeinu Bachye).

It is therefore clear why specifically in this commandment of honoring parents that the Land of Israel is mentioned.

The Land in Kriat Shma, Too

Let us also note that the weekly Torah portion also includes the mitzvah of Kriat Shma (D'varim 6,4-9). The Jerusalem Talmud (B'rachot 1,5) tells us how all Ten Commandments are alluded to in Kriat Shma. Is the topic of Eretz Yisrael also alluded to in Kriat Shma?

It most certainly is, both for better and worse. We are told in the second paragraph of Shma that if Israel sins, "you will be quickly lost from this good Land that Hashem gives you" (D'varim 11,17). And on the other hand, this paragraph ends with, "So that your days and those of your offspring will be increased, on this land that Hashem vowed to your forefathers, to give them" (ibid. 21).

Thus, this great fundamental of Eretz Yisrael is manifest both in the Ten Commandments and in Kriat Shma.

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