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Parshat Be-Shalach


In Parshat Be-Shalach, Hashem begins to provide food for B'nei Yisrael in the form of man which falls from the sky.  Regarding the descent of the man to the ground, the Torah says (Shemot 16:4):  Va-yomer Hashem el Moshe, “Hineni mamtir lachem lechem min ha-shamayim, ve-yatza ha-am ve-laktu devar yom be-yomo, le-ma'an anasenu, ha-yelech be-torati im lo” – “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘I am going to rain down for you bread from the heavens; the people should go out and gather it each day, so that I may test them, whether they will follow My instructions or not.”

The word used to indicate that Hashem made the man fall from the sky is mamtir.  In the Torah, two words are used to refer to rain: geshem and matar.  The word geshem is used only in the context of the flood story of Noah; otherwise, the word matar is used.  In addition to the noun form of the word, matar, we also find a verb form, le-hamtir, to cause to fall from the sky.  It is interesting to note, however, that this verb form is only used through Shemot chapter 16.  Afterwards, it disappears from use in the Torah (although the noun form, matar is still used).  Why does the word le-hamtir suddenly disappear from the Torah?


The Torah uses the verb le-hamtir in five situations:

1.  Reporting that Hashem had not yet made rain fall in Gan Eden.

2.  The falling of rain which caused the mabul (flood).

3.  The falling of sulfur and fire upon Sedom

4.  The falling of hail upon Egypt

5.  The falling of man in the desert

It is striking that situations 2, 3, and 4 are all destructive, but then #5, man, is life-giving.  Perhaps this is done deliberately: Hashem wants us to learn that our relationship with Him can be either good or bad, depending on our behavior.  After all, in the verse quoted above regarding the man, which is the first verse in the section of man, we see the words, “le-ma'an anasenu, ha-yelech be-torati im lo."  Hashem is providing the man to see if B'nei Yisrael will follow His Torah.

But there may be an additional dimension.  A common characteristic of all five events is that they occur in places outside  Eretz Yisrael or, if we assume that Sedom is in Eretz Yisrael, then at a time when Eretz Yisrael is not yet an entity.   When the Torah deals with rainfall in Eretz Yisrael,  however, as in Shema (Devarim ), the word matar is used:  "ve-natati metar artzechem be-ito."  In other words, le-hamtir is used outside Israel, but inside Israel, it is always matar. Why?

When the le-hamtir, the verb form, is used, the connotation is that of a direct act by Hashem.  When Hashem says "Anochi mamtir" or "Hineni mamtir," it means, "I will cause to fall," implying a direct act.  Nothing separates between Hashem and the word that includes the shoresh (root) that means rain, "mamtir."  In Shema, however, when Hashem talks about rainfall in Eretz Yisrael, He says, "I will place rain…"   When the rain is spoken about as a noun, it is one step removed from Hashem.  The word for rain is not juxtaposed immediately to Hashem’s name, but is separated from Him with the verb "natati."

At first, this seems problematic.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that Hashem acts directly upon the land specifically in Eretz Yisrael?  I think the explanation is that outside Eretz Yisrael, Hashem does act, but alone, without a direct relationship between Him and the people.  In Eretz Yisrael, however, there is a direct relationship between Hashem’s actions and ours – in Shema, it says that the rain will come if we do Hashem's will.  We are therefore partners in the process, and so, on some level, the rain is considered ours as much as it is considered Hashem's. 

This illustrates an important dimension of the concept of kedushat ha-aretz.  Only in Eretz Yisrael can this concept of partnership between Hashem and his people exist in such a deep way.  We thereby become sanctified through our connection to the Land.










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