This week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Ekev, continues Moses’ final discourse to the Jewish People before we entered the Land of Israel. In it, he gives an interesting description of the land by saying:
כִּי הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא, אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם: אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק
וְהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--אֶרֶץ הָרִים, וּבְקָעֹת; לִמְטַר הַשָּׁמַיִם, תִּשְׁתֶּה-מָּיִם
“For the land, that you go in to possess, is not like the land of Egypt from whence you came out, where you sowed your seed and watered it with your foot. But the land you go over to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water that falls from the sky.”
The Parsha presents two very interesting and very different statements about water in Egypt and water in the Land of Israel. What does it mean to sow your seed and water it with your foot?
Of course, we remember the slavery of our People in Egypt, but we should also remember that Egypt was the great superpower of the ancient world. OK, much of that power was built on the backs of Jewish slaves, but one of the biggest factors to the success of ancient Egypt was its ability to harness the power of dependable agriculture. The Egyptians were one of the first nations to develop agriculture on a large scale. This was achieved because the Nile, which happens to be the longest river in the world (4,160 miles according to the Guinness Book of World Records), was a consistent source of water. The ancient Egyptians would cut irrigation channels from the Nile into their fields, which is a practice still today. They could control the amount of water entering the channels using rocks at the mouth of the channels. So, rather than bend down to pick up the rocks and allow more or less water into the channel as needed, they could merely move the rocks with their feet, and thus… “you sowed your seed, and watered it with your foot.”
Contrast this to the Land of Israel, which is “a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water that falls from the sky.” Despite the fact that most of Egypt is desert when you have a resource like the Nile, the population can center around the River to grow food, and the rest of the land well…. it can stay a desert. In Israel, however, the biggest river is the Jordan which, by most North American standards, would be considered more of a large stream than the mighty river about which so many stories have been written and so many spirituals have been sung. Add to this that the largest lake is the Dead Sea which is one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth in the middle of a scorching desert, and… you’re starting to get the picture as to the water situation in the Land of Israel. Of course, there is the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) which is an excellent source of freshwater, but it’s located in the Galil and doesn’t provide enough water to supply the whole country. So, this clarifies the statement in the Torah that Israel is a land that relies on rain. In fact, there is a rainy season in Israel, and every year we include in the daily Amidah from Shemini Atzeret (the last day of Sukkot) until Pesach the words משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם – “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” No, there is no reliance on a river to irrigate the Land of Israel. Israel relies on rain.
There is, in the Parsha, however, another statement in the previous chapter about the water in Eretz Yisrael.
כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְבִיאֲךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה: אֶרֶץ, נַחֲלֵי מָיִם--עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת, יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה וּבָהָר
“For the LORD your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of springs and depths, issuing forth in valleys and hills.”
Again, Israel is a land of valleys and hills, but this time the text tells us that it is a good land of brooks and springs in the valleys and hills. And this is something about which we don’t hear often enough. The wonderful springs in Israel. There are springs throughout the country that, as the water bubbles forth, you can feel the history that surrounds them.
Whether it’s Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea where the young David sought shelter from King Saul, or the hot springs of Hamat Gader with their ancient Roman baths, or crawling through a 2,500-year-old tunnel carved through the rocks at Ein Sataf, or Ein Fawwar where legend says two demons are battling beneath the Judean desert. When the good demon is stronger, water rushes out of the spring. When the bad demon is dominant, the spring slows down. And so… every 20 minutes, like clockwork, water gushes out of the spring as it has done for thousands of years.
There is no great and mighty river flowing through the land of Israel, but the land is dotted with beautiful, even mystical pools of water. There’s Gideon’s Spring and Elisha’s Spring. There’s Ein Avdat in the Negev near Sde Boker, where David Ben Gurion spent his final years, and Banias with its beautiful waterfall in the North flowing into the Jordan to the Kinneret, and of course, the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem, where the Kohanim would draw water for the Simchat Beit HaShoevah Ceremony on Sukkot during the time of the Holy Temple.
No, there is no great river where we could water the ground with our feet, but the springs and water in Israel are magical and wondrous… just like the Torah says.
Here are a few random links to just some of the beautiful springs in the Land of Israel.