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Being Rewarded for Mitzvah Observance

May 6, 2010

"Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying" (Vayikra 25:1), the Torah then goes on to outline the mitzvah of Shmitta, letting the land lay fallow every seven years.  Rashi asks: "what is the matter of Shmitta next to Mount Sinai?" - why, of all mitzvoth, did the Torah emphasize that this mitzvah was given at Har Sinai, why was it not sufficient for the Torah to simply say: "vayedaber Hashem el Moshe lemor"?  Among the answers given is cited in Rashi: "just as with Shmitta its general rules, and its details, and its fine points were stated at Sinai, so, too, with all of the commandments their general rules and their fine points were stated at Sinai."   

The Torah is teaching us that just as Shmitta was given by Hashem at Har Sinai and was not a mitzvah that Moshe Rabenu simply made up, so too the entire Torah comes from Hashem.  I believe there is still a point which requires explanation.  Does the fact that a mitzvah in the book of Vayikra was given at Sinai prove that the mitzvoth in Sefer Devarim was given at Sinai?  Furthermore, why was Shmitta chosen as the source for belief that the Torah comes from Hashem? 

I came across another answer which, combined with what we have just cited from Rashi, can help give us a clearer understanding.  We read in this week's parsha: "if you will say: 'what will we eat in the seventh year?  Behold!  We will not sow and we will not gather our crop!" (Vayikra 25:20).  The Torah answers: "I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years.  You will sow in the eighth year, but you will eat from the old crop; until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old" (ibid. 21). A human being cannot promise such a thing, for by providing the exact timing of it - the sixth year, he is risking being branded a liar. From here we see that the Mitzvah of Shmitta is a testimony that the entire Torah is from Hashem and was given at Har Sinai. 

It is true that the Torah promises us reward for observing all mitzvoth, we are commanded to honor our parents: "so that your days will be lengthened and so that it will be good for you" (Devarim 5:16). The reward referred to here, however, is in the Next world: "so that it will be good with you to the world that is entirely good, so that it will be long to the world that is entirely long" (Kiddushin 39b).  Because the reward awaiting us is in the Next World, we have no tangible way in this world of knowing whether or not the Torah is absolute truth.  Other religions also profess that if one performs certain deeds he will be appropriately rewarded. 

Performance of other mitzvoth, as we have just mentioned, offer no proof to the veracity of the Torah.  This includes the mitzvah to give maaser, of which we are told that we are permitted to test Hashem: "Bring all the tithes into the storage house, and let it be sustenance in My Temple, test Me, if you will, with this, says Hashem, Master of Legions, see if I do not open up for you the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you blessing without end" (Malachi 3:10).  Being that the prophet does not provide a specific time frame for this blessing, if it has not yet taken place, we have no way of ascertaining whether or not it will in the future. 

The fact that only Hashem can promise such a blessing is proof that the Torah comes from Him.  The Torah chose a mitzvah which clearly comes from Hashem as the basis for teaching us that all mitzvoth were given at Sinai.  Why does Hashem offer us this blessing for observing the mitzvah of Shmitta?   Because Shmitta is a very difficult mitzvah to observe.  Chazal attribute the following pasuk to those in Eretz Yisrael who observe the Shmitta: "mighty people who observe His words" (Tehillim 103:20).  We see that one who observes Shmitta is referred to as mighty - how is he supposed to feed himself and his family without planting, sowing, etc? This amounts to a very difficult test of faith.  Hashem therefore promised a blessing on the sixth year so that people would not be afraid of this mitzvah.  Even with Hashem's promise, many over the generations did not observe this mitzvah - Chazal attribute this as the reason for the seventy year exile in Bavel.   

The Torah commands us to give tzdaka to the poor: "give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the L-rd your G-d will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings" (Devarim 15:10).  A person should give tzdaka because Hashem commanded us to do so and because we believe that He will bless us - tzdaka should be given with joy at the opportunity to do so. Indeed there are many people who truly love giving tzdaka, however unfortunately there are plenty of people who do not wish to give. If they would only believe in Hashem's promise for blessing then they would certainly give.  In fact the Rambam writes that no one will ever become poor as a result of giving tzdaka - this does not mean that there will not be any poor people, but that tzdaka will not make someone poor.  Those who do not love giving tzdaka may read the promise of Hashem's blessing but they are not internalizing the words. Tzdaka is not used as the example because the Torah does not state precisely when we will receive this reward. It is only with regard to Shmitta that we find a promise and an exact time for the reward. 

The Rishonim ask why the Torah does not describe for us what Olam Haba looks like and what we should expect there. The Rishonim offer two answers to this question.  The first answer is that even if it would be described for us, we do not have the tools or senses with which to understand - just as a blind person cannot understand the difference between red, green, blue, and brown.  We may tell him that blood is red, grass is green, the sky is blue, and the ground is brown, but in fact this has no meaning to him.  By the same token, Olam Haba is not something we could begin to understand.  Another answer is that were the Torah to explain to us the incredible rewards waiting for us in the Next World we would no longer perform mitzvoth lishma but our motivation would be simply in order to receive a reward.  Hashem wants us to perform mitzvoth simply because He commanded us to. 

I would venture to say that these two explanations are not mutually exclusive. On the one hand we have no way of understanding what Olam Haba is, but even if we were to understand it, this would detract from our performance of mitzvoth lishma.   

There are those who claim that letting the land remain fallow every seventh year is good for the land.  If so, we would see the blessing on the eighth year - following the Sabbatical year.  There is no natural reason for the sixth year to be any different than the previous ones.  It is thus clear that the blessing is a result of observing the dictates of the Torah.  Many have observed in our day, that settlementsthat observed the laws of Shmitta were rewarded with abundance.  The blessing is not something natural but a reward Hashem gives us for observing this mitzvah. 

The Gemara relates the following incident: "The Roman regime once enacted a decree that the Jews not keep the Shabbat, that they not circumcise their sons, and that they cohabit with niddot (not adhere to the laws of Family Purity). R' Reuven ben Istroboli went and cut his hair (to hide the fact that he was Jewish) and went and sat together with them.  He said to them: 'one who has an enemy, does he want him to become poor or become rich?'  They said to him: 'to become poor.'  He said to them: 'if so, let them not do work on the Shabbat so that they should become poor.".  The Romans were convinced by his argument and the decree against Shabbat observance was annulled.  R' Reuven now tried to have the other decrees rescinded: "he said to them: 'one who has an enemy, does he want him to become weak or to become strong?' They said to him: 'to become weak'.  He said to them: 'if so, let them circumcise their sons on the eighth day, and they will become weak.'" They were impressed with this argument as well and revoked the decree against circumcision.  He then tried to have the decree against observing Taharat HaMishpacha rescinded: "He said to them: 'one who has an enemy, does he want him to increase or decrease?' They said to him: 'to decrease'.  He said to them: if so, let them not cohabit with niddot (i.e. let them observe the laws of Family Purity which limits the time a man may cohabit with his wife).'" They accepted this argument and annulled that decree as well. 

At a later stage when the Romans realized that R' Reuven was Jewish they reinstated the decrees.  These decrees remained in force until R' Shimon bar Yochai and R' Elazar ben R' Yossi managed to have them nullified.  What difference did it make to the Romans that R' Reuven ben Istroboli was Jewish, did he not present them with convincing arguments, did they not find his logic flawless?  When they realized that in actual fact he observed the mitzvot which they had banned, it became clear that he could not believe a word of what he was saying! If he did not believe what he was saying, why should they?   

Shabbat observance brings us blessing, we do not become poor because we do not work on the Shabbat.  Blessings often happen in an unnatural manner. After suffering the bondage in Egypt for so many years, Hashem smote Pharaoh with nine plagues.  Finally when it came to the tenth plague we read: "Hashem had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people" (Shmot 12:36).  Is this the time for the Egyptians to love the Jewish people, after suffering so much from them? It is precisely when we follow the Torah that Hashem makes sure that the other nations love us - when we bring the Korban Pesach and other mitzvoth.  When we try to become close to them, they drive us away. Many Jews in Germany tried to assimilate and thought that it was important to be a good German - Berlin was Yerushalayim.  This is not the way to get the other nations to love us, the way to do so is to keep the Torah - whether or not the other nations love us is not something natural.  There is no need for us to beg the nations for love, Hashem takes care of us. 

May we steadfastly observe the mitzvoth of Shmitta and all the other mitzvoth of the Torah and thereby merit Hashem's hastening the redemption speedily in our day. Amen.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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