Fat of the Land

During the past year or so, despite difficult economic conditions, some companies have reported excellent earnings.  Upon reading their reports it becomes clear that many of them achieved this without increasing sales revenues.  Instead, rigid cost discipline allowed these firms to post profits.  Many families have followed a similar culture of frugality.  They are enduring a depressed economy by ruthlessly cutting their expenses.

We hope that things will improve and tough times will eventually fade away, though for many of us painful memories will linger.  But maybe that is not all that will linger.  While reaching for the stars, an awareness of restraint is healthy.  It is good to balance the belief that we can do anything and have everything with an appreciation of limitations.

The affluent Beverly Hills family that raises its children with no obligation other than to accept the keys to a new car on their sixteenth birthdays seldom sees a successful younger generation. The company indulging in grandiose spending might practice profligacy with apparent impunity while the economy is booming.  But when the tide turns, as it always will, management will lack the skills and character necessary for coping in a recessionary climate.

On the threshold of entering the Promised Land, ancient Israel could hardly have been riding higher.  Forty years earlier they had seen their tormentor, Egypt’s Pharaoh, wiped out.  They had defeated their enemy Amalek, received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and successfully completed a forty-year desert journey.  The land lay before them, triumph was assured and the future looked limitless.

Moses the beloved teacher and leader of Israel had one final task.  He was to bless his people. (Deuteronomy 33:6-24)

Fortunately, Moses didn’t have to pull his blessings out of the air. There was a heritage of blessings which had been passed down by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not surprisingly, the blessings that Moses delivered to the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy were an echo of those delivered by Jacob to his sons.  (Genesis 49:2-27)

After blessing each tribe individually, Moses blessed the people in its entirety:


May Israel live alone securely,
the fountain of Jacob
shall be upon a
land of grain and wine,
and his
heavens shall drop down dew.

(Deuteronomy 33:28)

This blessing echoed that which earlier Isaac bestowed upon Jacob:

May God give you of the dew of the heaven
and from the
fat of the land
and plenty of grain and wine.

(Genesis 27:28)

But wait!  Isaac’s blessing to Jacob contains six elements: dew, heaven, fat, land, grain and wine.  Moses’ blessing to Israel contains only five of these elements.  Why did Moses omit fat?

Ancient Jewish wisdom provides an incandescent clue.  Notice that Moses precedes his blessings of the individual tribes with a special name for Israel, Yeshurun.


He was a King in Yeshurun…

(Deuteronomy 33:5)

 As the closing of these blessings we find:


There is none like the God of Yeshurun…

(Deuteronomy 33:26)

This term for Israel, Yeshurun, only occurs three times in all the Torah.

The word’s other appearance is when Moses delivers sad prophecies about Israel’s behavior in the future:


Yeshurun became fat
and kicked (rebelled)…
and it deserted God its Maker…

 (Deuteronomy 32:15)

 What scintillating clarity!  We see that fat connotes luxury and that luxury easily slides into moral rebellion and spiritual failure.  For this compelling purpose, just before they enter the Promised Land, Moses blesses them but omits the word ‘fat.’  On the eve of Israel’s triumph, Moses introduces a note of restraint.  Long-term survival depends upon being able to live with restraint and limit.

Revised and reprinted from May 2011

5 thoughts on “Fat of the Land”

  1. Rabbi Lappen,

    I agree that everyone needs a Rabbi and I am happy you have made yourself available to so many of us. Your resources are essential for me and my household.

    Thanks so much,
    Mike Ott

  2. I hear that to the ancient Hebrews “forty” meant “many.” Forty days and forty nights and such. I doubt the Hebrew god had a predilection for the number forty. It makes much more sense for it to mean “many.”

    1. Answering to the nickname “Mem” from childhood, I fancy that God does have a special predilection for the number forty. Especially because of this certain connection to my identity, I have come to learn that it represents the number forty, and water. I should add, however, that it is just an abbreviation for P’Mem, and the P’ , in thai, denotes a respect to an elder. And that I’ve always learned the P in Hebrew is a picture of the mouth, and so it may only mean, “mouth that runs like water”. Ha!

  3. B”H

    I think there is a challenge always present in the humankind and that is to be rich and also live a “rich” life, and from my perspective that depends on tzedaka. If I’m permanently aware that I have to donate a part of my time, my attention and my money to the needy then I feel free to make massive amounts of wealth and live a glorious and joyful life. I’m doing that right now in my life and I’m seeing results.

    Thanks, Father, for making it possible.

    Shalom ubrajá,

    Lima, Perú

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