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Parsha Potpourri

Parshas Behar/Bechukosai – Vol. 10, Issue 30

Compiled by Ozer Alport

 

 

V’nasna ha’aretz pirya v’achaltem la’sova viy’shavtem la’vetach aleha v’chi somru mah nochal ba’shana ha’shevi’is hein lo nizra v’los ne’esof es tevuaseinu v’tzivisi es birchasi lachem ba’shana ha’shisis v’asas es ha’tevuah l’shalosh ha’shanim (25:20-22)

Parshas Behar begins with the mitzvah of Shemittah, which forbids us to work the ground in Eretz Yisroel every seven years. The Torah acknowledges that allowing the land to lay fallow for an entire year may seem life-threatening to a farmer whose entire sustenance depends on his produce, and in response to those who are anxious and question what they will eat in the Shemittah year if they are forbidden to plant any crops, Hashem promises to bless the harvest of the sixth year so that it will suffice for three years, until the produce of the eighth year can be harvested.

However, a number of commentators point out a glaring difficulty with this reassurance: If the farmers witness this miracle in the sixth year, why would they ask what they will eat if they don’t work the ground, when they already have enough food to eat until the following year? Further, immediately preceding this verse, the Torah promises that “the land will give forth its fruits, and you will eat and be full, and you will dwell securely upon it.” In what way are these blessings related to the question and answer concerning the Shemittah year?

            Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, who was known as the Alter of Novardok, was renowned for his high level of trust in Hashem, and he used to sign his letters Beis-beis., which stood for Baal Bitachon (one who trusts in Hashem). In line with his personal philosophy, he offers a novel approach to these difficulties. He suggests that the farmer’s question about what he will eat during the Shemittah year will not be asked in the sixth year or the seventh year of the Shemittah cycle, but rather in the first year, as human nature causes a person to worry about the distant future and long-term financial security. If a person thinks he will need something at some point in the future, he becomes frightened and anxious about the fact that he currently lacks the resources to acquire it. Even though he currently has everything he needs, he convinces himself that he must prepare little by little so that when the time comes, he will have enough savings accumulated to be able to meet his future needs.

The unfortunate side effect of this approach is that the person denies himself the ability to benefit from his present state, since he convinces himself that he must voluntarily set aside a portion of his current assets for the future, in contrast to the righteous tzaddik who is able to fully enjoy what he currently has, trusting in Hashem to provide for him in the future just as He has provided for him until now. The difference between these approaches is described by Shlomo (Mishlei 13:25): A righteous man eats to satiety, but the stomach of the wicked is lacking.

Applying this understanding to the mitzvah of Shemittah, when the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, some of them were lacking in their bitachon and did not fully trust the Torah’s promise that the produce of the sixth year would miraculously sustain them for three years. After they planted their initial crop, instead of enjoying their successful harvest, they were so worried about how they would sustain themselves during the Shemittah year that they decided to eat the bare minimum to satisfy their hunger, and to save the rest to eat during Shemittah.

Unfortunately, in doing so, they negated one of the primary purposes of the mitzvah of Shemittah, which is to strengthen our trust in Hashem to provide for us, not in our ability to use our talents and wisdom to outsmart the system. Even though these farmers believed in Hashem, as evidenced by their dedication to observe the laws of Shemittah despite the tremendous risk and difficulty involved in doing so, they nevertheless did not fully trust Him to save them from starvation. As a result, they observed the letter of the law of Shemittah, while completely missing out on the spirit of the law.

In light of this explanation, the Alter suggests that the Torah precedes the farmer’s question about what he will eat during Shemittah by stating, “The land will give forth its fruits, and you will eat and be full, and you will dwell securely upon it” not as a blessing, but as a command. Hashem understood that there would be individuals who were lacking in bitachon who would be obsessed with their concerns about the future, and they would be tempted to eat the bare minimum during the first six years of the Shemittah cycle in order to have enough food saved up to eat during the Shemittah year. Therefore, the Torah preempts that faulty line of reasoning by obligating us to eat to satiety throughout the entire Shemittah cycle, and to trust that just as Hashem provided for us today, so too will our needs be met tomorrow and beyond. As a result, we will be able to dwell securely and confidently in Eretz Yisroel.

However, this explanation begs the question: Why does the Torah mention this command, when it was only applicable on one occasion? Although some of the Jews may have felt the need to save during the first Shemittah cycle after they entered Eretz Yisroel, once they experienced and personally witnessed the miraculous blessing of the sixth year, they understood that saving was unnecessary, and in future Shemittah cycles they shouldn’t have worried about the future. Why does the Torah include a command that was only applicable for a few short years?

The Alter explains that Hashem is compared to a shadow (Tehillim 121:5), in the sense that He reflects our conduct by interacting with us in the manner in which we choose to interact with Him. If we elect to place our full trust in Hashem, He will reward our bitachon by miraculously protecting us and providing for us. If, however, we display a lack of complete trust in Him by relying on our own plans to meet our needs, Hashem will respond in kind by leaving us subject to the laws of nature. Our needs will be still satisfied through our strategy of saving, but we will not merit Hashem’s clear intervention in our lives, because we have demonstrated through our actions that we are capable of taking care of ourselves and don’t feel that we need Him.

In light of this insight, we can understand that the Torah’s promise that the sixth year’s produce will be blessed and will miraculously suffice for three years is only intended for the farmers who are dependent on it, but those who already have enough stored up to render it unnecessary won’t see anything unusual about their harvest in the sixth year. In addition to denying themselves the opportunity to experience Hashem’s miraculous protection, they will also mistakenly derive from this development that their original plan to conserve and save was prudent, as evidenced by the fact that without it, their harvest in the sixth year would be inadequate to sustain them during the Shemittah year, and they would starve to death. Because they fail to comprehend that the lack of Divine intervention was their own doing, they will continue with their natural approach in future Shemittah cycles, as will their sons and future generations who follow in their footsteps, in which case the Torah’s command to eat and be full was not a one-time instruction, but is relevant in perpetuity.

            Although none of us is on the level of bitachon of the Alter, his message that Hashem shadows us in how we choose to interact with Him is still quite relevant. Even as we operate in a world that seems to run based on the laws of nature and which requires us to prudently plan for our futures, it is incumbent upon us to remain cognizant of the Source of those natural laws and to give credit accordingly.

 

 

Im bechukosai teileichu v'es mitzvosai tishm'ru v'asisem osam v'nasati gishmeichem b'itam (26:3-4)

            Unfortunately, in our generation, there is no shortage of families suffering from serious financial, medical, and marital distress. However, Rav Yaakov Galinsky suggests that for all of the pain and suffering that they are compelled to endure, the even greater tragedy for many of them is that in their pursuit of segulos (supernatural cures) and other easy solutions, they remain oblivious to the only true Source of merits and blessings: Torah study and mitzvah observance.

            Rav Galinsky offers an insightful parable to depict the folly in doing so. In the middle of the desert, a group of Bedouins dwelled peacefully and simply in their tents. However, they were only able to attain their greatest need - water - by traveling long distances to draw it from wells and transporting back to their tents in pails carried by donkeys, which was certainly an arduous process. One day, some of the Bedouins traveled to visit a large city, where they were astounded by the sight of a most remarkable invention: the faucet, which supplied cold, fresh, clean water to every home and building that they encountered. The Bedouins quickly realized that the faucet had the ability to revolutionize their lives, so they quickly hurried to a hardware store and purchased faucets for all of the tents in their village.

            Excited by their good fortune, the Bedouins hurried home and installed the faucets on the walls of their tents and tried to turn them on, but they were shocked when not a single drop of water emerged. They contacted the store to report that the faucets they had purchased were all defective. The store sent a representative to examine the situation, and when he arrived at the village to inspect the faucets, he began to laugh uncontrollably. The Bedouins demanded an explanation for his amusement over their suffering. He replied by explaining to them that the faucet itself is a simple piece of metal with no water inside; it only has the ability to produce water if it is attached to a series of pipes which connect it to a source of water. In the absence of any semblance of plumbing, installing the faucets on the walls of their tents was an exercise in futility.

            Similarly, Parshas Bechukosai clearly and explicitly lays out a long list of wonderful blessings awaiting those who toil in Torah study and scrupulously perform the mitzvos. The Torah, which is compared to water, is the source of all blessing and good in the world, but only to those wise enough to invest the time and energy connecting themselves to it through Torah study and mitzvah observance. Unfortunately, those who spend their time seeking shortcuts and segulos are bound to be left with useless faucets and no water to drink.

 

 

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