Reach Your Promised Land

As the new year and a new decade dawns, it is natural to wonder what lies ahead. Whatever they are, keep your dreams alive.  Maybe you wish you were happily married, or prospering, or healthier.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal reality is a terrible trap.

Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal?  After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they ever have seen themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as a hopeless fantasy when he said to them:

And it shall be when you come into the land that the
Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…
(Deuteronomy 26:1)

What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?

The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance. 

In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words, as recipients of God’s blessing, they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.

That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  Now, you know how I encourage everyone to learn to read Hebrew. Well, off the Hebrew page jumps a real attention-getter—a rare word for basket.  The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Tanach (Scripture) and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.


ס  ל
L – S

…and the birds were eating them from the basket…
(Genesis 40:17)

In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2-4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.

ט   נ   א
EH- N -Te

If you own our Genesis Journeys series, you have the study guides that accompany each teaching.  At the beginning of your study guide, you will see our special layout chart of the Hebrew alphabet.

The 6th letter of the middle row is the letter samech pronounced ‘S’ (as in sahl-basket). You’ll notice that it is shaped like a closed circle.  Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in any word in all those eleven verses.  The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech.  Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter? A different and unusual Hebrew word for basket is employed (Te-NEH)in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word—sahl.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance.  For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.

Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow.  But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love entraps you in an unchanging today.  It is true that your promised land comes with no limits.  But it does bring accompanying obligations.  Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the obligations that will accompany God’s bounty.

11 thoughts on “Reach Your Promised Land”

  1. Dear Rabbi, thank you so much! My hubby and I have 11 children and we are so grateful for you and your wife’s wisdom. This article speaks volumes to me as it is hard work to stay encouraged when you have a vision but knowing it takes a plan and involves a lot of hard work and this increases obligations. We are imparting this to our children as well. Just as you and your wife talked about on the podcast about being happy. I loved that podcast! I enjoy the points that you and your wife make about choosing beauty or confidence! Thank you thank you for all the wisdom! I am always encouraged when I listen to your podcast and read your books and website.

  2. Your simple note on how it makes sense for the children of Israel to have passed on the Promised Land in their first near encounter floored me. The times I’ve read and listened to commentary on this, I never considered their familiarity and the “comforts” of what they knew in Egypt having such a powerful hold at that specific moment. At least not when brought so close to literally entering into the promised land! Yet I experience similar personal restrictions on a near-constant basis, in principle at least. Unaware or afraid to truly believe in God’s promises, I’m sure I pass them by more often than I’ve ever been aware. Not unlike the popular notion of a paradigm shift, the change in perspective maybe doesn’t seem challenging. But the power of what we allow ourselves to accept as familiar and the limitations, just incredible! So much more to chew on and so many connected ideas. Have been thinking about similar issues for some time now, and this is a very timely revelation. Thank you so much for your teachings!

  3. I am starting a class in Biblical Hebrew in February. This is a course presented by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and I am excited to be able, one day, to better understand your teaching.

  4. I had another episode in which I had to go to the hospital for. They (all women) drew blood and ask questions which I was truthful. The reason I had to go to the hospital is because I didn’t now the Bible. More importantly I don’t know God. They gave me more pills. Im spiritually void and biblically illiterate. That’s my real problem. I ask for forgiveness every time I mess up. I fear I messed up one too many times. I tried to find a Torah in my local book shop couldn’t find one. Heart breaking. I will do all that I can to better serve God during the 2020 year. I pray that Jews and Christians maybe even the Moslems will recognize that we are brothers and we can unite to vanquish the forces of darkness that is enveloping the world. We can fight. We can fight. We can fight. In the end the only thing that gives me peace is that I know God has already won.

    1. Shawn, wishing you a recovery and that you get to know God. There are many people out there who can help you.

  5. Neweverymoment, Deb:
    Thank you, Rabbi (and Susan)! Just what I needed to hear on New Year’s Eve. Our country is faced with the enormous task of getting its soul back and getting its Judeo-Christian values back. We need to earn our own vine and fig tree by taking responsibility for their nurture.

    1. Dear Rabbi,
      Thank you for yet another important biblical concept! As a mother of two older teenagers, I cannot stress enough to them the importance of how life doesn’t just happen. We all make choices to do or not do which affects how our lives unfold.
      A recent example in my life is as follows; My daughter (Susan) said on Christmas Eve that this Christmas didn’t seem as “magical”. I told her that the magic doesn’t just happen, you need to plan it. Life as you know is a lot of work. The tricky part, yet most important part, is finding what God’s will is for your life then following the map He has laid out for you. What a beautiful thing it is to discover that the LORD has a particular plan for each and everyone of us!
      Thanks For Listening,
      Terry Sterling

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Dear Terry-
        It’s heartwarming to hear from you and to know that you are raising another good family in America. It’s not easy. Wishing you a healthy and successful 2020

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Gidon,
      And it’s also instructive (though it lay beyond the scope of this Thought Tool) to see where in Tanach “Sal” is used. Of course “teneh” is used only four times in Tanach–all within the same few perakim of Devarim. I know you well enough to know you’d never fail to give credit for an idea; sadly not all rabbis are so endowed. Blessings in your holy work.

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