The Land of the Law

April 19, 2024

But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.’ So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess. (Deuteronomy 5:27-30)

The book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches that Moses delivered at the end of the forty-year journey through the desert, during the final five weeks of his life. In the early chapters of the book, Moses reminds the people of Israel of many of the key events that happened since the Exodus from Egypt.

Deuteronomy 5 is a retelling of the great revelation at Mount Sinai, where God spoke the Ten Commandments and the covenant with Israel was established. The above passage contains the final verses of this chapter. 

Are the commandments only for the land?

At first glance, this passage is similar to many others in which Moses implores the people to keep God’s commandments, reminding them of the reward they will receive for their obedience. But if we read carefully, we will notice that Moses is not just telling the people that they must keep God’s law. In verse 28, the first verse of the passage, God tells Moses:

He stresses that he must teach the people the laws so that “they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.” Then again, in verse 30, the final verse of the chapter, this point is repeated. Here we read that as a reward for obedience to God’s law, “you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.”

According to the plain meaning of the first verse in our passage, it seems that the commandments are intended to be observed “in the land which I give them to possess.” Now, obviously, the plan was for the people of Israel to enter the land and establish themselves there as a nation. Clearly, the Jewish people never planned to go into exile. All the commandments were intended to be performed by the nation of Israel in the land of Israel. 

But here’s the problem. If the intention was for the nation of Israel to live only in the land of Israel forever, then isn’t it obvious that any fulfillment of the commandments will happen where they are located, i.e., in the land? Why bother mentioning the land at all? God should simply have instructed Moses to teach the commandments to the people “that they may observe them.” Period. We know that this observance will happen in the land. After all, that is where they will be!

On the other hand, if the intention of God was that the commandments must be fulfilled everywhere the people of Israel are located, in the land of Israel or in exile, then why is the verse worded this way? Again, the plain meaning of the verse appears to be saying that Moses is to teach the people to observe the commandments in the land, and not outside of it. 

Context: The Ten Commandments

To emphasize this point, it is important to note that these verses appear just after a review of the Ten Commandments. None of the Ten Commandments are dependent on being in the land of Israel. Commandments that depend on the land generally fall into two categories. First, there are agricultural laws such as the seven-year sabbatical cycle, first fruits, and others that are clearly tied to the actual produce of the land of Israel. Then there are national laws that apply to kings, the Temple, and the governing of a society. These laws are clearly intended only for the land of Israel where Israel is a functioning nation-state. Such laws simply cannot be performed outside the land.

But the laws that precede our verses, the Ten Commandments, have nothing to do with the land. Honor your father and mother? Don’t murder? Don’t commit adultery? Are these laws meant only for the land of Israel? 

The answer is yes and no. Allow me to explain.

The purpose of Israel as a nation

Of course, every individual member of Israel is obligated to keep God’s commandments wherever he or she may be. But let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of the people of Israel. 

In Exodus 19, just before the revelation at Sinai, God told Moses what the covenant they were about to enter was really all about:

A kingdom of priests and a holy nation. A priest – kohen in Hebrew – is a person whose mission is to help others, the flock, draw closer to God. A kingdom of priests is an entire society, a nation, that has a priestly role. If the nation of Israel is a kingdom of priests, or a priestly kingdom, it means that the role of Israel is to help the flock draw closer to God. And who is that flock? The nations of the world.

The mission of the Jewish people is not individual. It is national. The laws of the Torah encompass all areas of life, from dietary laws to how to properly set up a court system. The highest calling of the nation of Israel is first and foremost, to be a nation. A holy nation

The purpose of the entire body of laws in the Torah is the formation of a complete society, a nation-state, that lives out God’s will and serves as a beacon of divine light for the nations of the world. 

So, while it is true that every individual Jew is obligated to observe the commandments to the best of their ability wherever they may find themselves, this is not the true purpose of God’s law. The plain meaning of our passage is correct.

The purpose of all God’s law is the formation of a Godly society. A kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And that can only happen as a nation in our own land, in the land of Israel.

The purpose of the commandments is for us to serve God by creating a Godly society. Even the laws that address individual behavior are meant to contribute to this goal. Our own private obedience helps make this Biblical vision a reality.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
Your Prayers Are a Spiritual Shield
God’s Conscious Concern for the Land
Bread or Dreams?

Related Articles

By: Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email