By Rabbi Eli Ozarowski
“Im B’chokutai Telechu… V’natati Gishmechem B’itam V’natnah haaretz yevulah…”
“If you follow my statutes… and I will give your rain in its time and the land will give its produce…” (Vayikra 26:3-4)
Which “chukot” are we talking about for which Hashem will give us this reward? Although Rashi famously comments that the language of “Bechukotai” refers to being “Amelim B’Torah,” toiling in Torah, the Abarbanel advances a different suggestion linking this section to the main mitzvoth of the previous parsha (Behar), Shemitah and Yovel. He claims that the physical rewards in our parsha of adequate rainfall and the land producing fruit are in reality concomitant with fulfilling the land based mitzvoth of Shemitah and Yovel mentioned there (plus other Mitzvot HaTeluyot Baaretz), and these are the “chukot” referred to here. Although rationally we cannot necessarily understand why these mitzvoth make sense, Abarbanel explains that the Torah stresses the reward for these mitzvoth to demonstrate that our mesirut nefesh, self sacrifice, for the land to fulfill Hashem’s command will cause Hashem to respond accordingly by giving us what we need from the land as well [see inside at length for how he weaves this explanation through the rest of the berachot in our parsha]. This connection between the berachot here and the mitzvoth of Shemitah and Yovel in last week’s parsha is also supported by the fact that in the Tochachah which follows immediately thereafter, one of the punishments mentioned is “Az Tirtzeh Haaretz es Shabsosesa,” “Then the land will be appeased for its “Shabatot, (26:34)” which Rashi (pesukim 34 and 35) explains to mean that the land will remain desolate as punishment for all of the years that the Jews did not properly let the land rest during Shemitah and Yovel. If one of the punishments for “Im B’chukotai Timasu,” “if you despite my statutes (26:15),” is the land being punished for lack of Shemitah observance, it stands to reason that the berachah of “Im Bechukotai Telechu” also refers to the same mitzvah.
According to the Abarbanel, the Torah is teaching us a tremendous lesson here. Sometimes we think that we have to give up or sacrifice in order to fulfill the tenets of Judaism. We may feel that in order to learn Torah, we need to give up something, such as socializing with our friends or starting our college education. We may feel that in order to buy proper matzah or give tzedaka, we need to part with significant sums of money. But we learn from the blessings in our parsha, that in actuality we gain from keeping the Torah precisely in the area where we would have thought that we’d lose out. From this perspective, we can appreciate the Gemara (Taanis 9a) that homiletically interprets the pasuk of “עשר תעשר” “Aser Taaser– you shall surely give your tithes (Devarim 14:22),” as “עשר בשביל שתתעשר” “Aser Bishvil SheTitasher– you should give tithes so that you get rich.” It is the act of giving money for a worthy cause such as Tzedakah that causes Hashem to ensure that we have sufficient means to support ourselves.
The following astounding testimony about Moshav Komemiyut, one of the few religious moshavim in Israel in 1950, beautifully illustrates this point. [shortened from http://www.jewish-holiday.com/farmshmittah.html; an expanded story can be found at http://www.arachimusa.org/Index.asp?ArticleID=634&CategoryID=280&Page=1]
I was among the original founders of the Komemiyut agricultural settlement in southern Israel.
Our second year, Fall 1950-Summer 1951, coincided with the “Shmitah” Sabbatical year when the Torah forbids agricultural work.
We were among the few settlements in Israel then who observed the Sabbatical Laws. We refrained from working the land, concentrating instead on building, completing much of our permanent housing that year. Our moshav gradually developed and expanded, families moved in, and by the end of the year we were eighty people.
As the Sabbatical year drew to a close, we prepared to renew our farming. We needed seed to grow crops, but could only use wheat from the sixth year preceding Shmitah, for the Seventh Year’s produce is forbidden. We visited the agricultural settlements in the area, seeking good quality seed from previous years, but found none.
All we could find was old seed in a shed at Kibbutz Gat. No farmer in his right mind would consider using such poor seed for planting. The kibbutzniks burst into laughter when we told them we were actually interested in this infested grain that had been rotting for a few years in a dark, murky corner…
We consulted with our Rabbi Mendelson, who encouraged us. “Use it. The A-lmighty who causes wheat to sprout from good seed, will bless your inferior seed as well.”
Having no alternative, we loaded the old infested seed and returned to Komemiyut.
The Shemittah laws forbade us to turn over the soil till after Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the eighth year, so we didn’t actually sow the seed until November, -two or three months after the other farmers completed their planting.
That year, the rains were late in coming. The farmers from all the kibbutzim and moshavim desperately waited for the first rain, but the heavens were unresponsive.
Finally it rained. When? The day after we completed planting our thousand dunam of wheat fields with those wormy seeds, the rains poured down on the parched earth.
We were nervous in anticipation, but strengthened our faith and trust in G-d. And it didn’t take long time for the hand of the Al-mighty to be revealed.
The wheat fields planted during the Seventh Year, months before the first rain, sprouted small weak crops. At the same time, our fields, sowed with the old infested seed long after the appropriate season, were covered with an unusually large and healthy yield.
The story spread quickly. Farmers from all over our region came to see the “Komemiyut miracle” with their own eyes.
May we merit seeing the fulfillment of Hashem’s blessings in our days for our Mesirut Nefesh in building up the land of Israel and the other mitzvoth that we struggle to keep.
Originally appears on YU Torah