|Rabbi Winston is schedule in America: May 11 - 16: TORONTO, May 16 - 21: NEW YORK (unfortunately, in spite of all the people who have written requesting to know if anything has been arranged, in the end, no one actually followed through and therefore nothing was set up -- sorry), May 21 - May 25: LOS ANGELES, May 25 - 27: MARYLAND. For more details regarding actual events and times, write to Rabbi Winston at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
FRIDAY NIGHT:G-d spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai, saying, "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them: When you come to the land which I am giving to you, the land must keep a rest (Shabbos) to G-d ..." (Vayikra 25:1)Of course, this introductory verse to Parashas BeHar is also the introductory verse to the mitzvah of Sh'mittah, which this year -- a year before Sh'mittah Year -- has added relevance. The truth is, even for the average Israeli these days, the Sh'mittah year can pass with little inconvenience, since many fruits and vegetables are imported from outside Israel, and canned goods are so readily available.
However, farmers who try to keep the mitzvah of Sh'mittah, (even though in our times it is rabbinical in origin), though somewhat subsidized, still often require additional assistance. It is a great mitzvah to contribute to organizations specifically set up to help those who abide by the laws of Sh'mittah, not even relying upon leniencies such as the sale of the land to non-Jews for the year.
Few mitzvos test one's trust in G-d like the mitzvah of leaving one's land lie fallow for an ENTIRE year. Shabbos lasts but a day, and even in Chutz L'Aretz, where you can have a Yom Tov that lasts two days, followed immediately by a Shabbos after that, still, what's three days in light of one whole year of restraint?
This is why, whether one lives in Israel or outside of Israel (watch out for imported Israeli produce that might be Sh'mittah produce!), or whether it is Sh'mittah of Torah origin or not, the concept underlying the mitzvah itself applies at all times and to all Jews: TRUST IN G-D for everything.
The trouble is, a "responsible" Jew has to constantly make decisions that reflect a sense of responsibility (making a sufficient "effort") and a sense that G-d runs the world, and my abilities and successes at His mercy. I succeed only because He allows me to, and I fail if He determines that is the better outcome for me at this time.
That's the black-and-white of it; it's the myriad of variat grays in-between these two ends where people err and, as a result, sin.
Therefore, this week's parshah sheet will be based upon the theme of Trust in G-d, broken up, as usual, into four distinct divrei Torah.
Six years you may sow your field, and six years you may prune your vineyards, and gather in the crop. However, in the seventh year there shall be a strict rest, a rest to G-d ... (Vayikra 25:4)The theme of seven, of course, goes back to creation. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Seventh Day of the week, and the Seventh Year of the Sh'mittah Cycle. Not too much falls into chaos on Shabbos (except for the kids who are out of school). But, after one entire year of Sh'mittah, the fields and gardens look more than neglected, resembling more the chaos referred to at the beginning of creation than the Shabbos at the end of the week!
There is something very profound about this. Sh'mittah reveals the true pattern of creation at this stage of history, namely chaos. Things left to evolve naturally do not allow for much order, at least not the way man likes it. Hence, Sh'mittah Year allows for the Jew to sit back and appreciate the gift of being able to bring order to creation, and to benefit from that order.
In this respect, it is similar to mourning, a time when we also are commanded to withdraw from the world, even foregoing personal hygiene for a period of time. It is because of death, the Kabbalists explain, that we can celebrate life in general, especially after mourning. There is certainly what to celebrate when the farmer is allowed to return to his field and restore its "breath of life" once again by harnessing its ability to produce live-giving food.
What are we really being asked to contemplate during such times of withdrawal? That, "All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of G-d" (Brochos 34b); we're being asked to look past the illusion of human control and to realize that all of life is in the hands of the A'lmighty. We're being asked to admit to the fact that it is not the result of our own efforts that we reap the bounty of what we sought to do, but just G-d working through us.
Now apply that lesson to the next six years that follow -- whether you're a farmer in the field or a businessman in the office.
The concept of a "Shabbos to G-d" is also very telling. The phrase can also mean, a "return to G-d," which, is exactly what Shabbos is all about. In fact, the Chernobyl Rebi writes that the word "Shabbos" (shin-bais-tav) stands for "SHabbos Bo Teshuvah" -- in Shabbos there is repentance, or rather, returning to G-d.
There is only one route back to G-d: acceptance of Him as the Source of all good in our lives, and by acknowledging that, in spite of things we see as having gone wrong for us, from a Heavenly perspective, it was the better solution. This is why, until Moshiach comes, we bless G-d for the "good" as well as the "bad" in This World. In the Future Time, we bless Him only for the good, because then, even the "bad" will appear good in light of the spiritual clarity we will attain.
These points are a major part of the foundation when building up trust in G-d. It is human to have difficulty to trust in something you can't see; it is difficult to see the hand of G-d when the hand of man keeps interfering with our vision. It is the role of Sh'mittah to remove the latter to enhance the view of the former, and to make trust in G-d a more "natural" extension of living in This World.
If your brother becomes poor and fallen among you, then you must strengthen him ... Take no interest from him ... (Vayikra 25:35-36)The idea of paying interest and making interest is as natural to Western society as is apple pie with ice cream, perhaps more so. Borrowing money from an institution, perhaps even from individuals must, by definition, result in the addition of interest payments. Why else would anyone be willing to lend money?
Then there is the concept of the "gemach" -- an acronym for "Gemilus Chassadim," "Acts of Lovingkindness," known also as a "Free-Loan Society." Where does the money come from? Sometimes it is from people who have a little "extra" cash hanging around, and they are looking for a meaningful way to put their money to work for them. So, they offer it to a Gemach to lend out to those in search of loans.
"You want your money to work for you? Invest it ... Lend it out and make interest. You get paid for working; why shouldn't your money get paid for 'working'?"
"Ahhhh, but it IS getting paid for working, and the interest it is earning is going into my account ... my account in Heaven, and increasing my portion in the World-to-Come. Yes -- I can lend the money out and take interest in a way that is even halachically permissible ... that would help the person, and earn me reward too; it's still called 'chesed.' However, the less a person has to pay for his loan ... the easier I make his life ... the more reward I earn in the World-to-Come. You can't beat that!"
Like all acts of tzeddakah, one's willingness to give is based upon one's trust in G-d: trust that we won't suffer in THIS WORLD because of what we have given, and, EVEN IF IT DOES, trust that what we have done for others makes a big difference in the NEXT WORLD. Everyone knows that very little reveals a person's spiritual character more than how they relate to money.
This is, perhaps, one of the reasons why the Talmud refers to righteous people as "money" (Sanhedrin 92b). In fact, the word used by the Talmud to refer to money and one's relationship to it is "kiese," which means "wallet" (Eiruvin ?)The numerical value of "kiese" (chof-yud-samech -- 20+10+60): 90, which is represented by the letter "tzaddik," as if to say, "Pass the test of money and you're bound to be a tzaddik."
For, just as it is easy to be generous -- with someone else's money -- so, too, is it easy to believe that one trusts in G-d when they have all their financial needs taken care of. Yes, there is no question that being financially stable allows one to do so many mitzvos, like giving tzeddakah. However, it is our trust that G-d wants, our willingness to rely upon Him in times of need; without need, for what do we rely upon Him?
This is why some of the greatest rabbis have often gone into self-imposed exile, in order to regain perspective on how much G-d takes care of them and their needs everyday. Independence is a wonderful thing, but only up until the point that one begins to feel less need to turn to G-d for daily help.
The trick is to be more like a bank teller, who, everyday comes to the bank and handles tremendous amounts of money, but (hopefully) never loses sight of the fact that the money does not belong to him or her. He or she has been entrusted with other people's money, just as we are entrusted with G-d's money. Does G-d need to make money on his money?
One can assume that if a situation arises where money can be made without direct (additional) suffering caused to another person, it is G-d's way of increasing one's physical lot. If, however, money is to made by extracting additional money from someone who will unduly suffer as a result, then, perhaps, it is G-d's way of increasing one's spiritual lot, and concern over the loss of potential income, in such situations, must fall away in light of the mitzvah to trust in G-d.
Do not make any idols, a graven image; do not erect a monument, or place a covering stone in your land to bow down upon it, because I am Hashem your G-d. (Vayikra 25:1)Power -- it's all about power, and control. We human beings love to be in control, in control of our lives, in control of our environments -- in control of the entire universe! Idol worship in any form is a rejection of G-d in the extreme, an attempt to wrestle control of our lives away from the Creator, as futile and self-defeating as that may sound.
Torah is G-d in His own image; idol worship is G-d conceived by man in the image of man -- an attempt to have G-d on OUR terms. At first, it was wood and stone, astronomical bodies and even mountains and rivers. Was mankind merely naive, or, was it a different era, spiritually? The Western world may believe the former, but there is evidence to the latter.
And, once we "outgrew" such forms of false worship, we moved into other areas veneration, but not into G-d's. Man, by definition, is a religious being: no one gets out of bed in the morning without a set of beliefs to guide his life. No one finds motivation to do just "nothing." There must be a set of beliefs to be honored and even revered, and that gives rise to priorities in life, inspiration to achieve, and the sense of fulfillment we humans live to achieve.
There is no way around it.
So what are the choices today? You have to believe in SOMETHING, so what is your SOMETHING?
Is it wealth? Is it sports? Is it being at the "top of the heap" in the business world, or, is it in mankind as a whole? Is it science, or technology, computers, or the concept that man can know everything and, eventually solve ALL problems?
If one's over-riding belief that dictates one's direction in life is not in G-d, then it is, without exception, a form of idol worship.
The Talmud says that the Jewish people only worshipped idols to permit forbidden relationships (Sanhedrin 63b). "Forbidden relationships" is both a specific topic and a general one. The bottom line is that idol worship in any form at any time exists to satisfy one's conscience that what one is doing or pursuing is "fine," as if creating an imaginary god cancels out the reality of the Real One; as if creating new rules automatically supercede G-d's rules.
It is, without doubt, the greatest illusion known to creation, and the saddest joke we play on ourselves. What we won't do to avoid trusting in G-d.
On the other hand, trusting in G-d has its privileges. It says:Chesed will envelope one who trusts in G-d -- even an evil person who trusts in G-d, chesed will envelope him. (Midrash Tehillim, Mizmor 32)The truth is, you don't find too many "evil people" who trust in G-d all that much, and certainly if they did, they probably wouldn't be evil! However, the point of the midrash is clear: Trust in G-d brings results even if the recipient is otherwise unworthy (read: not a tzaddik). Likewise the Ramban writes:"Trust in G-d and do good ... (Tehillim 37:3)"; it doesn't say, "do good and trust in G-d," because trust in G-d is not dependent upon good deeds at all. Rather, one must trust in G-d whether he is righteous OR evil, and then do good deeds, because eventually He will collect that which is His at the proper time ... (Sefer Emunah, Chapter One)There is a story in the Talmud that illustrates this point. During the time of the Second Temple, a drought occurred and the leaders of the generation turned to Choni HaMa'agel, a great rabbi for whom miracles were a regular occurrence, and asked him to beseech G-d on the nation's behalf.
He did. First he drew a circle around himself (and as a result, earned the appellation "HaMa'agel" -- the "Circle Drawer"), and took an oath to Heaven that he was not going to budge from the circle until Heaven answered him on behalf of his behalf. As a result, a light rain began to fall.
"It is not for such a rain that Your people have come to me!" Choni boldly called out Heavenward.
So, it rained very hard.
"Nor did they come to me for a destroying rain ... But for a pleasant and revitalizing rain did they ask me to pray on their behalf ..."
At which time, the rain slowed down and became acceptable to Choni HaMa'agel.
Afterward, when word got back to the greatest rabbi of the generation, Shimon ben Shetach, he sent word to Choni saying, "If you weren't Choni, we would excommunicate you! But what can we do? You are like a son who errs but for whom his father still does what the son wants!" (Ta'anis 19a)
In other words, you just don't talk to Heaven that way! Drought or nor drought, you don't test or threaten G-d.
So, why did G-d comply anyhow? Because, Choni believed G-d would, with immutable trust, he believed that G-d would deliver, and his trust in G-d, expressive of Choni's deep attachment to His Creator and willingness to put himself on the line to prove G-d's faithfulness -- that brought rain for Choni and the rest of the nation, because, above all else, G-d wants out hearts. And, nothing is more proving of one's devotion to G-d then one's willingness to trust in Him and His ways of running His world.
When Israel went out of the Egypt, Ya'akov's house from a people of foreign tongue ... Yehudah became His Holy Place -- Yisroel, His places of rule ... (Tehillim 114:1-2)These are the first two lines of the second paragraph of Tehillim 114, which continues on with the theme of how G-d raises up the lowly and takes care of the needy. Enslavement, be it physical or psychological, can last for a period of time, and seem like it will never end. But, in the end there will be redemption, and it will be followed by praise of G-d for the good that eventually came.
... The sea saw and fled; the Jordan turned backward ... (3)Which sea saw what? According to the Midrash, the Red Sea "saw" the aron housing the remains of Yosef, who, before he died, made the Jewish people promise to bring them to Eretz Yisroel. Why should THAT make the sea split, and not the confidence of Nachshon ben Aminadav, who raced into the sea before it split?
The answer is that BOTH were necessary. Nachshon ben Aminadav's trust in G-d and willingness to sacrifice his life at the moment was a great sanctification of the Name of G-d. But, carrying the remains of a long-dead leader shows even greater sacrifice, because it was being done for a dead person -- a chesed shel emes -- a true chesed, especially since carrying them in the desert was a great trouble.
Both of these great acts revealed the true nature of G-d's people, for whom the Creator was prepared to reverse nature. This gave nature reason to "flee," in Moshe's time, and later, in Yehoshua's time by the Jordan river.... The mountains skipped like rams ... (4)On that awesome day that G-d came down over lowly Mt. Sinai and gave His precious Torah to His beloved people. It is hard to imagine something so big and cumbersome as a mountain being so fluid and agile as a ram. But, this goes to teach us that, as rock-solid as nature seems to us, it is really as fluid as water, putty in the hands of G-d to do as He wills, when we trust in Him.What bothers you, O sea, that you flee ... O Jordan, that you turn backward ... O mountains, that you skip like rams ... O hills, like young lambs? (5-6)It is a rhetorical question, for, we know to Whom all of creation responds and before Whom they melt. Nevertheless, the prophet answers:It is before the Master's Presence that I, the earth, tremble -- in the presence of the G-d of Ya'akov, who turns the rock into a pond of water (Shemos 17:6), the flint into a flowing fountain! (7-8)However, isn't the Master's Presence an ongoing reality? Yes, and no. During times of "hester panim," when G-d "hides" His Presence from creation, nature just seems to "hang out," so-to-speak. Nothing much happens to or by the physical world, except for the odd "natural" occurrence.
However, when G-d deems it time to "come out" and reveal Himself to mankind, WATCH OUT!! That firm footing we have been "enjoying" until now becomes just the opposite, if we were someone who didn't believe in G-d, His Torah, of His Providence.
However, if we are people who DO believe, then it times when the earth isn't shaking and the world can live in denial of Hashgochah Pratis (Divine Providence) that we feel as if we are living on shaky ground. If so, then, the revelation of G-d and the world's reaction becomes a path toward freedom for such people, while the deniers of Divine truth are left to drown, one way or another.
Have a great Shabbos,
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