Tuesday, May 07, 2013

recognizing our own limitations

The Torah writes that if a farmer will ask, “What will we eat if we can’t farm during shemita and yovel?” Hashem answers that he will command the fields to produce and abundant crop in advance.  Why does the Torah not say simply tell us Hashem promise – why does the Torah couch the bracha in the context of a question-and-answer shakla v’terya format?

I think the most popular answer is some variation on the one the Noam Elimelech writes in the name of his brother (posted about it here).  A true ba’al bitachon asks no questions.  He trusts that if Hashem says not to farm, he will survive in some way.  That’s exactly what will happen – someway, somehow, the food will last.  The teva cannot and will not contradict the belief of the ba’al bitachon.  What the Torah here is saying is that even if you do ask questions and therefore maybe you don’t deserve teva to be in harmony with your shmiras hamitzvos, you don’t deserve the food to last, still Hashem promises that so long as you are willing to do the mitzvah, he will force the food to be there by commanding his bracha to the fields.

I want to share with you the answer of the Maharasham (I saw this quoted by R’ Shmuel Ya’akov Rubenstein in his She’eiris Menachem, where he adds additional hesber that I am not going into, so here’s a link).  There is another place in the Torah where a promise appears in the context of a question and answer:  the Torah writes (Devarim 7:17) that if you should say when you enter Eretz Yisrael, “How can I conquer all these great nations?” don’t worry because Hashem promises that He will help get the job done.  Again, one can ask why the promise is couched in the context of shakla v’terya instead of being said straight out.  The Bina La’ittim answers (and I once quoted the same pshat from Sefas Emes) that the Torah is teaching that Hashem’s promise is conditional on our asking for it.  Meaning, we have to first recognize that we can’t do it ourselves; the job is too great and our ability is limited.  We have to say to Hashem that we need him.  If we do that, then Hashem promises to deliver the help we need.  If think we can do it ourselves, we fail to recognize our own limitations, then Hashem leaves it up to us, and of course, we can’t really succeed by ourselves.  The same is true of shemita.  The Torah prefaces the promise of Hashem's help with the farmer's question to teach us that Hashem will provide us with all the help we need to get through the years without farming – but we have to recognize that we need that help and ask for it. 


  1. great unknown4:06 PM

    So we have two mutually exclusive opinions as to how a ba'al bitachon is supposed to conduct himself: don't ask questions vs. ask questions.

    No further questions, Your Honor.

  2. The difference is who we are questioning -- our own ability or G-d's.

  3. great unknown5:24 PM

    Note that Gid'on was visited by a malach and became a shofet after he questioned G-d.

  4. Actually, the malach appeared to him first and only then did Gidon ask questions (6:11-13).
    What bothered him was the seeming stira between the appearance of the angel=hasgacha geluya and the reality of the oppression of Bn"Y=hester panim.

    1. But a ba'al bitachon wouldn't allow that to bother him...
      Of course, simple pshat in his repetitive testing of Hashem also
      implies a weakness of bitachon.

      [Thank you for reminding me just how bad my memory is. I keep forgetting that...]

  5. Why don't you cut to the chase and ask how he got out of the issur of Lo tinasun es Hashem?

  6. great unknown5:29 PM

    You mean, because he was basically paraphrasing היש ה' בקרבנו?

    That never bothered me, because I learned Nach before the
    prophet Rabbi Scroll had the Divine revelation that every
    Jewish manhig or godol was always perfect, having sprung
    that way from hera's brow.

    Considering that his father was raising a korbon to avodah zara,
    I never thought of Gid'on as having had a chareidi education.

  7. chaim b.7:47 PM

    so m'mah nafshach, then you can't hold up his behavior as a model of how a ba'al bitachon should act either.

  8. Correct. On the other hand, it seems to imply that there are other factors
    in Hashem's calculations, k'vyachol, in chosing a manhig Yisroel. And that
    questioning Hashem may not be a deal-breaker.

    In some of my previous incarnations [kiruv, pulpit rabbi], I had to
    occasionally counsel people to express their anger and doubts directly to Hashem.
    It might not be an expression of bitachon, but it was certainly an expression
    of emunah.

  9. chaim b.9:56 PM

    I only saw this recently, but that's because I'm ignorant; apparently it's an old one: Lo ta'asun kein l'Hashem Elokeichem = don't be a yes man even to G-d.

    1. Source, please. That ma'amar is so good, it could actually be true.

    2. So you think it might be true. Interesting. Anyway, it's attributed to the Barditchever. Here's one example:

  10. R' Amiel quotes it in L'Nevochai haTekufa, but I can't find the page now. Too bad there is no index.