Parshios Behar & Bechukosai
This Very Earth
By Rabbi Label Lam
And you shall perform My decrees and keep My laws and fulfill them and
you will dwell in the land securely. (Vayikra 25:18)
If in My decrees you go and keep My commandments and fulfill them and I
will give your rains in their due season and the land will yield its
produce and the trees of the field their fruit. (Vayikra 26:3-4)
In each of this week’s Torah portions we are offered what amounts to an
insurance policy for the performance of Statutes and the maintenance of
Mitzvos. One demands that the laws of the Sabbatical be reverently
observed and the other calls for a tenacious loyalty to the study and
fulfillment of Torah. Why does the Torah offer what seems like material
rewards for Mitzvahs and can one really expect measurable results?
Professor Nicholai Berdysev in “The Meaning of History” in 1935
writes: “The Jews have played an all-important role in history. They are
pre-eminently an historical people and their destiny reflects the
indestructibility of the divine decrees. Their destiny is too imbued with
the “metaphysical” to be explained either in material or positive
historical terms…And, indeed, according to materialistic and positivist
criterion, this people ought long ago to have perished. Its survival is a
mysterious and wonderful phenomenon demonstrating that the life of this
people is governed by a special predetermination, transcending the
processes of adaptation expounded by the materialistic interpretation of
The Kuzari points out that Mitzvos are really living things. What looks
like nice traditional behavior or symbolic actions are really much more
like well timed plantings. Certain actions done in the right time and
place yield fruit and others may either produce no result or even damage.
Plant tomatoes in the winter or citrus fruits in the northern climate and
expect nothing to grow. Eating past the setting of the sun on Yom Kippur
is to have crossed a non-arbitrary boundary as much as trampling the
garden of certain sacred relationships. We can understand how a collision
of the wrong person place and time can cause chaos while the appropriate
coordination of the same ingredients may bring bounty in a blessed context.
Rabbi Simcha Wasserman ztl. had a profound ability to encapsulate large
subjects in a few brief words. I once heard him present the following
analogy which he delivered in his sweet- broken yet sufficiently
articulate English. Suppose someone would invent a synthetic potato that
tasted and smelled and looked like a real potato. How would be ever be
able to tell the difference between the real one and the imposter? Simple!
Just put them in the ground. The real potato can produce a potato but the
fake potato could never produce another potato. The effects of any
attempts to manufacture, even a near imitation of Torah, can be felt in a
generation. If it produces a loyal replication of itself then it is
authentic. If, however, it cannot organically replace itself but must be
artificially engineered and re-reinvented then this is symptomatic of a
lack of authenticity.
The Zohar say that the Torah is really 613 pieces of advices. To the
unwilling body they present a regimen of Mitzvos-Commandments, some not
appreciated until performed over time. To the knowing heart and soul the
Torah speaks as a wise counselor.
At the risk of oversimplifying, we are asked to appreciate that we are in
possession a sublime book of gardening that offers not just helpful tips
for raising daisies or a field of potatoes but an actual garden of
spiritual delight. Whether or not or to what extent the book is heeded is
often evident right here in our lives on this very earth.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.