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Tuesday
May212019

What’s Up with all the food?

By Rabbi Nissim Lagziel

A Joke to Begin With…

Two families went out on a hiking trip in the Alps – one Jewish and one (l’havdil) Gentile. The Jewish family came fully equipped… Four different kinds of sandwiches for each family member, bags of Bamba, Bissli, and popcorn for the kids, chocolates and nuts for the adults, cartons of vacuum-packed milk, and a wide variety of breakfast cereals, and more and more…

The Gentile family, on the other hand, came with just a few bottles of drinking water and some pretzels…

The Gentile mother couldn’t hold herself back, and she asked her Jewish counterpart, “What’s with all this food? Why so much?”

“You know,” the Jewish mother replied, “we Jews always prepare provisions in advance for the road.”

“Yes, but why?” the Gentile woman continued to ask. “We’re not traveling into a wilderness or on a safari in Africa… This is just a little 3-hour hike into the mountains…”

“Listen to me,” the Jewish mother answered in a serious tone, “since the Exodus from Egypt, when we got stuck in the desert with the same sandwich for forty years, the Jewish People made a unanimous decision that we ain’t going nowhere without food!”

***

Everyone knows the Jewish obsession with food. Shabbos, Yom-Tov, or any other Jewish occasion and simcha are always accompanied by a hefty feast. Every holiday even comes with special foods: latkes, hamantashen, matzah balls…  Practically speaking, even fast days start and end with…food!

This week, we read Parshas Behar, which begins with the laws of the sabbatical (Shmitta) year and the prohibition against engaging in agricultural work in the Land of Israel during this year. As the parsha continues, the Torah teaches us about the jubilee year (Yovel). Once every fifty years, after a series of seven sabbatical years, there comes the year when agricultural work is again prohibited.

The yovel year, which comes immediately after the seventh shmitta year in a cycle, creates a situation in which we are forbidden to work the land for two consecutive years. Plowing, sowing, digging, and hoeing are prohibited in all parts of Eretz Yisroel.

If we don’t work, don’t sow, or don’t reap…then there’s nothing to eat!

How are we supposed to exist for a year (or two) without food? What does the Torah expect from a hungry Jew?

The Torah itself asks this question: “And if you should say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!’” (Vayikra 25:20). The answer was not long in coming…

“I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years.” (ibid. 25:21).

Have no fear, the Torah promises. In the merit of fulfilling the mitzvah of shmitta and yovel, you’ll be blessed with a triple yield in the sixth year! Showing pure faith in the Infinite supernatural power of the Creator to sustain and provide for us even without sowing and reaping, will bless the produce of the land during the sixth year to provide enough food for everyone for three years, until the time for harvesting the crop in the year following the yovel!

This blessing is not within the realm of “natural miracles.” It is something that goes entirely against nature! Under natural circumstances, the power of growth in the fields gets weaker each year because of constant seeding.

Interestingly, one of the reasons given by Torah commentators (see Kli Yakar and others) for the mitzvah of shmitta is to give the land a break and let it rest so it can grow more and better quality produce in the coming years. As a result, in the sixth year, after five years of non-stop productivity, the land is in its weakest state, all “exhausted,” with no realistic chance of producing quality crops, let alone tripled yields! Yet, specifically at this low point, against all statistics and scientific feasibility, Hashem gives His blessing, and the land produces quality food, not only for one year, but for three years!

The fulfillment of the mitzvah of shmitta and yovel is meant to instill within the hearts of every Jew pure trust and faith in Alm-ghty G-d, that He, and He alone, is the provider of life and of parnassah – “He who gives life, gives sustenance! Therefore, even if there’s no natural way to explain exactly how and what we will eat during the seventh year, one thing is clear: we will have food!

Our Sages, of blessed memory1, taught us that the shmitta year symbolizes the coming of the Redemption and the days of Moshiach. Just as the Torah commands us to work for a period of six years and then comes the shmitta year when we rest – similarly, the whole world is expected to be conducted according to the current format for no more than six thousand years, followed by the seventh millennium, which will be a period of eternal Redemption and restful tranquility.

Accordingly, today, in the sixth millennium since the Creation, we are “in the sixth year.” A frequently asked question we may have is, “What will we eat?”

Many of us have a real problem engaging intensively with the subject of Moshiach and the Redemption. We have a hard time internalizing and accepting the fact that our generation is the generation of Redemption. “How can it be that specifically our generation, with all its shortcomings, will bring the Geula?” we hear ourselves asking.

If the Redemption depends upon the avoda of the Jewish People during the exile, wouldn’t it be more logical for the Redemption to have come in previous, more exalted generations, when the “land” was more “fertile” – when Jews were more spiritually conscious?

This is the very question alluded to in the pasuk, “What will we eat in the seventh year?” – From where we will muster the strength, the “food,” to enter the Redemption, the “shmitta”?

The Torah answers and highlights a quality that we, in this low generation specifically because of our lack of understanding and inspiration, have: Bitul and Emunah – complete nullification and trust in Hashem. “And I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year.” If a Jew devotes himself, heart and soul, to his avoda in “the sixth year,” during the exile, with self-sacrifice and Bitul, he will succeed.

Going above and beyond nature, with absolute faith and trust in Hashem, gives us strength for “three years” – to reveal within this world the True and Complete Redemption, comprised of three periods: a) the days of Moshiach; b) Techiyas HaMeisim; c) the Seventh Millennium!

[The three periods are a topic for another essay, with Hashem’s help.]

All we need is some Emuna, and then, as with the shmitta year, the Redemption will come!

To Conclude with A Story:

Once, the Ba’al Shem Tov traveled with one of his students until they reached a barren location with no water. The student, who was exhausted from the long journey, was very thirsty. He turned to the Ba’al Shem Tov and said, “Rebbe, I’m thirsty.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov replied, “Do you believe that when Hashem created the world, He had already seen your distress and prepared some water for you to drink?”

The student did not answer right away. After thinking for a few moments, he said, “Yes, I believe with complete faith.”

“Great! Wait just a minute,” the Ba’al Shem Tov told him.

A short while later, the Ba’al Shem Tov and his student encountered a Gentile carrying two full pails of water on his shoulders. They paid him for two cups of water and quenched their thirst.

The Ba’al Shem Tov asked the Gentile, “Tell me, what led you to bring water out here to this place in the middle of nowhere?”

“My boss, the local poritz, has gone mad,” the goy said. “He sent me to bring him water from a faraway spring, a distance of more than eight miles. Madness, sheer madness!”

The Ba’al Shem Tov turned to his student and said: “You see, my dear student, such are the ways of Divine Providence. Hashem created a crazy poritz just for you, in order to give you water – and He saw all this at the moment He created the world.”

Take-A-Way:

Emuna and Bitachon connect us to a higher plane. If nothing else works, try what works best!

Good Shabbos!

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 27, second sicha on Parshas Behar.

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