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Behar(Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

Adapting to imperfection

"And if you shall say, what will we eat in the seventh year, for we have not planted or gathered in our grain [due to the restrictions of Shmitah], I will appoint My blessing to you in the sixth year, and it will yield enough grain for the three-year period [the year before Shmitah, the Shmitah year, and the following year, until you can plant and reap the harvest]." (Leviticus 25:20-21)

Sforno writes that the nature of God's miracle varied according to the quality of bitachon (faith in God) shown by the Jewish people. If their bitachon was great, the miracle was that a year's quantity sufficed for three years. If not, they received three years' quantity of grain in the sixth year. The first was a hidden miracle; the second obvious to everyone.

Why, we might wonder, did the lower level of bitachon evoke the more obvious miracle, i.e., the threefold quantity of grain?

The traditional sources explain that God avoids doing open miracles. Such miracles seem to imply that the natural order God created, and which He described as "very good," is not complete and needs adjustment from time to time.

In reality, there is no difference between nature and miracles; both are expressions of the Divine will. The Splitting of the Sea, the Sages say, was already decreed from the Creation of the world. It and other miracles are merely natural events which occur infrequently; nature is miraculous events which occur regularly.

From our vantage point, however, miracles appear as exceptions to the natural order. As such, they can diminish God's honor in our eyes by implying an imperfection in His creation. Therefore, we do not pray for miracles or derive benefit from the products produced by miracles.

The hidden miracle of being satiated with smaller portions, so that one year's yield would last for three years, however, did not serve the needs of those whose bitachon was weak. Seeing a normal yield in the sixth year, such a person would grow worried that his crops were insufficient for the coming years. He needed to see the grain for three years in front of him to feel secure.

And now for the amazing point: God responded to that need to see the grain in front of him, and provided a threefold quantity of grain, even though the need to do so was engendered by a lack of faith and trust in God. How astounding is God's kindness.


ADJUSTING THE PLAN

On the eve of our conquest of Israel, God told Moses (Deut. 7:22) that He would destroy the Canaanite inhabitants of Israel slowly, lest the land be left desolate and wild animals multiply. Rashi adds that if the Jewish people had performed God's will, they would have had nothing to fear from wild animals. Yet God knew they would sin and accordingly extended the conquest over a number of years. Again God acted in the manner that would make it easiest for us in light of our sins.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin once asked the Vilna Gaon what the Talmud means when it says that one of the attributes of God is that He is "content with His portion." By definition, God is complete unto Himself and needs nothing.

The Gaon explained that the Jewish people are referred to as God's portion. Although He would like us to be on a higher level, nevertheless He is content with us at whatever level He finds us.

We are enjoined to imitate God in all His ways, and the manner in which He relates to us contains many valuable lessons in how we should relate to one another. Many times our friends, spouses, or children are not on the level we would like them to be. We must learn from our Creator that despite our hopes for their growth, we must accept the reality of the present situation and deal with them at their present level.

With ourselves, too, we must not confuse our aspiration for higher levels with our present level. We must accommodate our present level and that of others, while always striving for greater and greater perfection.

In this way, we will steadily climb the ladder of perfection toward the day that God will grant us total perfection.


ONA'AS DEVARIM - TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD

In addition to the prohibition of ona'as mamon, cheating one's fellow man monetarily by overcharging or underpaying, the Torah also prohibits various forms of ona'as devarim, verbal deceit. Ona'as devarim takes many forms: inviting someone for a meal knowing that he will be out-of-town on that day; inquiring about the price of merchandise when one has no intention of buying, but only wishes to compare it to the price of an item already purchased; reminding a ba'al teshuvah of his previous sins; telling a person who is suffering misfortune that he is being punished for his sins.

In the first two cases of ona'as devarim, the element of deceit is relatively clear-cut. By inviting someone knowing they cannot accept, one creates a sense of reciprocal obligation on their part. Similarly, posing as a would-be customer causes the merchant to waste his time and effort in anticipation of a would-be sale. But where is the deceit in the last two examples? Reminding a ba'al teshuvah of his sins may cause him pain, but how is it cheating or deceitful? And if someone tells his friend who is suffering that he is being punished for his sins, there is certainly an element of truth in the statement.

To understand how all those examples are linked, we must refine our understanding of ona'ah (oppression). With respect to ona'as mamon the essence of the sin is not the monetary loss caused another since that is already subsumed in the prohibition on theft. Rather the essence of the sin is the creation of a false impression about the value of the object being sold.

It is difficult to see what false impression is created by taunting a ba'al teshuvah or a ger with reminders of their past, yet it is there. The Sages tell us that a convert is like a new-born person and he is no longer connected to his past. So, too, a ba'al teshuvah totally divorces himself from his past sins; they are not only forgotten but can even be transformed to merit through teshuvah. Hence, one who reminds these individuals of their pasts, as if it is still part of them, creates a false impression that causes them pain.

Similarly, telling someone who is suffering that his suffering is a result of his sins may falsely imply that he is not an essentially righteous person, and that his apparent fear of God is but a pretence, when in fact, his suffering is the result of specific shortcomings which in no way define his spiritual level.

Truth is the seal of God. Truth is real and enduring; falsehood is fleeting. Reality bears God's seal, for He can be discerned within it. One who distorts reality, thereby hides God. For that reason liars are among those who will not receive the face of the Shechinah. God cannot be found or identified in falsehood.

The word emet (truth) represents the totality of existing reality. Its letters span the entire aleph-beit, aleph being the first letter, mem the middle letter, and tav the final letter. All the letters stand firmly on a base or two legs. By contrast, sheker (falsehood) is composed of three letters grouped together at the end of the aleph-beit and which stand either on a point or one leg. As The Sages say, sheker has no legs. It is neither substantive nor enduring.

The attribute of emet is personified by Yaakov. For this reason Satan chose to wrestle with Yaakov and not with Yitzchak or Avraham. Avraham personified chesed (kindness) and Yitzchak personified avodah (service to God). Satan knew that as long as emet was not firmly established in the world, he could live with chesed and avodah. Without emet, chesed can be distorted into sexual immorality and avodah into idolatry. Once emet is firmly established, however, then chesed is true chesed and avodah is true avodah. The Telzer Rosh HaYeshivah, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz, zt'l, explained the words of rhe Sages, "The study of Torah is equal [literally opposite] all of them," as follows: To be sure that our Mitzvor are truly Mitzvot, they must be placed opposite Torah learning, i.e., appraised in light of the emet of Torah, lest they be corrupted into distortions of chesed or avodah.

We live in the period of ikvesa d'meshicha, the last stage of exile, about which the Sages say, "Truth will be missing." The Yerushalmi says that when people lie, nature follows suit. Clouds form, and it appears that rain will fall, but no rain falls. Today a person can arise in the morning and dress in imitation cotton clothing, put on imitation leather shoes, sit on an imitation wooden chair, eat a breakfast of imitation egg with imitation meat, salted with a salt substitute and washed down with fruit juice that contains no fruit. We live in a period where truth is lacking - hence the proliferation of synthetics and imitation, even in nature itself.

During Elul a milkman came to the Telzer Rav and confessed that he had been diluting the milk and cheating his customers. He sought a program of repentance. The Telzer Rav told him that the first step was immediately to stop diluting the milk. A week later the milkman appeared before the Rav, obviously upset. "I have stopped diluting the milk as the Rav prescribed, and my business is suffering. People refuse to drink my milk. They say it doesn't taste right." One can become so used to sheker, that it appears to be emet.

It is no wonder, then, that the Shelah HaKadosh emphasises that success in child raising and education must be founded on the attribute of truth. One must strive to inculcate in every Jewish child an unswerving respect for the truth, which will create a foundation for proper conduct in all other areas.

May falsehood disappear as smoke and make way for the world of truth with the coming of Mashiach soon in our days.

Published: May 10, 2004

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