Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Rosh Hashanah 5775: Shmittah Year!

As we go into Rosh Hashanah this year we need to be aware that this year is shmittah year. What is the shmittah year? In the Torah the it was commanded that the land would be worked for 6 years and in the 7th year it must be left alone, hefker, ownerless! Anyone was allowed to come and pick from what gre whtere. The owner could not cultivate it or fence it off to prevent others from entering. What grew in the field that year was there for anyone to come and take.

Think about what a massive act of faith this entailed! A farmer has to accept that when he grew in year 6 must sustain him and his family not only in year 6, but also in year 7 and also in year 1 of the next cycle until new food was grown! If there was insufficient the farmer would have to buy from non-Jews or from those outside of the area in which the law applied (the land given to the Jews when leaving Israel) or ask others to sustain him and his family until he had his own food. For us in the modern era we do not really appreciate the sacrifice involved. Modern farmers have fertilisers, machines and the yield of their farms is far in excess of their needs. In the times of the Temple the majority of farmers were subsistence farmers, their land small and yields barely large enough to sustain them over the period.

For many years these laws were like the other agricultural laws and laws relating to the Temple- held in abeyance until a majority of Jews dwelled in Israel (the laws for sacrifices and the Temple needing the additional condition that the Temple needs to be rebuilt.) Now, we have reached thathret shold and the lenient rulings of past years that allowed us to not have to observe this and other agricultural laws are a subject of debate: are they back in force or can we rely on the heterim of previous generations?

To the great merit of some farmers in Israel, they have chosen to let their fields lie fallow and to observe this incredible mitzvah! They put themselves and their livelihoods at risk in order to observe this mitzvah! Organisations have grown up to help sustain them over this period, but how great it is that once again we are seeing the laws of shmittah being observed in Israel!

We need to look at ourselves, examine ourselves as we prepare to go into Rosh Hashanah and ask ourselves if we are able to show the same leap of faith that G-d will sustain us! Its easy for us to say it, easy for us to think we would, but how many of us would really take that step and put our businesses and livelihoods on hold for a year because the Torah commands us?

We can take this a step further and look at it in a more esoteric way: Many people know the oft cited teaching that the seve days of creation are a remez (hint) to the world to come, the six days referring to the creation of the world, Shabbat to the world to come. The SHLAH (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz) in his book Shnei Luchot HaBris (Toldos Adam) teaches that on the first six days the Torah states “It was evening it was morning, day X”, not so for Shabbos- it just refers to the Seventh day and Shabbos- Shabbos is a complete unit, something complete, not in parts, not referred to except as a single unit. He applies the same idea to the years- comparing the six years to the six days of creation and thus to this world, with the shmittah year being about the world to come, about connecting to G-d, putting work aside and relying on G-d to sustain us. The farmers in Israel today choosing to rely on G-d, choosing to follow the Torah commandments show this commitment and elevate us all by this!

I challenge everyogn to think on this as they prepare for Rosh Hashnah, as they consider their deeds and actions of the last year. Where do you stand? With the farmers who put aside the year and trust in G-d to provide a parnassah or with those who choose to rather rely on their machines and fertilsers, those who stick by sound business principles and ignore the spiritual call of the shmittah?

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pashas Mikeitz 5771: Actions towards repentance

Yosef’s actions towards his brothers are designed to help them do teshuvah for their actions against him How does he do this?

This weeks Parsha: Mikeitz Bereishis (Genesis) 41:1-44:17

From Midrash d’Rav Alshich

The five ways the brothers sinned against Yosef are:
1) They had been guilty of hating Yosef and speaking to him hatefully
2) They had plotted to kill him by setting wild dogs on him
3) They had thrown him in a pit
4) They had sold him, an innocent person, into slavery
5) They had caused grief to their father.

In return Yosef’s actions were to highlight these sins and offer atonement for them
1) Yosef spoke harshly to them when they met
2) Since they had tried to kill him without layign a hand on them Yosef accussed them of being spies for which they would have been executed by a court without him touching them
3) Since it had been Shimon who suggested they throw Yosef into the pit, Yosef imprisoned shimon
4) Since they had sold him into slavery, normally a punishment for theft, he accussed them of the theft of the golden goblet so they would know what it is like to be unjustly accussed of the theft
5) the pain and the brother’s grief over the possible enslavement of Benyamin was to highlight the grief of their father when they told him Yosef had died.

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Yom Kippur 5771- Understand where things come from

There is an interesting drosha in the book “Darchei Mussar” by R’ Nieman- he makes the point that one should not have pride because they are wealthy, because they are wise, because they are mighty etc. After all- these are all subjective measures- the rich of one town may be poor in another; the judges and scholars of one era less knowledgeable than those of other eras; the mighty warriors defeated by others whose might is greater than theirs. More than this, does not the knowledge of Hashem make the knowledge of mankind seem non-existent? Is G-d not the ruler of the whole world and thus possessed of incalculable wealth? Is not G-d called a man of war in the Torah, mightier than entire armies? In the end, the achievements of man seem to be meaningless- and thus the famous dictum of King Solomon : Everything is merely vanity and ultimately worthless.

However, this is a nihilistic approach if not understood properly. Judaism does not see our actions as meaningless, but as being exceptionally valuable and have enduring and lasting value. This is where we see the difference- it is not in what we achieve that there is value, but in the action and the intent behind doing it! R’ Nieman uses the example of two people- both of whom study a daf of Gemmorah, of day, both have the same knowledge at the end of studying the daf, both the same understanding- the difference is that for one it requires but an hour, the other requires the entire day. R’ Nieman points out that since it is the intention and the action that is important, not what is ultimately achieved, the one who takes his entire day out to study the daf, who has to work harder to understand it, would ultimately receive a greater reward for his greater effort! Does this mean that the other person can never achieve that level reward? Of course not- but perhaps for him it would entail having to study two or three dafs- maybe for him he needs to study more mussar or halacha. Perhaps he can enhance his study fo the daf by studying more meforshim or following the development of the hallachah to the hallachah l’ma’aseh. Each of us has those things that are easy for us to achieve, and there is nothing wrong in working to our strengths- but then we must not use that as an excuse to step back and devote our energies elsewhere!

More than the above, there is another important factor as to why we should not have too much pride in what we achieve. On Rosh Hashanah we all stood and recited u’netaneh tokef, as we will again on Yom Kippur. There we state that G-d will decide on our fates, who will become wealthy, who poor, who will increase, who will decrease, who will be healthy, who will be sick and so on. In unetaneh tokef we have a direct statement that what we achieve in this world is dictated by G-d. If G-d decrees wealth for us, we will receive wealth- if not, we will not. What is important, what we are judged on then, is not what we achieve- but what we do. Not what the ultimate realisation of our efforts is- but what are efforts are! The ultimate realisation of the Yamim Noraim is that G-d is the king of kings, the ultimate ruler and that events in the world transpire according to his design. What we will achieve is dependent on what he has decided- it is in his hands what we will receive- what is in our hands is our actions, what effort we put into things, what our intentions are and where our hearts lead us.

In a few days time we will stand in shul on Yom Kippur- we will pray to Hashem to seal us for a year of goodness, to inscribe us for life, not just in this world, but in the world to come. While we do this, let us keep in mind that Hashem is the king of kings, the ultimate ruler who will dictate this- but that for us to merit his greatest blessings, we have to show our willingness to submit to his rule through our actions and our intentions. Then, just as an ordinary king will reward those courtiers who are loyal and work in his best interests, so too will we merit to be sealed for a good year, to be sealed intot he book of life in this world and the world to com.

GMAR CHATIMAH TOVAH to all of you, your families, your communities and to all klal Yisrael

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Other Torah, Torah | , , , , | 4 Comments