by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 9, 2012
We read in the Torah section of Behar (Vayikra 25:20-22): “And if you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?, behold, we will not sow and not gather in our crops!’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period. 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.”
The famous medieval Biblical commentator R. Ovadiah Sforno (1475-1550) notes in his commentary on the above that G-d’s miracle with regards to the seventh (shmitta) year varied in relation to the level of bitachon (faith in G-d) exhibited by the individual. Whereas one whose level of faith was high would be graced with the miracle of having a year’s yield of produce in the sixth year suffice for three years, a less obvious miracle, one with less faith would receive three years’ quantity of produce in one year, a more obvious miracle.
In his Outlooks and Insights, R. Zev Leff notes that traditional sources say that G-d generally avoids performing obvious miracles, because such miracles can imply that the natural order that G-d created, which He described as “very good,” is lacking in some way and requires periodic adjustment. In reality, however, nature and miracles are both expressions of G-d’s Will. In fact, miracles such as the splitting of the Sea were programmed into nature from the time of the world’s creation. In actuality, miracles are natural events that occur infrequently, whereas nature is miraculous events which occur regularly. Nevertheless, from our point of view, miracles appear as exceptions to the natural order, and, therefore, can diminish our respect for G-d by implying an imperfection in His creation. Consequently, we are not to pray for miracles or derive benefit from the results of miracles. That said, we can understand why the less obvious miracle of one year’s yield lasting for three years was inappropriate compensation for one with a low level of faith. Seeing a normal year’s yield would concern such an individual who would think that such a yield would be insufficient for three years. Such an individual needed to see the sufficient amount of grain “in front of his nose.”
The amazing upshot of the aforementioned, R. Leff points out, is that G-d accepted that need to see the sufficient grain in front of him by providing a three-fold quantity of produce, although the need to do so was only engendered by a weakness and imperfection in the individual’s faith in G-d. Similarly, before our conquest of the land of Israel, G-d told Moses (Devarim 7:22), “And the L-rd your G-d shall thrust these nations from before you little by little; you will not be able to annihilate them quickly, lest the beasts of the field increase against you.” Upon this verse, Rashi comments that, had the children of Israel behaved fully in accordance with His Will, they would not have to fear from any animals, but, since He knew they would sin, G-d extended the period of conquest to accommodate the people’s imperfection.
The above goes hand in hand with an anecdote mentioned by R. Leff in which R. Chaim of Volozhin inquired of his teacher the Gaon of Vilna concerning a teaching of our Sages that one of G-d’s attributes is his being sameach b’chelko (content with his portion). What is there to not be content with being that G-d is by definition complete and perfect and in need of nothing? The Gaon explained that the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the children of Israel, are considered to be G-d’s portion, and He wishes the children of Israel to reach the maximum level of servitude to and belief in Him, He will, nevertheless, accept some of their imperfections and continue to provide for them.
We are commanded by G-d (Devarim 28:9) to “go in His ways.” We are often taken aback by what we see as the weaknesses and imperfections of others. We are revolted by what we see as the sins of others. Are we then to “write them off”? In light of the aforementioned, such an attitude is totally contrary to the Will of G-d and should be summarily subdued. As G-d is accepting of our imperfections, accommodating His actions to our weakness, we should no less be accepting imperfection in others. This is G-d’s way, and as we should be emulating Him, this should be our way.