The Fields of Av

In Devarim, this week’s Torah portion, we continue with  a recurring theme of the book of Numbers.  There we read:

26 Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God; 27 and you murmured in your tents, and said: Because the Lord hated us, God has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. ( Deuteronomy 1:26-27)

There is nothing new, the Israelites are complaining. On this Rashi asks how the removal from Egypt could be understood as an expression of hatred. There we read:

It can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had two sons  and two fields. One of these fields was easy to irrigate and other one was solely dependent on rain water. To the one whom  he loves he gives the field that is easy to irrigate and to the one whom he hates he gives the field which is dependent on rain. The land of Egypt is well irrigated because the Nile rises and waters the fields and the Land of Canaan is one that depends on rain. God took us out of Egypt to give us the Land of Canaan ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:27)

The Israelites experienced the exodus from Egypt as its own exile. This echoes the choice that Avraham gave his cousin Lot. There we read:

9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself, I pray of you, from me; if you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you go unto Zoar. 11 So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other.  (Genesis 13:9-11)

Just like Lot before them the Israelites wanted the choice Egyptian style land. In their wandering in the desert they felt dispossessed of the opulence of the land of Egypt. And according to Rashi they felt relegated from the role of the chosen to hated son.

Parshat Devarim is always read the Shabbat Before Tisha B’Av. This is the yearly commemoration of some of the worst tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. If we were to ever feel hated, it would be on Tisha B’Av.This is interesting in the larger context of the flow of the Jewish Calender. This month of Av comes right before Elul which leads into Tishrei. While we are judged by the divine King in Tishrei, in Elul we have a different imagination of the King.

The Baal ShemTov called the days of Elul the days when the King is in the field. To gain an audience with the King during Tishrei we must go through a lengthy procedure. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And then even when permission is granted is may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we does finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Not used to the royal surroundings the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place and by the time we got there we might even have forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. When the reaches the outskirts of the city the King is to visit, the King’s entourage sets up a camp while a special delegation goes ahead to the city to make preparations for the King’s visit. While they are doing these preparations the King is in the field; relaxed and enjoying the early fall weather. Here formality is transformed into familiarity. Here in the field the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, the King is in the field and is easily accessible. We need only make the effort to go out and greet the King.

And what does this mean for these fields and the King in this month Av? Is this time that the King is engaged in a war with our enemies? Is the King out there dispossession us his citizens of their choice fields? Is it just a time of reward and punishment?

I think we have to experience the pain and hatred of Tisha B’Av. But, we cannot get stuck there. We need to move past Anti-Semitism to a Jewish contribution to make the world a better place. During Av the King is also in the field, but during this time the King has rolled up the King’s sleeves and is joining us in irrigating the fields. The world is broken and there is a lot of work for us all to do to continue rebuilding the Kingdom.

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