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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Greater than angels
When the Jewish people said, "we will do" before "we will listen", they clearly showed that they accepted upon themselves to observe all commandments that G'd would later instruct them. The Sadducee berated Rava because it made no sense to him that the Jewish people would obligate themselves to follow G'd's commandments before they heard the nature and extent of their obligation. A Heavenly voice rang out in wonderment and said, "Who revealed the angels' secret to my children?" The angels accept upon themselves to do whatever G'd commands even before they hear His command. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had complete trust in G'd, and, in their great love for G'd, they were ready to fulfill His words. The Jewish people still cling to the words of G'd and fulfill them with love and dedication. Those who observe Shemitah are even greater than the angels. There is an abundance of amazing stories how individual Shemitah observers have experienced miraculous events. Especially touching is a story about someone who was evicted from Gush Katif. "The land will give fruit and you will eat plenty. And you will dwell upon it in security."
Do and listen to all commandments
Towards the end of this week's parasha, the Torah (Shemos 24:4-7) describes how Moses wrote down what G'd told him and read it to the Jewish people. In response, they exclaimed "Everything that G'd has said we will do and we will listen to." This did not only relate to the instructions they had received in Marah (see Shemos 15:25 and Rashi ibid), and the Ten Commandments. By phrasing their acceptance "we will do" before "we will listen", they clearly showed that they accepted upon themselves to observe all commandments that G'd would later instruct them.
Rava and the Sadducee
The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) relates how a Sadducee once scorned Rava, one of the Rabbis of the Talmud, and said to him, "You are a rash people, for you let your mouth precede your ear [at Mount Sinai]. You ought first to hear [what G'd commanded]. Then if you like what you were told, you should accept it, and if not you should not accept it." To the Sadducee, it made no sense how the Jewish people could obligate themselves to follow G'd's commandments before having heard the nature and extent of their obligation.
Secret of the angels
The scorn this Sadducee exhibited was very different from G'd's reaction related in the Talmud (ibid). Immediately after the Jewish people exclaimed "we will do and we will listen" a Heavenly voice rang out in wonderment and said, "Who revealed the angels' secret to my children?" As it says, (Tehillim 103:20): "Bless G'd, [you] His angels, strong warriors, who do what He says, to listen to the voice of His words."
No evil inclination
The angels do what G'd says even before they have heard His instructions. The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 26:5) points out that G'd only needs to instruct the angels once. They have no evil inclination to challenge their obedience, and they know that their whole raison d'?tre is to follow G'd's instructions. They have complete trust in G'd's word, and they accept upon themselves to do whatever G'd commands them, even before they have heard the command.
Same level as angels
At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people reached the same level of willingness as the angels. They too were ready to do whatever G'd would command, even before hearing what G'd expected of them. The obvious question is, how did human beings elevate themselves to the level of angels? Rava actually explained this in his answer to the Sadducee. Rava said (ibid), "We observant Jews go with G'd in wholesomeness." Rashi (ibid) explains that Rava wanted to impress upon the Sadducee that as observant Jews we have complete trust in G'd, and are ready to fulfill His words out of love. We know that G'd will not demand anything of us beyond our ability.
This is the secret of the continuity of the Jewish people, and it has sustained us from the revelation at Mount Sinai to this very day. Despite all our difficulties and hardships, we still cling to the words of G'd and fulfill them with love and dedication. Neither inquisitions and pogroms, nor the smooth talk of missionaries have succeeded to remove us from our special closeness to G'd. Many individuals may have fallen by the wayside, especially after the atrocities of the Holocaust. The availability of unlimited opportunities have also caused a tremendous assimilation in the Western world. However, the core of the Jewish people is as strong as ever in our adherence and observance of the word of G'd.
Greater than angels
This strength is especially noticeable in the observance of the laws of Shemitah, literally a sabbatical for the land of Israel. As it says in Parashas Behar (Vayikra 25:3-4), "Six years you may sow your fields … and you may gather its produce. And in the seventh year there shall be complete rest for the land a Shabbos for G'd. You shall not sow your field …" Since the Shemitah year of 5642 (1881/82) there has been a revival of the observance of these laws. Every seventh year more farmers have joined the ranks of the Shemitah observers. With extreme self-sacrifice, they leave their fields barren and orchards unattended for a whole year. The Yalkut Shimoni (Tehillim 103:20) interprets the aforementioned description of angels who are strong warriors, ready to accept the words of G'd before they have heard them, to refer to those who observe the laws of Shemitah. The Yalkut says, "It is common to find a person who fulfills a commandment and controls himself for a day, for a week, or even for a whole month. But where do you find someone who will fulfill a commandment and control himself for a complete year? And this person constantly watches his barren fields and his unattended orchards and he keeps quiet. Is there any stronger warrior than this person?" Only someone who has complete trust in G'd, and acts out of love, is able to control himself from working his fields for a whole year. The late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevits, once described those who observe Shemitah as greater than the angels. For, as the above Midrash explains, the angels have no evil inclination, whereas these are human beings who have an evil inclination that challenges them. Nevertheless, they are strong warriors who observe the Shemitah laws and leave the land unattended for a whole year.
G'd does not shortchange anyone, and He promises to bless those who observe the Shemitah laws. As it says (Vayikra 25:21) "And I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year. And it will yield a crop for three years." However, we live in a time when G'd hides Himself behind the laws of nature, and there is no guarantee that we will experience such open miracles. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of amazing stories how individual Shemitah observers have experienced miracles. One of the most famous stories goes back to the Shemitah year 5719 (1958/59) in the agricultural village of Komemiyut. They had some crop in the fields left from the sixth year. Since it was meant for animal feed, it was permissible to harvest it during Shemitah. One day a huge hoard of locusts swarmed all over the area and descended upon the neighbouring, non-Shemitah observant, villages. The farmers of Komemiyut came running to their rabbi in panic, as this was the only permissible feed for their animals available. While the locusts were coming closer and closer the Rabbi tried to calm his congregants. Just as the locusts reached the border of the fields of the little village, they made a sudden u-turn and flew away without touching any of the crops of these valiant farmers.
Gush Katif evictee
More recently, farmers, who had undertaken to keep Shemitah were interviewed by the Israeli newspaper Homodia. Before the Shemitah year started, they spoke about their expectations for the year as well as their experiences in previous Shemitah years. Especially touching was a story about someone who had been evicted from Gush Katif. Just one year before the onset of Shemitah he managed to rebuild his family business and invested millions in his new venture. People could not believe that he was ready to put everything on hold for a year. He told them that the previous Shemitah year he had moved his operation to Jordan, where he ran into serious problems, till he finally found a piece of land in a small Arabic village, Kfar Kassam. The expenses were enormous, and he ended up with a very meager crop. However, at the end everything worked out beyond his wildest expectations. "When the Shemitah year was over, I checked my books, and found that despite everything I had stilled earned a huge profit. So here I am this year, in exactly the same boat, one year after founding a new company. The only difference is that this time I am not afraid at all. I saw the Divine blessing then, and I believe that G'd will bless me this time again."
Shemitah observance brings about an additional blessing. As it says (Vayikra 25:19): "And the land will give fruit and you will eat plenty. And you will dwell upon it in security." We constantly pray that our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land will be able to live in peace and prosperity without daily worry and danger. Who knows how many people have been saved in the merit of the strong warriors of Shemitah observers. Let us all unite in prayer that we shall soon experience the fulfillment of G'd's promise, to bring ultimate peace and security to the Jewish people and the entire world, with the coming of Moshiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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