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Seeing The Blessing Takes Great Vision

This week’s parashah begins with a discussion of the laws of shemittah (the Sabbatical year, in which fields are left fallow). Our Sages praise the fortitude of farmers who keep these laws by applying to them the verse: Bless Hashem…the mighty warriors who do His bidding (Tehillim 103:20). The “mighty warriors who do His bidding” refers to farmers who sit quietly by for an entire shemittah year, as the source of their livelihood, remains fallow. Such farmers are truly “mighty” in their resolve to fulfill Hashem’s command, notwithstanding the great challenge in doing so (Vayikra Rabbah 1:1).

A simple reading of the pesukim here, though, would make it seem that keeping shemittah is in fact not so challenging. After all, Hashem Himself promises, “I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period” (Vayikra 25:21). If the farmer already has enough produce for three years before shemittah even begins, what then is the challenge in keeping shemittah?

Some commentators suggest that the blessing of the crop of the sixth year is that even though it will not be any larger than the crops of previous years, it will simply go further. It will satiate more readily (see Seforno to Vayikra 25:19), or will continue to miraculously expand in one’s granary (Or HaChaim, Vayikra 25:21). The simple reading of the verse, though, is that one will have a large bumper crop and will harvest much more than in previous years. Which again begs the question: What then is the challenge in keeping shemittah?

Some suggest that while it is true that the farmer may already have a large store of grain due to the blessing of the sixth year, nevertheless, keeping shemittah is still challenging. For, it takes a special person to recognize that blessing for what it was meant to be. A lesser person would be tempted to say, “Look at that! I had a great year, doubling or tripling my bottom line! If this past year turned out so great, how can I not try and repeat it next year too?” The Torah challenges the farmer to sit back and appreciate that Hashem sent him this grain for the specific purpose of keeping shemittah. He is to be that mighty warrior who recognizes the blessing for what it was meant to be (Shemen HaTov).

In truth, Hashem sends each of us a multitude of blessings and gifts; whether they are health, wealth, wisdom, strength, family, friends, the socks on our feet, the roof over our heads, etc. All blessings Hashem sends our way ultimately set the background of our lives which we are to then live with a higher purpose. Our challenge, much like the farmer entering shemittah, is to recognize all the blessings and gifts for what they are and to utilize them correctly; helping us become the very best we were meant to be.

Wishing you all a Good Shabbos / Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Moskovitz


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Tefillah: Chore or Opportunity?

This week’s parashah includes some of the laws of offerings, and it says, וְכִֽי־תִזְבְּח֥וּ זֶֽבַח־תּוֹדָ֖ה לַֽה', When you slaughter a feast thanksgiving-offering to Hashem, לִֽרְצֹֽנְכֶ֖ם תִּזְבָּֽחוּ, you shall slaughter it to gain favor for yourselves (Vayikra 22:29). Our Sages understand that this verse is teaching us an important lesson in our attitude toward Divine Service. They cite Hashem, as it were, as saying, “I did not tell you to bring an offering so that you can then say, ‘I am gratifying His will, so that He will gratify mine.’ [In truth] it is not for My gratification that you are bringing offerings, rather it is for your [benefit], as it says לִֽרְצֹֽנְכֶ֖ם תִּזְבָּֽחוּ, you shall slaughter it to gain favor for yourselves!” (Menachos 110a).

We did not bring offerings as some sort of quid pro quo, where we helped Him out with the understanding that He would then do the same for us. He is infinite! He has no needs. Rather, when we brought an offering, we were to see it for the opportunity that it was! The word korban (offering) after all, means to come close, and represents an opportunity to engender a special closeness in the relationship with one’s Maker.

R’ Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (Rabinowitz 1823-1900) explains that insofar as our daily prayers are modeled after the daily offerings that were brought in the Beis HaMikdash (Berachos 26b), they too must be recited with the same attitude. As the Mishnah in Avos says: אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִלָּתְךָ קֶבַע, do not make your prayers ‘fixed’ – i.e., don’t see davening as some chore and obligation which you seek to be done with. Don’t just check the box! אֶלָּא רַחֲמִים וְתַחֲנוּנִים לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, rather [see it for what it is; i.e., an opportunity to beseech] mercy and supplication before the Omnipresent, Blessed is He (Avos 2:13 with Rambam ad loc). We are to recognize that tefillah is an opportunity to bare our innermost thoughts and desires before the All-powerful Creator of the Universe, Who has the power to grant our every need, and the knowledge to know what they truly are! That is an attitude toward tefillah that fits the directive of, לִֽרְצֹֽנְכֶ֖ם תִּזְבָּֽחוּ, as you shall slaughter it for your will; put your heart into it and relish the opportunity.

Such an attitude is not easy to maintain. A man once came to the Chafetz Chaim and shared how he felt that his tefillos were lacking kavanah (fervor) and were generally being recited by rote. “Should I even daven?” he asked the Chafetz Chaim. The Chafetz Chaim shared the following parable with this struggling individual: There was once a small town of close to twenty families, to which peddlers and craftsmen would make their annual rounds. Two people in town had watches that were wound daily, and both happened to break around the same time. One individual simply put the broken watch deep into his drawer, while the other continued to wind his watch daily, even though it seemingly did nothing. One day the watch repair man came to town. Both men eagerly brought him their broken watches. While he was able to repair the watch that was wound daily, the other one was rusted beyond repair. When the time had come for it to do what it was supposed to do, its gears no longer functioned. “Some days our prayers may seem to be rote” explained the Chafetz Chaim, “like winding a broken watch. But little do we realize that by keeping those gears in good working order, they can and will spring back to life.” By being in the habit of davening, one experiences these moments of clarity, where he or she recognizes the amazing opportunity that such tefillah represents. And when our tefillos soar, so do we!

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moskovitz

Wed, May 29 2024 21 Iyyar 5784