Shabbat Parashat Ekev August 4, 2023 – 17 Av 5783

A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Ekev 5783

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. D’varim / Deuteronomy 8:7-10

Our teacher, the Yismach Moshe(1), begins his commentary on these verses by reflecting on a passage in Pirke Avot (6:4) which encourages moderation in one’s consumption by eating simply. In applying this idea to the abundance described above in our Torah portion leads him to an awareness that the tremendous blessings of the land can easily lead a person to complacency about those blessings and a disregard for one’s role as a steward of God’s world.

I was particularly struck reading these verses on the same day as reports regarding many American farmersplowing through and killing existing crops that won’t reach maturity because of dry conditions resulting from this year’s intense heat and in many places drought conditions for the second year.(2) The US Department of Agriculture reported that record-breaking heat and pockets of drought are baking farmland across the country, threatening crop yields.

Throughout the Sun Belt, an extended heat wave is resulting in heat stress on various summer crops. “Breadbasket states in the Midwest are struggling to manage a drought that’s affecting some areas for a second year in a row. Nearly two-thirds of Kansas is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and about half of Missouri and Nebraska are in the same rough shape.

“As long as we have irrigation, we can keep up,” said Jay Reiners, who runs a farm outside Hastings, Nebraska. But “irrigation is meant to supplement Mother Nature, not replace Mother Nature,” he said. “It makes me really nervous.”
“We are entering a critical period for moisture, particularly for corn, as we get into the end of July and into August,” meaning rainfall levels in the weeks ahead will be decisive.

Many growers are still “living off surface moisture, as we call it — rain by rain, week by week,” said Dan Basse, the president of AgResource, an agriculture advisory firm. At this rate, he expects corn and soybean yields to be off by only about 3% to 5% but warned that another dry spell would cause big trouble. “It’s important that we don’t have any lasting heat and dryness — or any extreme heat for that matter — because crops have nothing in the tank to fall back on,” he said.
“Is the climate changing? Yeah. I don’t think there’s much argument to that,” said Boening, who is also the president of the Texas Farm Bureau. “We see heat like this every year,” he said, but “normally it doesn’t come until the end of July to August.”

After rain this spring helped buffer his crops from heat damage, Boening said his main concern now is keeping his livestock and workers hydrated and safe as the blistering days wear on. “Is it going to last all the way through the end of August, or are we going to get some relief?” he said.

“The effects of this will be felt for years to come, not just by farmers and ranchers but also by consumers. Many farmers have had to make the devastating decision to sell off livestock they have spent years raising or destroy orchard trees that have grown for decades.”

The disparity between these two depictions, the Torah’s bounty and the emaciated cattle and crops, is both striking and stark. While high temperatures and drought are natural phenomenon, the increasing frequency and intensity, along with their debilitating effects, are a product of climate change wrought by human beings and the complacency of which the Yismach Moshe spoke two centuries ago. Thriving, succeeding, and enjoying all the blessings of Creation was conditional when Moshe spoke of them and when the Yismach Moshe highlighted that conditionality. The bounty was and remains conditional on adherence to divine expectations especially as guardians of the garden which we share with all people and hold in trust for future generations.

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759 – 1841), also known as the Yismach Moshe, was the rabbi of Ujhely (Satoraljaujhely) in Hungary and instrumental in bringing Hasidism to Hungary. Though initially opposed, he became an adherent after his son-in-law introduced him to Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz. Rabbi Teitelbaum’s three primary works are, Heishiv Moshe (“Moses Responded”), a collection of responsa, Tefillah Le-Mosheh, (“A Prayer by Moses”), a commentary on the Book of Psalms), and Yismach Moshe (“Moses Rejoiced”), containing homilies on the Torah and which gave rise to the name by which he was most known.

2 The facts cited, as well as the quotes are from a series of reports by NBC over the past two weeks.