Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bitachon, reward and punishment, and shmita

One of my favorite vortlach of the Noam Elimelech is in this week’s parsha. The Torah says that we must not plant during shmitta. “And if you shall ask what shall we eat, for we may not plant or harvest our crops? – I will command my blessing during the sixth year and the crop will last for three years." (25:20-21) The pasuk could just succinctly say that Hashem provides the bracha of an abundant sixth year’s crop - why does the Torah go through the “shakla v’tarya”, this give and take exchange between the farmer’s question and G-d’s answer instead of just getting to the point?
We need one point of introduction about schar v’onesh to better understand the N.E. Just like if you stick your hand on a hot stove, the stove is not “punishing” you with a burn, if you choose to be a ba’al aveira, you will suffer certain repercussions as an inevitable consequence of the act, not because G-d changes the “natural” course of events to create that punishment. By the same token, if someone does good, a natural consequence of that goodness is the reward that flows from shamayim in that person’s direction.

For a ba’al bitachon, Hashem’s command is sufficient to perform the mitzvah of shmita without question as to what food there will be. As a natural consequence, the appropriate reward and sustenance will be directed his/her way from shamayim. Our pasuk is directed to the person who is not such a ba’al bitachon – it speaks to someone who hears the command of shmita and is worried and questions where the food will come from. The consequence of doubt should rightfully block the bountiful harvest reward of true bitachon. However, in this case Hashem intervenes and “commands” – i.e. he changes the natural course of events – and directs that even someone who would not merit a bountiful harvest based on their level of bitachon be rewarded with the means to get through the shmita year.
Bitachon means trust with no kashes – trust after you are promised that everything will work out well (which the Torah does not guarantee anyway) is not the same as real bitachon. I don’t know about you, but worry about how to pay tuition bills, job stress, etc is very much part of my life - this is a very hard madreiga to reach.


  1. Anonymous1:35 PM

    This is not surprising coming from the ba'al "Tzetel Hakaton". That thing will scare the pants off of you.

    In general, there seems to be a recurrent theme running throughout all the chassideshe torah you are ma'aleh on this mizbeach hablog: "The highest madreigos are incredibly lofty, beyond the reach of an ordinary, illiterate chassid. That being said, each and every person is a) incredibly holy anyway, and/or b) is not at fault for not being able to attain those heights. Now (wink, wink) get in touch with a Tzaddik."

    I don't consider myself an uber-rationalist, but at some point this has got to disturb you.

  2. I hear your complaint but deny the charges. As far as I recall, I have not posted any tzadik centric pieces, through the N.E. is filled with them. He does not write here that the madreiga of bitachon w/o kashes is limited to the tzadik - it is accessible to any true ba'al bitachon. I was just adding that my feeling personally is that this is a high goal to aim for. I could rewrite this whole piece and convince you it came from the Brisker Rav (OK, maybe not that far : ) - 2 levels of bitachon, a hesber of how schar v'onesh works, etc. This is classic machshava stuff, not chassidus particular. That's usually what I try to glean from seforim like the N.E., not fire and brimstone or devotion to tzadikim.

  3. Anonymous3:48 PM

    The charges were not leveled at you.

    Call me a Cynic, but read between the lines. A substantial portion of the corpus of Chassidishe Torah is contrived to foster the Tzaddik-Chassid relationship. This piece is no exception.

    Don’t get me wrong – I get a tremendous geshmak out of a home-run B’nei Yissaschar (l’mashal). That being said, I’m not deluding myself. The drashos they gave, the chiddushim they came up with…these people were in the business of keeping themselves in business.

    (Dodges lightning bolt)

  4. I wouldn't quite put it that way, but ain hachi nami, chassidus without a rebbe doesn't exist. However, aside from a handful of seforim (e.g. nefesh hachaim, shiurei da'as, a few others), I find you cannot find meaningful machshava of the maharal variety without dipping into chassidus. Mussar tells you to be a good boy and threatens fire and brimstone, but does not offer a complete system of understanding man's relationship with G-d. Have you tried Hachsharas Avreichim by the Piecezna? Most people read Chovas haTalmidim, but that is just part 1 - Hachsharas Avreichim is the real stuff, chassidis 101, and not too much about rebbes in there, only spiritual growth.

  5. Anonymous5:46 PM

    I started reading the Chovas Hatalmidim when I was a bochur - and was thoroughly enjoying it - until I came across that mashal he gives about the poor man and the flower. That was it. It depressed me for literally a week. I never picked it up again.

  6. Take the ochel and leave the p'soles!

  7. Anonymous9:07 AM

    It is ridiculous that Shmita brings huge income to Israeli enemies in Gaza and the Palestinian territories. Whatever are the religious overtones, they cannot excuse purchases from HAMAS voters. What do you think of Obadiah Shoher interpretating Shmita as charity obligation rather than agricultural rule? (Here, for example ) Anyway, I'll better buy from atheist kibbutzim than from Gaza.