On the eve of their entry into the Holy Land, Moses described to the Children of Israel the nature of their new homeland in the following way:

For the land which you are entering to inherit is not like the land of Egypt from which you are coming... it is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water of the rain of the heavens (Deuteronomy 11:10).

Our Sages explain that this distinguishes the Land of Israel from "the land from which you are coming" since "The land of Egypt does not drink rainwater; rather, the Nile rises and waters it" (Rashi, Genesis 47:10).

Rain represents the reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth. Chassidic teaching cites the Torah's description (Genesis 2:6) of the first rainfall: "A vapor rises from the earth" to the heavens, and the heavens return it as rain which "quenches the face of the land." This, explain the Chassidic masters, represents the spiritual truth that "an arousal from below evokes an arousal from above"--that G‑d responds to the efforts of man, reciprocating our prayers, yearnings and deeds with nurture from Above.

But rain alone does not suffice to make the land flourish and give fruit. The soil must be plowed—broken up and softened—before it can receive the seed and absorb the rain. Spiritually, this means that it is not enough to send up "vapors" of lofty feelings and virtuous works; one must first "plow" one's ego, crush the clods of coarseness and arrogance in one's personality, to make one's life receptive to the flow of divine nurture from Above.

In the "Land of Israel" one plows, and is nourished by rain. But in "Egypt" things were different. Egypt was nourished not by descending rain but by the overflow of the Nile, which would periodically flood the land. Nor was it necessary to plow its soil: the floodwaters of the Nile would leave behind a layer of fertile silt which required no breaking up prior to planting.

The spiritual "Egyptian" is one who does not recognize the Heavenly source of the blessings of life. He believes that all is generated from below—that everything he has and has achieved is of his own making. Nor does he see the need for any "plowing" of his personality—he is fine as he is, clods and all.

Perverted Rain

When rain does falls in Egypt, it falls as hail—hail that is ice without and fire within. Thus the Torah describes the seventh of the "ten plagues" to visit the Egyptians:

And G‑d rained hail upon the land of Egypt. And there was hail, and fire burning within the hail... (Exodus 9:23-24)

We often speak of "warm" and "cold" personalities. A "warm" person is a passionate, loving, outgoing individual, always ready to extend a hand and a smile to a fellow. A "cold" person is reserved, self-centered, indifferent to the fate of others. But the cold individual is also aflame—fired with self-love, ablaze with egotistical passions. Indeed, it is his excess of inner heat that is the cause of his icy exterior.

When rain falls in Egypt, it falls as a hail of ice-enclosed fire. In this unplowed land, where the heavenly source of its water is unseen and unrecognized, the nurture that descends from Above is perverted as a source of increased love of self and greater alienation between man and his fellow.

The Exodus came to deliver us from this rainless, ice-fire state of existence, and bring us to a "holy land" defined by faith, humility and a reciprocal relationship between earth and heaven.