In honor of the birth of our great-granddaughter, Chaya Leah Becker,
daughter of Reuven Becker and Sara Becker Lopes Cardozo
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land.” (1)
This blessing is promised to the people of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which, in turn, will continue into the planting season.
Rashi (2), quoting Torat Kohanim (Sifra), makes an extraordinary statement. He says the verse is teaching us that “even if you eat only a little, it will be blessed in your stomach.” He seems, then, to understand this verse in an entirely different way from what we would have imagined. It appears that it is not the quantity of food that will increase, but the quality. The food that is consumed will be of such high caliber that even in a year that is not especially blessed, eating just a small amount will provide the same benefit as would eating a large amount.
The explanation of the verse, then, as understood by Torat Kohanim and Rashi, would be that very little food will be used by people throughout the entire year, so that the same amount of food normally consumed in a short period of time will last much longer. Thus, the time of threshing will yield enough food to last until the grape harvest, and so on.
There is, however, a completely different way of looking at this verse, which may hold great meaning for our times. The famous thinker and teacher of musar (Jewish ethics), Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (3), alludes to an even greater miracle that is mentioned in our verse. This time, it is not the quality of the food but the spiritual quality of the human being that will be the causal factor.
According to Rabbi Yerucham, there will be no difference between a year that is blessed and one that is not. Both will produce the same amount and the same quality of food. What will determine the outcome is the people’s attitude to their physical possessions. Depending on their spiritual condition, human beings will either be satisfied with what they have, or will not.
To be satisfied is one of the greatest blessings that can ever be bestowed upon human beings. But this blessing has little to do with the amount of food or belongings that people eat or own. A minimum amount of possessions is plenty. The Torah teaches us that when the people of Israel live in accordance with the requirements of the Torah, humanity will be blessed with a mental state in which matters of possession and food will take on a completely different dimension. This attitude is not something that human beings can develop on their own, but will come about only as a result of their approach toward God’s response and the divine. When people will achieve high moral and spiritual attitudes, they will view the world in a very different light. They will live in what Eric Fromm calls the “being and becoming mode.” One acquires one’s essence and happiness through spiritual growth. (4) What is of real importance is not what a person “has” but what a person “is.” And in that moment of realization, satisfaction is no longer the result of possessing more but of being more.
Most remarkably, the Torah emphasizes that, first and foremost, it is human action (observing the commandments) that creates this mindset. Judaism was the first to postulate that mental health and sickness are outcomes of right and wrong living. When people are greedy or ambitious to achieve fame, we see them as annoying and we have contempt for them. They are unhappy individuals, however much they happen to own. The Torah teaches us that they actually suffer from a kind of mental illness, which is the outcome of wrong living.
This idea also relates to the concept of joy. Joy is concomitant with productive activity. It is not a peak experience that ends suddenly, but rather a plateau that is the product of one’s essential human faculties. It is not the ecstatic fire of the moment but the glow that accompanies “being.” It is only with this type of true joy that one is able to be satisfied with the minimum while experiencing it as the maximum.
1. Vayikra 26:5.
2. Ad loc.
3. Rabbi Levovitz (1873-1936) was the mashgiach (spiritual guide) of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland.
4. See Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be, London: Abacus Books, 1976.
Questions to Ponder from the David Cardozo Think Tank:
[We suggest printing out and discussing at your Shabbat table, if you like.]
1) In our chapter, the Torah says, “You shall eat your bread to satiety and you shall dwell in your land in safety (without worry).” In the previous chapter, it says, “And the land shall yield her fruit, and you shall eat to satiety, and dwell therein in safety (without worry).” And in Shemot 16, the Children of Israel say, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we dwelled by the flesh-pots, when we ate bread to satiety; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” In all three cases, satiety is associated with the secure knowledge of a permanent dwelling place, even when this dwelling is under duress. What implications does this have for our attitude toward refugees and homeless people? Is providing food in shelters and soup kitchens sufficient, or does it leave homeless people with full bellies but a lingering fear of hunger?
The stereotype is that Jews eat a lot. If true, could this be a result of a collective memory of 2,000 years of homelessness?
2) The halachot of food are very focused on particular portion sizes, but these are surprisingly small. For example, the Halacha interprets the biblical command to bless God after eating to satiety applicable after consumption of a mere kzait of bread. Kzait means “the size of an olive.” Even the largest estimate is small compared to what a Western mind would deem required for satiety. Furthermore, if bread is not eaten, one must mindfully make the proper blessing before and after consumption of each kind of food, forcing us into a higher state of awareness when eating.
Would such a close awareness of what and how much you are eating contribute to your perception of satiety? And what about the act of blessing God after eating – can that likewise contribute to your feeling of wellbeing?
3) Is it possible to always maintain a way of living by the laws and spirit of Torah such that the blessings of plenty and satiety would be constant? If you experience ups and downs in your own spiritual awareness and living, do you view this as normal, as discouraging, or as encouraging? What happens during the times that inspiration wanes – do you succeed in maintaining commitment and fulfillment in its absence?
4) We now know that the Torah’s command to let the land lie fallow once every seven years is beneficial (albeit not at the level of tripling one’s harvest!) beyond any spiritual benefits that may accrue. Should we take this fact as religious encouragement to implement scientific and agricultural findings in general?
5) The Torah promises bumper crops as a divine reward for good behavior. Should this promise be seen as encouragement to experiment with other ways to increase food production for a growing world population, such as the promotion of veganism as a more ecological and efficient way of producing sufficient, nutritious food? Or should we leave the production of bumper crops in God’s hands and focus on fulfilling the Halacha? (Are these attitudes mutually exclusive?)
6) Do you think there is an element of divine blessing in Israel’s agricultural prominence, and that its world leadership in water treatment, irrigation, hydroponics, vertical farming, etc. is an indication of God’s favor and approval? Or is it rather a result born of necessity? (Are those two things mutually exclusive?)
The Cholim list has been moved to here
If you find Rabbi Cardozo’s articles of value, please consider supporting the Cardozo Academy. To Donate Click Here