parasha

Partnership, Faith, and Humility

Acharei Mot – Kedoshim 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In the Torah portion Kedoshim – one of the two portions we read this week – we read about the commandment, the mitzvah, of “orla”, the use of the fruit that grows on a tree its first three years.

“When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten.

(Leviticus 19, 23)

This commandment, which is only for the Land of Israel, is meant to teach people humility and act as a reminder of who the true owner of the harvest is – G-d, the Creator of the Universe.  For that, the person who plants the tree has to wait three years until he can eat from its fruit.  But sages saw the beginning of the verse as one that stands alone: “When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree”.  They explained it in the midrash as follows:

Even though you find it (i.e., the land) full of all bounty, you shall not say, ‘Let us settle down and not plant.’ Rather, be careful in planting, as stated (ibid., cont.), ‘and plant any tree for food.’ Just as you came in and found plantings which others had planted, so you shall plant for your children, lest someone say, ‘Since I am old and tomorrow I shall die, why should I toil for others.’”

(Midrash Tanchuma on Kedoshim, siman 8)

If we carefully read the title of the parasha - “Kedoshim tihyu”, you shall be holy – we understand that praise of labor is not be taken lightly.  But when we recall the rationale for the command to be holy, “for I, the Lord, your G-d, am holy”, we might wonder: Is the value of labor so significant as to create a comparison between G-d and man?

The explanation for the significance given to labor in Judaism can be found in the expression of our sages in relation to man who fulfills some of the commandments: “As though he became a partner of the Blessed be He in the act of creation”. Man has the choice of being passive, enjoying the world as a guest, or being active and creative, advancing the world as a partner of G-d’s.  The main difference between a guest and a partner is in the sense of responsibility.  A guest does not have any responsibility for what happens.  If the atmosphere somewhere turns bad, he can leave and go home.  But a partner can’t.  He is responsible for what happens, and if something needs to be fixed, he needs to figure out how to make it better.

It is interesting to note that even in the most idyllic place described in the Torah, the Garden of Eden, man had jobs.  He had “to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2, 15).  Even in the prophetic description described by Isaiah, he does not talk of a world of idleness, but one in which “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2, 4).  The nations will not fight one another and will put down their arms.  And what will they do with their unnecessary arms?  They will turn them into tools – plowshares and pruning hooks.

G-d’s call to man to be a partner in the act of creation means that man has a great deal of responsibility, but it is not on him alone.  Just as it would be a mistake to shirk human responsibility for the repair of the world, so man could, with relative ease in light of his incredible technological success, forget about the existence of the first partner – G-d.

Actually, when we think about it, man is asked to take responsibility for repairing the world, but not to forget his limitations.  There is no guarantee that man will succeed.  Man can and should give, to the best of his ability, of his talents and wisdom, yet success is not guaranteed.  The success of any creation, investment, start-up, or technological development is dependent on many variables that man does not control. This is where the faith, prayer, and humility that Judaism teaches us come in.

 

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