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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:25 And they took in their hand from the fruit of the land and they brought [it] down to us
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Moshe is speaking to the assembled Children of Israel on the plains of Moab. He is walking them through many of the incidents that happened to the previous generation, to explain how they all happen to be on the plains of Moab right now. Here, he is part-way through the episode of the twelve spies that were sent to scout out the Land when the people were at Kadesh Barnea. The 'they' in the verse refers to the spies. The first verb, , is a Qal prefix 3mp form of the root , to take, with a vav-conversive to denote a following or subsequent action in the past: "and they took". The second verb, which attracts the attention of the ancient commentators, , is a Hif'il prefix 3mp form of the root , to go down, also with a vav-conversive: "and they brought down".
Our journey starts with one ofRashi's typical short and laconic asides: "'and brought [it] down to us' - This tells us that the Land is higher than all other lands". Rashi is probably thinking of the text in the Talmud that speaks about the return to the Land of Israel after the Babylonian captivity in the days of Ezra the priest (Ezra 2). The Mishnah simply says "Ten genealogical classes went up from Babylon" and the Gemara then asks, "Why is it particularly taught 'went up from Babylon', when it means 'returned to the Land of Israel'? It thereby tells us something en passant. As it was taught: 'you shall arise and go up to the place which the L-RD your G-d chooses' (D'varim 17:8, NASB). This teaches that the Temple is higher than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is higher than all [other] countries. As for the Temple being higher than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, it is written, 'matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up' (ibid. v. 8, NKJV) [and 'your gates' implies anywhere within Israel, so one 'went up' to Jerusalem and the Temple]. But how do we know that Eretz Yisrael is higher than all [other] countries? -- Because it is written: 'Therefore behold, the days are coming, says the L-rd, that they shall no more say: "As the L-rd lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt"; but, "As the L-rd lives, who brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whence I had driven them' (Jeremiah 23:7-8)."
Rashi's comment - as so often in the Jewish world - is debated by those who came after him. The Maharsha1 suggests that since the earth is a sphere and the Land of Israel is the centre or focus of that sphere, it is viewed as the top. Thus travelling from anywhere to the Land is viewed as an ascent. The Maharal2 contends that since the world is a sphere, the designation of any one area as the highest is totally arbitrary, so the designation of the Land of Israel as the most elevated place must be in a spiritual rather than topographical sense. The Netziv3 in his commentary Meromei Sadeh "Height of the Field" explains that the Land of Israel is higher than all the surrounding lands, so that when approaching the Land from any direction, one ascends. RabbiHirsch neatly sidesteps the argument and refocuses on what the spies did: "As far as the excellence of the Land they were all agreed, and indeed they brought proof of it in the fruits they brought [down]."
The Bible records a number of mountain-top experiences. Moshe is himself called up the mountain: "Moshe went up from the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, opposite Jericho, and the L-RD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan; all Naphtali; the land of Ephraim and Manasseh; the whole land of Judah as far as the Western Sea; the Negeb; and the Plain -- the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees -- as far as Zoar. And the L-RD said to him, 'This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 'I will assign it to your offspring.' I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there'" (D'varim 34:1-4, JPS). Elijah's famous contest with the priests of Ba'al took place on Mt. Carmel, overlooking the Jezreel valley. There, after a hot day in the full sun, while the priests of Ba'al urged their god to demonstrate that he existed by setting fire to the sacrifice laid on the altar, when the time came for the afternoon sacrifice Elijah called out to HaShem: "O L-RD, G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known today that You are G-d in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding. Answer me, O L-RD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O L-RD, are G-d" (1 Kings 18:36-37, JPS). Only a few days later, Elijah stood on Mt Horeb before the L-rd: "And lo, the L-RD passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the L-RD; but the L-RD was not in the wind. After the wind -- an earthquake; but the L-RD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake -- fire; but the L-RD was not in the fire. And after the fire -- a soft murmuring sound" (19:11-12, JPS).
The L-rd's messenger is told to "Ascend a lofty mountain, O herald of joy to Zion; Raise your voice with power, O herald of joy to Jerusalem -- Raise it, have no fear; Announce to the cities of Judah: Behold your G-d!" (Isaiah 40:9, JPS), and Israel is promised that they will worship G-d and be accepted on His mountain: "For only on My holy mountain, on the lofty mount of Israel -- declares the L-rd G-D -- there, in the land, the entire House of Israel, all of it, must worship Me. There I will accept them, and there I will take note of your contributions and the choicest offerings of all your sacred things" (Ezekiel 20:40, JPS). Yeshua was revealed to the disciples on a mountain top: "He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him" (Matthew 17:2-3, ESV). But notice that this experience, as in almost all of the mountain-top narratives in the Hebrew Scriptures, is immediately followed by a descent; Yeshua and the disciples went down into an intense ministry situation: casting out a demon and then an argument between the disciples "as to which of them was the greatest" (Luke 9:46, ESV).
Mountain tops provide a unique environment: clear and pure air, a vision that sees for miles, undisturbed time and peace; they are the ideal place for revelation and for G-d to be able to speak. Mountain tops offer the possibility of a theophany4, be that the glory of the L-rd passing by (Shemot 34:5-8), the mountain trembling and fire kindling the brushwood (Isaiah 64:1-2), or the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). But can we live on the mountain top? Is it representative of life? Do we reach the people who don't yet know G-d by dragging them up the mountain or by getting our hands dirty working cheek-by-jowl with them where they are in the valleys?
We know that the mountains will not endure; the prophet warns that "the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground" (Ezekiel 38:20, ESV) and Yeshua warns that those who do not know G-d "will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us'" (Luke 23:30, ESV). We can echo the Psalmist proclaiming, "Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling" (Psalm 46:2-3, ESV). As believers in Messiah we are uniquely privileged because, "G-d raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with Him in heaven" (Ephesians 2:6, CJB). We always have one foot in heaven, far above every mountain and hill, in the presence of G-d. Yet we are also living here in this earthly life with both feet firmly on the ground. Our role is to fulfill the original mission of the spies: bringing down the fruit of the kingdom so that all the people can see and agree that the kingdom is good. We are a lightning conductor5, providing a conducting path to bring G-d's light and power to the world in which we live. Our hands should be open to display the good things that G-d has done in our lives and to enable others to see and taste that the L-rd is good (Psalm 34:8).
1. - Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555 - 1631); a Polish rabbi and Talmudist; led a yeshiva in Posen for twenty years and then served as rabbi of Chelm, Lublin and Ostroh as well as being active in the Council of Four Lands.
2. - Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520 - 1609); known as the Maharal of Prague or simply the Maharal; a Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who, for most of his life, served as a leading rabbi in the cities of Mikulov in Moravia and Prague in Bohemia.
3. - Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893); born Mir, Russia; rabbi, and dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva (Russia, now Belarus) during its most prestigious years (1849-92).
4. - an appearance of G-d to man; a divine manifestation
5. - like the wet string in the kite experiment purportedly carried out by Benjamin Franklin in 1752 to charge a Leyden jar - an early form of capacitor - from the electrical force in thunderclouds.
Further Study: Isaiah 52:7-10; Micah 4:1-2; John 15:26-27
Do you bring down good fruit from the heavenly places to share with your
family, friends and work colleagues? Ask G-d to increase the flow and your
conductivity, so that you may be used to touch and bless many more people
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.