Keep the Faith

RABBI WAGENSBERG
PARSHAS BEHAR
Keep the Faith

This week’s parsha opens with the mitzva of Shmitta (the Sabbatical Year; Parshas Behar, 25:1-14). One of the obvious lessons of Shmitta is to strengthen our Emuna (faith) in Hashem that He will provide for us even though we do not sow the ground in the seventh year.

Speaking of Emuna, we find a fundamental teaching which says that humility leads to Emuna, whereas arrogance distances us from our Emuna in Hashem.

One source which supports this notion is found in Meseches Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 4b) where Rebbi Yochanan said in the name of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai that if a person suffers from arrogance, it is as if he is a complete heretic. This is based on a verse which says, “And your heart will become haughty, and you will forget Hashem your God” (Parshas Eikev, 8:14).

We see from this verse that haughtiness leads to forgetting about God which is a form of heresy. From this source we could infer that humility (which is the opposite of arrogance) leads to Emuna in Hashem (which is the opposite of heresy).

Another source which supports this concept is also found in Meseches Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 5a) where Rav Chisda, and some say Mar Ukva, said that Hashem said about any person who possesses arrogance, “I cannot live with him in the same world.” In modern slang it is like Hashem said, “This joint ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

This means to say that Hashem goes far away from a person who is haughty. Once Hashem no longer lives with that person, the person starts to feel alone. Then the person starts to doubt Hashem’s existence. This could lead to heresy.

The Steipler Gaon (Rabbi Ya’akov Yisrael Kanievsky, 1899 Ukraine-1985 Bnei Brak) speaks about this in his sefer, Chayei Olam (chap. 27). The Steipler quotes Sefarim Hakedoshim (holy books) who say that all doubts regarding Emuna are found in a heart that is plagued by arrogance. After all, the Gemara in Sota (ibid) said that Hashem abandons people who are arrogant. This leads to the person’s feeling of loneliness. That is when the person begins to doubt if Hashem even exists.

However, one who merits to cultivate humility, then, Hashem lives with him. Once the person feels Hashem’s Presence in his life, all the doubts and questions he had about God dissipate.

Therefore, the Steipler continues, when you see a person who has doubts about God, you need not necessarily engage in debates with him attempting to prove God’s existence. Rather, learn Sifrei Mussar with him that break arrogance and cultivate humility. In addition, daven that Hashem grants him humility. Once the person becomes humbled, Hashem will return to live with him. Once he feels God’s Presence in his life, all of his questions about Hashem will disappear. The Steipler says that this has been tested and proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We are going to see that the root cause of the sin of the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge) was arrogance.

In Parshas Bereishis (2:15) it says, “And Hashem God took the Man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” In Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer (chap. 12) it asks, “What type of work was Adam supposed to do in the Garden? There was no need to plow and sow because food grew ready made on the trees. There was no need to irrigate the Garden because “A river issued forth from Eden to water the Garden” (Parshas Bereishis, 2:10). So, what type of work did Hashem want Adam to do in the Garden?”

The Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer answers this question by saying that Hashem did not want Adam to do Avodas Hakarka (work the land). Rather, Hashem wanted Adam to do Avodas Hashem by engaging in the study of Torah. Adam and Chava were supposed to guard the Eitz Hachayim (Tree of Life) which was the Torah, as it says, “Eitz Chayim Hi Lamachazikim Ba” (it [the Torah] is a Tree of Life to those who grasp it; Mishlei, 3:18).

There is another source which tells us that Adam did not have to do a stitch of work in Gan Eden in order to obtain food. The Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 59b) cites Rebbi Yehuda ben Taima (in Avos d’Rebbi Nasan, chap. 1, it says that it was Rebbi Yehuda ben Bisaira) who said that Adam Harishon would recline in Gan Eden and ministering angels would bring him roasted meat to eat and strained wine to drink.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that since everything was served to Adam and Chava on a silver platter in Gan Eden, they did not have to work for their sustenance. This situation robbed them of, “Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim v’Zoreah” (literally: believe in the Life of the Worlds [Hashem] and plant). This means that they were deprived of a situation which would force them to place their trust in Hashem during the time of planting seeds in the ground (Shabbos, chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 31a, based on Yeshaya, 33:6, and Tosafos there citing the Yerushalmi; also see Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Naso, 13:15).

You see, the Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Tetelbaum, 1759 Poland-1841 Hungary; Parshas Lech Lecha) says that when a farmer places the seeds into the ground, he does not see the process of growth because the dirt covers the seeds. Therefore, he does not see the seeds rot, and he does not see the roots which begin to grow. The farmer feels that he is not in control. He feels completely helpless. Therefore, he is forced to turn to the Only One he can depend on: Hashem. He begins to beg Hashem to bring the rains in their right time. He asks Hashem that there not be too much rain nor too little rain. He prays that insects should not eat his produce and that a heatwave not come and destroy his crops. This situation brings a person to humility.

However, Adam and Chava were not afforded that opportunity because their sustenance in Gan Eden was ready for the picking. This situation led them to feel secure and a bit arrogant because there was nothing forcing them to be Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim when they sowed because there was no sowing in Gan Eden.

They felt a bit overly confidant to the point of arrogance. Hashem left them even though they were still in the Garden. Hashem distanced Himself from them because Hashem despises arrogance. Once Hashem left them, they felt alone, which led them to have doubts about Hashem’s existence. Realizing their doubts about God, the Nachash (serpent, who was the embodiment of the Yetzer Hara) had an idea how to bring Adam and Chava to sin.

The Nachash said to Chava, “For on the day you eat of it (the Eitz Hada’as), your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5). Rashi (ibid) cites a Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 19:4, Rebbi Yehoshua d’Sichnin) which tells us more about what the Nachash said to Chava. The Nachash said that every craftsman hates his fellow craftsman because people do not like competition. The Nachash told her that God had eaten from this tree which gave Him His ability to create the world. This is why He commanded you not to eat of this tree. It is because He does not want you to become a God also. He does not want any competition.

Since Chava and Adam ate from this tree, it shows us that they bought into the sales-pitch of the Nachash. It demonstrates that they did want to become Gods. For a person to think that he or she could become a God, it takes a certain measure of arrogance. For a person to think that he could become a God, it also requires a confused mind that is already filled with doubts about Hashem.

Adam and Chava had both of these problems. Because of the situation in Gan Eden where no work was necessary, they were a bit haughty which led to Hashem removing His Presence from them. When they felt alone, they began to have doubts regarding Hashem’s existence.

This is why Hashem punished them by cursing the ground with thorns and thistles. No longer would the earth provide them with ready-made food. Now they would have to toil and suffer in order to bring forth produce from the ground (Parshas Bereishis, 3:17-18).

Adam would have to plant seeds in the ground. Once the seeds were planted, growth was out of his control. Adam would feel helpless. At that point, Adam would have to turn to the Only One Who could help him: Hashem. Adam would daven that the rains come in the right time and in the right measure. He would pray that insects and heatwaves should not destroy his crops.

This new situation of helplessness made Adam feel insecure which generated humility. Once Adam became humble, Hashem returned to him. Once Adam felt God’s Presence in his life, all of his doubts about God simply disappeared.

Another punishment which fit the crime was that Adam, and all mankind, would die. Death is the great equalizer. When we become aware of our mortality, it puts us into our places. Death would make Adam humble, the Shechina would return to him, and all doubts about God would dissipate.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that observing Shmitta serves as a tikkun for the sin with the Eitz Hada’as. The sin of the Eitz Hada’as began with arrogance because they did need to sow which made them feel too secure, to the point of forgetting about Hashem. Therefore, during the six years of a seven-year cycle we are allowed to work the field. When we plant during the six years, we are afforded with an opportunity of Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim v’Zoreah which keeps us humble.

But since there is no sowing in the seventh year, we are deprived of this platform of placing our hope in Hashem when we plant. This might reduce our humility. Therefore, in order to supplement this lack of humility, Hashem commands there to be a miracle in the sixth year with a bumper crop that lasts for three years; the sixth, seventh, and eighth years. This miracle will grant us the extra dose of humility that would have otherwise been lost. This is how the Shmitta cycle atones for the sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

One practical way of taking this lesson with us would be to recite, from time to time, the verses in this week’s parsha regarding Shmitta. These verses would remind us that Hashem is taking care of us. The recitation of these verses would also build our humility and Emuna muscles even more so. This would bring the Shechina back to us and trigger the Final Geula.

So, may we all be blessed this Shmitta year to inculcate the lessons of humility, Emuna, and Bitachon even more so, which will bring the world back to Gan Eden Mikedem.