“A LAND IN WHICH WITHOUT POVERTY YOU SHALL EAT BREAD; YOU WILL NOT LACK ANYTHING IN IT; A LAND WHOSE ROCKS ARE LIKE IRON …. AND YOU SHALL EAT AND BE SATIATED” DEBARIM [8: 9,10]
As Moshe Rabenu continues his 36-day farewell speech to the Jewish people, he reveals to them the nature of the land wherein they will dwell after his passing. It will be a land where the Israelites will want for naught and where they will eat and be satisfied. The verse cited above poses a difficulty. Why did Moshe Rabenu insert a phrase describing the iron-like hardness of the stones? What do the rocks of the Holy Land have to do with nourishment and satisfaction?
The Kli Yakar zt’l says that the “rocks” mentioned in the verse are not meant to be stones, rather they are meant to be understood as the unique building blocks of the Holy land — our Torah leaders — our talmidei hakhamim. They are as hard as iron in the sense that, although the land lacks nothing, they choose to live an ascetic life, sustaining themselves on a diet that is basically bread and salt. As the verse states, “Not in poverty”, rather in abundance, you shall eat bread. The land is known for the 7 varieties of produce with which it is blessed, but because the Torah learners are tough and strong they do not yield to physical temptation to live a life of luxury, rather they choose the simple life. Their constant involvement in Torah study does not leave room for indulgence in the finer things — albeit they may be available in abundance.
The verse continues by warning –“Don’t think that because the Torah learners don’t eat the bountiful produce that they grow to be sickly and weak. On the contrary, they grow to be hard like steel –BECAUSE they don’t indulge in the fat of the land.”
In an age where the abundance of wealth and prosperity has become commonplace — we too can learn a valuable lesson from this verse. When the populace of a prosperous state indulges in excess, rather than conserve and preserve for bad times, the people become soft and incapable of maintaining economical growth. Eventually, the palaces and monuments that they build will crumble. In America today we see that the years of prosperity have left our population fat, overweight and lazy. Institutions that were thought to be invincible are revealing cracks in their foundations and an inability to withstand the pressure of bad financial news. Those that heeded the warning of the Torah –“If you maintain a simple lifestyle even when times are good, you will survive the long-term cycles of inevitable ups and downs.” If “lo B’Miskenoot Tokhal Lehem” — if when times are not those of poverty –rather prosperity — you choose to live on lehem — i.e. bread [simply] –then you will become like rocks of iron able to withstand financial depression.
Availability does not mean necessity. Just because one has the financial ability to indulge does not make necessary to do so. Even with the recent drops in the value of everyone’s portfolios, the times are still laden with the finer things. Simplicity and frugality are the saving factors. One who lives by what one needs rather than what one has will become tough and strong to survive the winds of change.
DID YOU KNOW THAT
Many Sephardic communities around the world have the custom to perform the hatarat nedarim — nullification of vows procedure — 40 days before Rosh Hashanah. The Holy Zohar teaches that one who is not faithful to his or her word cheapens the value of their speech in the eyes of Heaven. If one makes statements and then fails to do what he or she said — Hashem (so to speak) — does not take one’s prayers seriously. The person is in a state of spiritual excommunication for 40 days. Knowing that our judgment on Rosh Hashanah is a life and death situation, as well as a quality of life issue, — our rabbis suggested that one nullify his or her vows at least 40 days prior to the advent of the High Holy Days — in order to open the Gates of Heaven to our prayers.
This Mosa-ay Shabbat — (Saturday night — the nineteenth of Ab) — is 41 days before Rosh Hashanah. The first of 3 Hatarah ceremonies will take place at that time. All men and women should do their best to participate.
May the procedure re-open the gates of heaven to our prayers and may we watch our words in the future to increase the value of our personal stock in the eyes of G-d. Amen.