These are the laws and rules that you must carefully observe in the land …
Rabbi Steinsaltz repeats a theme that we’ve encountered before with him. Settling in the Land of Israel and adopting an agricultural, rather than nomadic life, poses spiritual risks. The connection to land, its rhythms, and demands, draws us away from the heavens and toward mundane concerns. Rather than possessing the Land, the Land may possess you. The ancient gods of the Land, Baal and Asherah, will beckon the people, the am-haaretz, because they speak to the day to day demands of an agricultural life, sensitive to the rain and the fertility of the soil.
the connection to the earth involves not only a professional change but also a change in consciousness. … they had to learn to adapt to a world of seasons, agriculture, and an almost sensual connection to the land and its labor … they found in the Land a preexisting practical and cultural foundation of connection to the earth, it is very difficult to distinguish between the professional, technical, agricultural side and the idolatrous element that was connected with it.
The Torah establishes a set of special rules for the Land of Israel, recognizing its unique spiritual risks. The purpose is to emphasize:
in spite of the Jewish people’s attachment to the Land of Israel, they still are not “people of the land” but “people of heaven”
What does it mean to be “people of heaven”? Abraham was a “wandering Aramean” — a refugee or a nomadic pastoralist — what might that imply spiritually?
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse. The blessing, that you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, that I command you this day, and the curse, if you do not listen …
Rabbi Yehuda Leib
Note that the blessing it says “that you listen,” but in the curse it says, “if.” Goodness exists within the Jewish people by their very nature; sin is only incidental. … Even if there is some sin — and indeed “there is no one so righteous as to do good and never sin” (Kohelet 7:20) — it is only in passing.
Note the difference between Rabbi Leib’s translation and the JPS translation in our Chumash. Why is the placement of “if” so important?
The sages further said: “In the blessed Holy One will bring forth the evil urge and slaughter it. To the righteous is will appear as a great mountain, and they will weep, saying: ‘How were we ever able to battle it!’ But to the wicked it will appear as a hairbreadth, and they will weep, ‘How were we never able to conquer it!'”
The fact is that there is always only a hairbreadth. But the righteous, as they overcome each hairbreadth, go on to encounter another. They keep doing so forever, until they accumulate so many as to seem like a mountain. But the wicked is one stands still, always facing the same hairbreadth. This is why “the righteous have no rest in this world.”
This is also the reason no one should become too proud for having ascended some rung. For in that place, too, there will be two paths. But this is how the righteous earn their blessing, by ever leaving the wicked path and choosing the good. This is their reward for the future …
Are the righteous ever settled?