This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behar (5763)
This week's section begins with a complicated commandment relevant only on the land of Israel; 'Shmita'. It means not working the land or harvesting its produce for a full year once every seven years.
This commandment, besides having a practical side of giving the land a year to replenish), also evokes G-d's blessing and promise that "The earth will give its produce and you will eat to satisfaction and you will dwell with certainty upon it"(25:19)
But surprising the very next two sentences G-d says something strange:
"And when you say; 'What will we eat in the seventh year? We haven't planted or gathered our produce (in that year)? (I'll answer) I will command My blessing in the sixth year and it will make food for three years" (the seventh of rest, eighth; when planting begins, and the harvest of the ninth)
At first glance this is not understood. If one sentence earlier G-d promised 'the earth will give its produce etc'., then why is He so sure people will ask 'What will we eat?"
Finally; The Torah is a book of life and wisdom for ALL the world. This commandment is mainly relevant for those who live in Israel and work its land, what message does it hold for everyone else?
To understand this here is a story.
The Fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel once was visited by a Chassid (on of his followers) that had just returned from the land of Israel.
The Chassid was disappointed from the trip. He had expected to see unusually holy Jews there with great spiritual powers as it is written in many holy books. But he didn't notice anything special; in fact the Jews in the Holy Land looked just the same as Jews everywhere else!
The Rebbe smiled and said, "Here is a story I heard from my father (the Third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedik) that might change your mind.
"Once in a small village near Jerusalem lived a very simple Jew. This fellow was so plain that, although he could read Hebrew, he didn't understand much and basically had no idea what was written even in the Siddur (prayer book).
"His desire to serve G-d was genuine but when he opened that prayer book he got so confused that he never really knew if he was saying the correct thing and it made him miserable.
"So every Sunday, he would begin the week by traveling a few hours to Jerusalem to a certain Rabbi friend of his who would put markers in his Siddur that would organize the prayers of entire week (although the prayers were almost the same every day). And on the Holidays, when the prayers were more difficult, he would stay with the Rabbi in Jerusalem thus ending his prayer problem.
"The only exception was in the rainy (winter) months beginning with the month of MarCheshvan. Then, because the roads were muddy and travel was often almost impossible, he had no choice but to make it to the Rabbi before the rainy season and have him mark off a few months weeks at a time.
"Well, it so happened that one year after the Rabbi had given him his 'rainy-months instructions, the rains delayed in coming and he decided to return to Jerusalem again while the roads were still dry.
"He thought he would give his Rabbi a pleasant surprise, but when he arrived he was shocked to see that all the stores were closed and the streets were empty!
"'Gevalt!' he thought to himself 'Could it be that I made a mistake and today is Shabbat!!?' He emptied his pockets, got off his wagon (so as not to carry or drive, which are both forbidden) and walked as fast as he could to the house of the Rabbi, and when he wasn't to be found there he ran desperately to the synagogue.
"It was just as he thought! The Synagogue was full to the brim!! It must be Shabbat! He ran to the front of the Shul where the Rabbi sat, fell to one knee and almost crying and blurted out in a whisper.
"'Is today is Shabbat? Why are the streets empty? Why is everyone here in Shul? I mean, I cooked this morning, and drove the horses and did tens of forbidden things!!! What can I do now??? Rabbi, believe me, I didn't know!!' He looked at the Rabbi with beseeching eyes. He would have broken out crying but he didn't want to miss the Rabbi's reply.
"'No, no!' Said the Rabbi with a smile. 'It's not Shabbat. Look, no one here has Shabbat garments on. Today is a fast day.'
"'What?' exclaimed the simple Jew in surprise as he stood to his full height and held his head in his hands, 'A fast day? Oy! Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you put it in my Siddur? Oy! Oy!! I ate already!!!'
"'No no, don't worry!' the Rabbi quietly assured him again, 'Don't get excited. You haven't done any sin, don't worry my friend. Today the Rabbis of Jerusalem declared a day of fasting and prayer in the synagogues of Jerusalem because the rain hasn't come. If you want just take a book of Psalms and ….'
"'What?!' Exclaimed the Jew as his eyes opened wide in amazement, 'you're fasting because there is no rain!? What in the world do you have to fast for!?'
"'Because' explained the Rabbi patiently, surprised at the man's simplicity, 'If there is no rain there is a danger of famine and drought, people's lives are endangered.'
"'I understand that' Said the Jew, 'but why fast and cry?'
"'Well,' replied the Rabbi patiently, 'What do YOU think we should do? Have you got a better way to bring rain?'
"'Certainly,'" he answered. 'When I want rain I just go out in the field behind my house and say 'Father I need rain',,,,, and the rain comes'.
"'Oh Yes?' said the Rabbi not believing his ears 'Well, if you can do that…. very good then!! So do it here also!' The Rabbi was sure the man was imagining things.
"'Sure!' the simple Jew answered shaking his head obediently. He stood, went out the door, into the yard of the Synagogue, stood, raised his eyes to the heavens, and said, 'Father! Can it be that Your children in Your Holy city will go hungry? Don't You see that they need rain?!! Please send …… rain!!'
"Immediately the sky filled with clouds and rain began pouring down in torrents.
"You see" concluded the Rebbe Shmuel to the traveler, "You simply don't understand anything about souls, especially those who live in the Holy Land!"
This answers our question; why does the Torah suppose we will worry about keeping the 'Shmita' although G-d promised His blessing.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains (Lekuti Sichot 27) that G-d doesn't suppose the Jews will ask IF His promises of sustenance will be fulfilled …….. but rather HOW; how will G-d provide food if the land rests in the seventh year? Perhaps He will provide Manna from heaven as he did in the desert, or perhaps people will require less, or the food will be more nourishing and filling.
On this the Torah answers (25:21) "I will command My blessing in the sixth year and it will make food for three years"
In other words a new sort of miracle: Usually land becomes weaker and less productive year after year …. so the sixth year; the year before the 'Shmita' should be the least productive.
But here G-d is saying that the opposite will happen: in the merit of Jews promising to observe the Shmita in the next (seventh) year….. the land in the sixth year will produce triple the usual amount!!
Just like the simple Jew in our story, the weakest suddenly can become the source of all blessings!
And this is especially relevant to our generation. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out; we are the last generation of exile but we are the first of Moshiach.
In many ways we are the LOWEST generation of all history but nevertheless G-d has blessed us, as He does the sixth year, that WE have the power to bring the long-awaited ultimate Messianic redemption!!! (See Maimonides Laws of Kings chapt. 11 for details)
In fact a three-fold blessing: the days of Moshiach, the complete redemption and the raising of the dead.
But it's all up to us! We have to learn the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes called 'Chassidut' (see your local Chabad House for details)
And then, like the simple man in our story…… just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales of history and bring....
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