"For the land to which you come, to possess it - it is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. Rather the land to which you cross over to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, from the rain of heaven will it drink water" Deuteronomy 11:10-11

By Rabbi Natan Levy, July 28, 2010

As I wrote this, the oil was continuing to ooze into the Gulf of Mexico and Egypt could have been to blame. Not the modern Egyptian state, but the ancient biblical nation.

Our parashah provides a damning statement against those who dig the earth in hubris. Ancient Egyptian agriculture was elegantly simple. Each summer the Nile would overflow it banks, spilling sediment onto the shore. The farmers would sow the rich earth, and irrigate their crops via water-channels from the Nile. Yet there is a flaw.

Egyptian farmers never looked up; never cared if it rained or shined. They watered looking down at their "feet". What happened in the heavens was inconsequential.

Not so Israel. "It is a land of hills and valleys, from the rain of heaven will it drink water." In Israel, climate matters. I remember one summer in Jerusalem, when the lack of rain was front page news for weeks.

The two axes of ancient civilisation revolved around the river systems of the Nile in the south and the Tigris and Euphrates in the north. These rivers offered a constant and stable food supply. Those who dwelled by them could ignore nature's fluctuations with impunity. Yet the Torah, from beginning to end, is the yearning tale of running away from those rivers.

The largest river in Israel, the Jordan, is really an inaccessible creek. In Israel, God cultivates a climate-sensitive, upward-gazing people.

BP's Deepwater Rig reportedly recorded a succession of gas "kicks" belching up from their well, harbingers of the impending catastrophe. But were the oilmen focused too much on the steady profit underfoot and too little on their responsibilities above to heed the warning?

Last updated: 3:51pm, July 28 2010