Ki Tavo begins with a description of the commandment of Bikurim and its accompanying confession, Viduy, which is recited in front of the Kohein at the time that one brings his first fruit to the Beit HaMikdash. The Viduy concludes with the Pasuk, “Hashkifah MiMe’on Kodshecha Min HaShamayim UVareich Et Amecha Et Yisrael VeEt HaAdamah Asher Natata Lanu KaAsher Nishba’ta LaAvoteinu Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash,” “Look down from Your holy place, and bless Bnei Yisrael, and the land You have given them, as You swore to our forefathers, a land of milk and honey” (Devarim 26:15).
The Meforshim are sensitive to the fact that the Pasuk mentions that Eretz Yisrael was promised to our forefathers as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The obvious question that they raise is that Eretz Yisrael was never promised to Avraham and Yaakov as an Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash!
The first time we encounter this phrase is in Parashat Shemot, when Hashem speaks to Moshe at the Sneh. Hashem says “VaEireid LeHatzilo MiYad Mitzrayim, ULeHa’aloto Min HaAretz HaHi, El Eretz Tovah URechavah, El Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash,” “And I will come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land, into a good and large land, flowing with milk and honey” (Shemot 3:8).
Rashi comments that the confessor in Parashat Ki Tavo is making two separate statements: “Hashem, look down from Your heavenly abode and bless the land that was promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov,” and “You, Hashem, have also fulfilled Your promise (not to the Avot, but to those who left Egypt) to deliver us to a land flowing with milk and honey.” In fact, the Siftei Chachamim claims that the confessor is affirming that Hashem indeed provided us with even more blessings than He originally promised to our Avot.
Ibn Ezra suggests that “Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash” is a Tefillah. The farmer who brings Bikurim to the Beit HaMikdash prays that Hashem continue to preserve the land of Israel as a land flowing with milk and honey.
Ramban maintains that the word “LaAvoteinu” in the Viduy can refer to those who left Egypt. It is not uncommon for the Torah to refer to previous generations as our forefathers. It is not a term exclusively reserved for Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. In addition, Ramban explains that even if we were to explain that “LaAvoteinu” refers to the Avot, it would not be incorrect for the Torah to state that “Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash” was promised to them. After all, if they were promised Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is later described as a land flowing with milk and honey, it can be concluded that an “Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash” was promised to our forefathers.
The Ketav Sofer wonders why Eretz Yisrael wasn’t promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as “Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash.” Why was this reserved for the Yotz’ei Mitzrayim?
He explains that the purpose of the Berachot for rains in the correct time and abundant produce in the land of Israel are not merely rewards for following Hashem’s commandments. Rather, they are Hachanot LeAvodat Hashem – Hashem providing us with the capacity to continue serving Him. The challenge for one to serve Hashem when he can’t provide for his family is often too great, leaving the person with a feeling of hopelessness that impedes his service of G-d.
There are certain unique individuals who are able to serve Hashem under the most trying of circumstances, but this doesn’t represent the whole nation, nor is it Hashem’s will to place all of Am Yisrael in such a predicament.
Our Avot did not need a guarantee of “Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash” to ensure their commitment to Hashem. However, Bnei Yisrael, the Yotz’ei Mitzrayim, and those who entered Eretz Yisrael, did not possess the same devotion to the Ribono Shel Olam.
On a Midrashic level, this can furnish a new interpretation of the Pasuk in Shemot 3:8: in order for this nation to experience a Ha’ala’ah – an ascent in Avodat Hashem – they will need an Eretz Zavat Chalav UDevash. There is no mention in this Pasuk that Eretz Yisrael is the land promised to the Avot; on the contrary, the Pasuk concludes, “El Mekom HaKena’ani VeHaChiti VeHaEmori VeHaPerizi VeHaChivi VeHaYevusi,” “The land of the Kena’anim, Chitim, Emorim, Perizim, Chivim, and Yevusim.”
As we approach the Yemei HaDin and we focus our attention on Parnasah and good health for ourselves and our families, we mustn’t lose sight of the reason we are asking for Hashem’s Brachot. We wish to enhance our Avodat Hashem, and we are asking in order to realize that if there are obstacles in our life, we have a duty to turn those obstacles into opportunities for growth in Torah and Mitzvot.