“Heavens and the Earth”

Moshe Kempinski

We will sit in the Sukkot following the reading of Haazinu on Shabbat. These Sukkot will be made of the produce of the earth while the covering of the sukkah will be open to the Heavens. That is not happenstance

We read in the beginning of Parshat Haazinu the following words ;

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth! My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass. “( Deuteronomy 32:1)

This is not the only time heaven and earth are brought as a witness throughout the text of the Tanach ( Bible). The terms “heaven and earth” clearly are not used by happenstance. This metaphor resonates even more powerfully when we remember that ” In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. ” ( Genesis 1:1).Then , in fact, they are mentioned twenty one time in the book of genesis alone.

What then are the layers of understanding of this recurring metaphor in HaShem’s discourse with His people.

We will find that the “Heavens and the Earth” serve as eternal witnesses on the one hand and G-d’s language with His people on the other.

Rashi writes”… Now why did Moshe call upon heaven and earth to be witnesses for warning Israel? Moshe said: “I am just flesh and blood. Tomorrow I will die. If Israel says, ‘We never accepted the covenant,’ who will come and refute them?” Therefore, he called upon heaven and earth as witnesses for Israel-witnesses that endure forever.

Yet we are also told that the “Heavens and the Earth” will be used as a rod of judgment as well ;

“Take care that you not be seduced and turn away to serve other gods. Then G-d’s fury will turn against you. G-d will block the sky. There will be no rain. The earth will not grant its produce. You will quickly perish from the good land that G-d grants you” (Deuteronomy, 11:17).

And again in the book of Amos ;
“And I also have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest; and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city; one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.”(amos 4:7 )

Yet those same “Heavens and the Earth” provide eternal comfort as well;

When HaShem exiles His people from the land of Israel he declares that the land would feel it and show it. The land would become desolate. So desolate that any nation that would try to inhabit it would become desolate as well ( Leviticus 26:32-35)

As a result Rabbi Abba taught: ‘You have no clearer sign of the end than this, verse in Ezekiel 36:8 ‘But ye, 0 mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel for they are quickly returning” (Talmud – Sanhedrin 98a)

The Maharsha (Rabbi Samuel Edels,) writes: “So long as Israel are not on their land it will not yield its produce as it should; but when it will resume yielding its produce, that will be the clear sign that the time of the redemption is near when Israel is to return to its land.

“The time has come,” wrote the Netziv (Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin,), in a letter to his Community (Kislev 1856), “when it shall no more be said of Eretz Yisrael that she is forsaken, for the curse that the land should be desolate has been lifted off from her, and the word of HaShem has come to pass ‘And I shall remember the land.”(Footnote ;letter quoted in Hatekufah Hagedolah, Rav Menachem Kasher)

HaShem makes it clear that this will be one of His powerful modes of discourse with us;

“For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven”,( Deuteronomy 11:10-11)

That is to say , that in the rest of the world when one wants water one must turn to sources like the Nile, yet in this land if one wants water one must turn to G-d

So the heavens and the earth have served as eternal witnesses. They have served to make G-d’s declarations of judgment a harsh physical reality. Yet they will also serves as sure signs of comfort.

A land that had lain barren and fallow begins to bloom. A land that seemed to have been cursed shakes off its ancient curse. A land that is waiting for its children to come home. Every blade of grass, every flower, every tree and every fruit become a testimony to the truth of the Divine promise. When one tastes a fruit of Israel today and marvels at how good it tastes, one must realize that this is so because one is not just eating a fruit , one is actually eating a piece of prophecy fulfilled. A thought worthy of contemplation in the Sukkah.

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