Thursday, May 10, 2018

Hearts Of Summer Held In Trust, Still Tender Young And Green (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - Days Between)

My family and I were at a Bar Mitzvah last Shabbat. I was speaking to the Bar Mitzvah boy’s uncle who came in from Israel. As we spoke, and I told him that I was a Rabbi of a large synagogue that was about 4 miles from my home; his eyes grew very large and he exclaimed, “You’re him!” He proceeded to clarify himself by explaining that he had heard of this Rabbi in Toronto that walks over 4 miles each way to his shul. He then asked me what I think about when I walk. I explained that on Shabbat morning if the weather is pleasant; I will always begin my walk with the weekly Parsha. I will think about it in terms of my Shabbat morning class, the Divrei Torah that I present in two different minyanim (services). Depending on how much preparation I did during the week; that thinking, going through it in my head; may last a couple of miles or it may last the whole walk. However, if the weather is unpleasant, then at some point my thought will drift to Lottery 649, the New York State Lottery, or the Mega Millions. I will think that I should have bought a ticket. I will think about winning the lottery. I will think how I will set aside some for my children in trust funds. I will think about the various charities I wish to donate. If the lottery is large enough I will think about creating a family foundation where I can spend my days giving Tzedakah (charity).
            Parsha Behar and Parsha Bechukotai. These are the last two Parshiot of Sefer Vayikra (Book of Leviticus). Throughout the entire book, we have read how to elevate our lives with holiness. We elevate our lives by thanking God and atoning to God, through a variety of Korbonot. We elevate our lives by avoiding behavior that defiles us; we don’t marry our sisters. We elevate our lives in everyday physical behaviors; we only eat certain types of food. We elevate our lives by consciously setting aside holy times throughout the day, week, and season. In Parsha Behar, we elevate our lives and our land with holiness by setting aside another type of sacred time, Shmita (the seventh year.) Just like the seventh day (Shabbat) is a day of rest. Shmita is a year of rest. Every seventh year, all outstanding debts are canceled. The land lies fallow. Slaves and servants are set free. Agriculturally speaking, there is a benefit. Resting the soil for a year allows for replenishment of nutrients. Rabbinically speaking, less time devoted to agricultural concerns meant more time devoted to Torah study! Parsha Bechukotai, being the end of Leviticus, tells us the ramifications for behavior. “If you’ll keep the commandments… then I’ll send the rains in their time, the earth and trees will give forth their produce, you’ll settle securely in the land…I will multiply you…I will walk with you” (Lev. 25:3-10). If we don’t live up to these standards, if we neglect to add Kedushah (holiness) to our lives, if we “don’t perform these commandments, if we consider these decrees loathsome, if we reject these ordinances, if we annul the covenant, then I will do the same to you…. (Lev. 26:14:17) God will annul us. All blessing will become curses.
            While the curses in the Torah portion don’t paint a very pleasant picture, both parshiot reflect the vital importance of Bitachon, trust in God. In Behar, this idea of Bitachon is evident in the commandments of Shmitta (the 7-year agricultural cycle) and Yovel (Jubilee). In the Jubilee year, all debts are canceled, and there is a quasi-national “reboot”. While it may sound nice for those of us with credit card debt, consider the turmoil. The economy would come to grinding halt in the months and perhaps year or two before. What lender would lend knowing that the loan gets canceled in 6 months or a year?  In the Shmitta year, the land lies fallow. We all agree that the field needs a rest, a Shabbat, just like we do. If the fields lie fallow, what would people eat? We are urged to trust God. “I will command my blessing upon the sixth year and it will bring forth (enough) produce for three years (Lev. 25:20-21). Just like God provided a double portion of Manna on Friday and thereby guarantee enough food for Shabbat, so too God will “guarantee” enough produce in the sixth year. B’nai Yisroel won’t starve in the seventh (Shmita) year.
            So what does the Torah teach us? We learn that every rung climbed towards Kedusha, confirms our trust in God. We trust that God is Holy, otherwise, we would have no need to be holy. We trust that everything pure and good is attributable to God. Otherwise, we would constantly defile ourselves. We trust that we are created in God’s image. Otherwise, there is no reason to treat people with kindness first. Trust in God, in a sense, provides the foundation for our own individualized Mishkan. The Mishkan was built so that God would dwell among us. The very act of Bitachon (trust in God) is a demonstration of Holiness. As I finished explaining what I think about during my hour and ten-minute walk each way, the other fellow became more intrigued. From his perspective, a person had the opportunity to think/study Torah for several miles and when not thinking about Torah, he was thinking about his family, Tzedakah (charity), and helping those in need (Chesed). Funny, I just needed something to think about on Shabbat while walking back and forth. This mean reminded me that I had figured out a way to make that particular walk just a bit more holy than a walk on any other day.  


Rav Yitz 

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