The Philosopher Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Sigmund Freud said the same in his own proprietary language, “Where id is, let ego be.” Most people only go through the motions daily, living out a pale imitation of life. But Judaism takes a very brief command, when “you have eaten your fill give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you” (Deut. 8:10) and transforms even the most mundane of routines into an opportunity to appreciate all of life’s gifts.
When we recognize that all that we have is from the blessed Holy One, then we can ask ourselves what we would be willing to die for, and more importantly what are we really willing to live for. Many people have given their lives for and to the land of Israel. This would include not only Jewish patriots, but also Muslims, Christian Zionists an even nationalistic atheist. It is easy to forget that Crusaders fought zealously to liberate the Holy Land, willing to die to liberate it from those they perceived to be “infidels” but killing Jews along the way to Jerusalem. Some would argue today that Jewish sovereignty and Jewish lives are of the highest value, and still others would argue that fairness to Palestinian nationalism needs to be figured into the equation.
Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 11:8,9)
The land is of penultimate importance, but not as an end in of itself, as a necessary encounter for the fullest possible encounter with God. Only within the land of Israel is it possible to fulfill all the mitzvot. Only within the land are the rhythms of Jewish life the basis of daily life. The goal is to observe all of the commandments – including “to have one law for yourself and the stranger,” “seek peace and pursue peace,” and “love the stranger.” (Deut. 10:16-19)
Culture enforces a rigorous hierarchy of authority, but God shakes the foundations of those structures.
The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)
We are reminded that God does not consider it below His stature to serve the good of His beloved creation. Shouldn’t we follow his example?