Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

The reward and punishment written in the Torah are intended for all of Clal Yisrael in this world, and they take place naturally For if they had come miraculously, they would have abolished free choice, and human beings would not have been privileged to be partners in the tikkun (correction) of the world.

This is also explained in the Torah portion Bechukotai, where it is clear that the promised reward for Israel when they walk in the ways of God and his Torah, will come in a natural way: the rains will fall on time, the land will give forth its harvest in abundance, and we will have a strong army that will succeed in defeating our enemies with crushing victory.

Had the goal been a miraculous one, it would have been preferable to remain in the desert and eat the manna that came down from heaven, as was the opinion of the Spies. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter the land, to engage in the Torah and, according to its guidance, engage in yishuvo shel olam (the settlement of the world), and out of this, gain great blessing, to the point where we have a surfeit of work,due to the great abundance.

Leadership of the Land of Israel without Miracles

In the ideal situation in the Land of Israel, there is no need for miracles, because thanks to the study of the Torah and its guidance of practical life – holiness is revealed in a natural way, and this is how emunah (faith) is revealed in its’ loftiest way. The miracles that Israel experienced in Egypt and in the wilderness were intended to reveal the foundations of emunah and the Torah, and in their light, guide Israel to the fullest of life in the Land of Israel.

However, this is not the proper leadership le’chatchila (ideally). Therefore, upon entering the land the observable miracles were abolished. The manna no longer fell from heaven, shoes and clothes wore out once again, the pillar of fire, the cloud, and the well ceased to accompany Israel, and Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all men from the age of twenty who go out to the army, in order to prepare them for the conquest of the land by natural means.

Those who believe that the main revelation of God is by way of a miracle, are alienated from the emunat ha’yichud (belief in the Oneness of God), and inadvertently claim that nature is supposedly detached from God, thereby sinning in heresy and avodah zara (idolatry). This is what our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “Anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who does not have a God. As it is stated: “To give to you the land of Canaan, to be your God’… anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship.” This is because outside the Holy Land kedusha (holiness) is not revealed through nature, but only in what is beyond nature. However, in the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, through the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, holiness is revealed by natural means.

This is what we say every day in the portion “If you are careful to pay heed to my commandments”, (Deuteronomy 11:13-21), that if we engage in Torah and keep the mitzvot according to its guidance, and engage in yishuvo shel olam, the rains will fall on time and the land will give forth its harvest, and we will be blessed by God in the work of our hands, we will eat and be satiated. However, if we do not hear the Voice of God, the blessing will depart from the land, and we will be cast out of the good land.

Four Kings

Similarly, we learn in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30): “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were David, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu.

David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies.

Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies.

Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies.

Hezekiah (Chizkiyahu) stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur.”

The Difference Between King David and Hezekiah

According to those who think that a miracle is better, Hezekiah is the greatest of kings, because a great miracle was performed for him, while David was the least of all, because all his wars were fought naturally, by means of his heroism and talent. However, the truth is the exact opposite. David’s faith fills and sanctifies his whole being, and the all of nature surrounding him, sings poetry to the living God, and consequently, he raises a prayer to God to reveal His light in all areas of reality, all his powers are intensified, and he goes into battle and is victorious.

On the other hand, Hezekiah’s emunah is in what is beyond nature, and therefore, it does not properly illuminate earthly life. For that reason, he did not get married (Berachot 10a). Consequently, he did not sing praise after he was redeemed (Sanhedrin 94a).

In his times, the prophets of Israel, Micah and Isaiah, began to prophesy of the impending destruction, and called for the correction of the sins between a man and his fellow neighbor, and to eradicate the corruption of the ministers (Isaiah 1). However, instead of dealing with the profound correction of social and practical life, Hezekiah tried to prevent the evil by forcing the people to become stronger in Torah study – especially in areas that do not deal with the guidance of practical life. “He inserted a sword at the entrance of the study hall and said: Anyone who does not engage in Torah study shall be stabbed with this sword. As a result, they searched from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, and did not find an ignoramus. They searched from Gevat to Antipatris and did not find a male child, or a female child, or a man, or a woman who was not expert even in the complex halakhot of ritual purity and impurity” (Sanhedrin 94b).

But it was not a Torah study that properly guides the life of society and practical action. He did not fill life with content, and so the words of the Torah remained “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little’” (Isaiah 28:10). Proof is that immediately in the next generation, Menashe succeeded in inciting the people to avodah zara and to injustices between man and his neighbor, and their sentence was sealed for destruction and exile.

The Saving of Hezekiah on Account of David

In addition, the miracle that happened to Hezekiah happened thanks to David, as it is written (Kings 2:19, 14): “For I will protect this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of David My servant.” Our sages said (Berachot 10b): “Even when the Holy One, Blessed be He, sent him peace and told him that he would recover from his illness, it was bitter for him, because he was saved thanks to David, and not because of the Torah study he had increased. The peace he enjoyed was also partial, as the cities of Judah were destroyed by Sennacherib, masses of Jews were killed and others taken prisoner, and only Jerusalem was saved.

At that moment, there was an opportunity for Hezekiah to continue in the way of David and bring redemption to Israel – as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 94a): “The Holy One, Blessed be He, sought to designate King Hezekiah as the Messiah and to designate Sennacherib as Gog and Magog” – however, the opportunity was lost because he did not sing praise.

And why did he not sing praise? Because his Torah dealt mainly with the honor of heaven, the honor of the Temple, the laws of impurity and purity, and less with the building of the land and the nation, education in justice and fairness, kindness and mercy, the mitzvot by means of which the word of God is revealed in all realities.

Despite this, Hezekiah, the righteous king, has a great legacy for generations – for that thanks to adherence to the Torah, the Jewish nation adhered to eternity and survival. And as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 94b): “The yoke of Sennacherib was destroyed due to the oil (shemen) of Hezekiah that would burn in the synagogues and study halls.” This is the legacy of the Torah of Chutz le’Artetz, which entails cleaving, devotion and emunah in what is beyond contemporary reality. An emunah that redemption will finally come to Israel by way of the Messiah, who will continue King David, and reveal the word of God in all areas of reality.

Why Rely on the Heter Mechira

In light of this, I will address the question: why the proper instruction for farmers is to rely on the heter mechira and expropriate the obligation not to work in the shmita year, and not to rely on the blessing the Torah promised to those who keep shmita, as the Torah says (Leviticus 25:20-21): “In the seventh year, you might ask, ‘What will we eat in the jubilee year? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.’ I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the land will produce enough crops for three years”?

Answer: The promise was made in a situation where the shmita year is a mitzvah from the Torah, as many poskim wrote, among them S’ma (HM 67:2); Hagahot Yabetz and Chidushei Chatam Sofer (on Gitin 36); Pe’at Hashulchan (29:3); Yishuot Malko paragraph 53; Mahari Engil, Maran Harav Kook (Igeret 555) and others (and not as in the words of Chidushei HaRim, ibid. Gitin, and Chazon Ish Shiviit 18: 4).

Blessing in the Shmita Year By Way of Nature

Additionally, the Torah did not instruct Israel to rely on a miracle; rather, the blessing for the shmita year has to come as early as the sixth year – “I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year.” Our Sages explained that Israel would save from their harvest for six years, and thus they would have what to eat in the seventh year (Sifra ibid, Panim Yafot, ibid).

In other words, when all of Israel sits in its land according to the tribes, each tribe in its proper inheritance, the obligation of shmita is from the Torah, and then, the blessing comes in a natural way. For from the study of Torah in the shmita year, the general public learns to save six years in order to refrain from work in the seventh year, and from the study to save, learn to reject gratifications, control the yetzer of lust and laziness, and to be diligent.

Consequently, the people merit saving money in order to also invest and develop the land, to the point where there is no end to the blessing that grows from the holiness of the shmita year.

The Foundation of the Faith of Israel

If we delve deeper, we find that the foundation of emunah is dependent on this. Those who believe that Divinity is miraculously revealed in what is outside the world, do not see great value in man’s work for his livelihood, and do not find fault with the fact that a large public needs support money from the state and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God, and if God wants, even without working, one can merit great blessing.

Therefore, they also tend to believe that those who refrain from working in the shmita year will be miraculously blessed. Consequently, they also do not see value in the study and development of science, because it deals with nature, and not with what is beyond reality. However, Rambam (Maimonides) wrote that the study of the wisdoms of nature is the study of ma’aseh Bereishit (account of Creation), and as the Gaon of Vilna said, whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences, lacks a hundred portions of knowledge of the Torah.

It is now possible to understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, since this mitzvah forces us to study Torah in the highest, deepest and most accurate way, in order to guide our work in the settlement of the land, according to the mitzvot of Hashem, and to sanctify our lives here in the Holy Land.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.