Behar-Bechukosai 5777

Quality versus Quantity[1]

ונתנה הארץ פריה ואכלתם לשבע וישבתם לבטח עליה: וכי תאמרו מה-נאכל בשנה השביעת הן לא נזרע ולא נאסף את-תבואתנו: וצויתי את-ברכתי לכם בשנה הששית ועשה את-התבואה לשלש השנים
The land will give its fruit, and you will eat to satiation, and dwell securely on it. And if you’ll say: “what will we eat in the seventh year? Behold we can’t plant and gather our produce!” I will command my blessing for you in the sixth year, and the land will produce [enough] crops for three years[2]

The beginning of parshas Behar discusses the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year in the land of Israel. Every seven years, the land attains a special level of kedusha, holiness, causing a whole set of laws to come into effect. Among the many laws that apply during the Shemittah year, a major one is that all agricultural work is forbidden. The land of Israel is to lie fallow. Before the industrial revolution, this mitzvah was incredibly relevant to the entire nation (while they were living in the land). Most of the people were farmers, and essentially got a year off to focus on more spiritual matters.

There’s a unique verse in the parsha of Shemittah. The Torah presents a question the people will ask, that if they are forbidden from working the land, what will they eat? The Torah then presents an answer that Hashem promises them a beracha that before the Shemittah year starts there will be a bumper crop. The land will produce three times as much produce as normal. This type of back and forth doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Torah[3]. Why is it here[4]? The Torah could have just said that there will be a beracha in the sixth year and left out the question. As well, it’s implied that if the Jews don’t ask this question, they won’t receive the beracha. Why would that be? What’s the deeper message here?

The Noam Elimelech gives one approach[5]. The Torah is teaching us a lesson in emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in Hashem. Without question there was going to be a blessing of an abundance of crops in the sixth year. There’s always a flow of beracha from Hashem. The problem is, when people start lacking in their emunah and they start having doubts about Hashem, that flow is interrupted. It’s inevitable. Asking Hashem “how will we eat” disrupts this flow. Consequently Hashem informs us that if that happens, he will do us a big chesed and increase the beracha to balance it out. Hashem increases the flow to combat the lack of emunah, as if it never happened.

Another approach is given by Rav Eliyahu Lopian[6]. Before any questions were asked to Hashem, the Torah already promised the people they’ll have a beracha. The Torah says if the Jews keep Shemittah, they’ll be blessed to eat to satiety[7]. Rashi explains[8] that the blessing is that even though they won’t be working the land and there won’t be so much food, the little that they eat will satiate them. There will be a miracle that a little bit will be enough for the whole day. However, if the people are lacking in their emunah, they won’t merit that miracle anymore. They’ll be considered on a lower level. What will happen instead? The land will produce an abundance of crops. There will be a new miracle, not one of quality but of quantity. Which miracle is better? Seemingly the one of quality has more of a dramatic effect. It’s much more impressive for a few crumbs to fill you up all day than to have a large amount of produce. But more than that, quality is practically better as well. What does three times as much produce mean? Three times as much work. Everything has to be harvested and treated and prepared. Less can often be more.

Rav Lopian explains that this phenomenon teaches us that that depending on what level we’re on is what level of beracha we’ll receive. This concept is brought out in the verse יקוק צלך על יד ימינך, Hashem is your shadow at your right hand[9]. Our relationship with Hashem is like us with our shadow: how we act affects how Hashem acts with us[10]. This is a completely different approach than the Noam Elimelech. He was saying despite the lack of emunah, Hashem will do a chesed and give the same beracha as before. According to Rav Lopian, it’s not the same beracha as before; it’s one of a lower level.

The Seforno[11] sounds like a similar approach to Rav Lopian. He writes that initially, the beracha will be that a little bit of food will go a long way. He then says that if the Jewish people have a doubt about Hashem’s ability to sustain them, and they begin to ask questions, then there will be a new bracha. The people’s eyes will be satisfied[12] to see the quantity of the produce that is delivered. This will remove any lingering doubts they may still have.

According to either explanation, we see that Hashem takes care of us. According to the first approach, this happens even if we don’t deserve it. According to the second approach, it at least happens according to where we are holding. Regardless, the Torah is telling us we have nothing to worry about. The verse says השלך על יקוק יהבך, throw on Hashem your burden[13]. This means cast all of your burdens on Hashem and he will take care of you. The Dubna Maggid had a famous parable to explain this idea. There was a guy carrying a heavy load on his back across a long stretch of land. A wagon driver drove by and offered the guy a lift. The guy with the load hopped on to make his journey easier. After a while the wagon driver looked back and saw the guy still carrying the load on his back. He asked him: “what are you doing? You can put the load down”. The guy responded: “it’s enough that you’re carrying me, I didn’t want to burden you any further and have you carry my load as well”. Hashem is already carrying us. There’s no need for us to continue carrying our heavy burdens of stress and worry on our backs. He’s got that covered too.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick in 5772

[2] Leviticus 25:19-21

[3] It’s more in the style of Tosafos, who frequently write: וא”ת, and if you’ll ask…, and וי”ל, the answer is…

[4] The various Achronim, Baalei Mussar and Chassidus ask these questions

[5] This is the Chassidic approach, quoting the famous chossid Rav Zusha

[6] Also by the Alter from Nevardok in Madreigas HaAdam

[7] Leviticus 25:19

[8] ad. loc. with Mizrachi; Seforno ad. loc. says the same

[9] Psalms 121:5

[10] See Nefesh HaChaim Sha’ar Aleph Chapters 7 – 9 for a deeper application of this principle

[11] loc. cit.

[12] This line might show that the Seforno isn’t exactly like Rav Lopian. Rav Lopian said that the new miracle of quantity is because the people won’t be on the level deserving the greater miracle. The Seforno seems to emphasize the people seeing the miracle with their eyes, causing their emunah to increase. This might be his understanding for the switch, more as a proof than a consequence of a deficiency

[13] Psalms 55:23