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Behar-Bechukosai: Let Go, Let G-d

Trust is a peculiar thing. To some degree, trust is often illustrated in media and literature as something to be gained or lost, some elusive construct or feeling, some binding contract between people and societies and entities that seems to have a lasting impact on relationships, science, and history. Sometimes, trust is depicted as a feeling one builds toward another over time, after one follows another’s advice and sees that things turn out okay (see: trusting your doctor, parents, or stock broker). Other times, trust is something that is acquired in an instant through a “leap of faith,” a behavioral affirmation through which one throws oneself into action at the complete mercy of another (see: princess Jasmine jumping aboard the magic carpet following Aladdin’s imploring, heartfelt, “do you trust me?”). Sometimes, however, trust is something we lean upon when we are forced to disengage our own tendency to control and allow others to take the lead instead (see: the evolution of a “trust fund,” money that you cannot manipulate and, though it is yours, is entirely at the liberty of a third party). Trust is indeed complicated.

Parshas Behar delineates the laws of the Shmittah cycle and the prohibition of working the land in the seventh year (25:2). In his sefer Sichos Mussar, R’ Chaim Shmulevitz quotes the Yalkut on Tehilim (103:20), which refers to those people who observe the laws of Shmittah as “giborei koach,” individuals possessing a singular strength. This strength is compared to that of angels, heavenly ministers who do nothing but God’s bidding. The Sifsei Chaim notes that this is truly remarkable: what is so special about those who observe Shmittah that they are compared to angels?

R’ Chaim Shmulevitz cites the Gemara in Shabbos (88a), describing how when the Jewish people declared “Naaseh V’Nishma,” we will do first, and then we will analyze, this elevated them to the level of angels. Angels do not have free will, for they lack the ability to discern between right and wrong that comes with the urge for wrongdoing. Angels do not think about their mission or analyze the reasons for their bidding; angels are thusly called because they are perfect, flawless, and without any desire but to serve God. Angels act first, and think later, if at all. The reason that Klal Yisrael was held to this standard through Naaseh V’Nishma was because, as we discussed previously, acting first and thinking later is not necessarily a natural human instinct (unless you’re an adolescent living in the thrill of the moment). Most individuals, and certainly most Jews, want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing - we like to analyze, to understand, to question, to re-think, to consider and reconsider. Naaseh V’Nishma was a moment of unique strength, because it was in that moment that we jumped in and said, “we will do this – we can think about the consequences later.” This is bitachon, trust in God.

Those who observe Shmittah are compared to angels and attributed this super-human strength because keeping Shmittah goes entirely against the natural instincts of any person. To allow one’s land to lie fallow for an entire year after six years of working the land is not exactly completely logical according to the average farmer’s almanac. Those who keep Shmittah are engaging in the ever-applicable catchphrase, “let go, let God;” they are participating in a global trust fall with God, freefalling into the unknown, relinquishing all control and having faith in God’s promise that He will provide.

Sometimes trust means taking action, engaging in the behavioral experiment, doing the thing we’re afraid of and trusting in those who tell us it is for our benefit. Sometimes, though, it is even more difficult to refrain from action than it is to take an action about which we are skeptical. Shmittah is a particularly poignant characterization of this latter type of Bitachon.

This kind of trust is commonly seen in parenting, particularly of pre-teen and teenaged children. If you’ve been a teenager or are a parent of one, you know exactly what I mean. As a child and adolescent psychologist, I find myself constantly discussing this with parents. Parents want to foster autonomy in their children but find it impossibly difficult to relinquish control and stop “helicoptering” for long enough to allow their children’s independence to flourish. Children complain that they don’t think their parents trust them, and parents laugh sheepishly while I nod understandingly, recognizing that of course they don’t really trust their kids! For many parents of pre-teens and teens, trust means letting go, stepping back, holding one’s breath, and allowing kids to navigate the world to some degree on their own. Of course, it’s ironic, because for the first ten to fifteen years of their lives, children are constantly surrendering power and control to their parents, allowing parents to manage their affairs and trusting them to do so. Shmittah is exactly this kind of trust.

Later on in our double Torah portion, in Parshas Bechukosai, Hashem promises us “im bechukosai teleichu,” if we walk in God’s statutes, we will receive abundant blessing (26:3). Rav Wolbe notes that the Pasuk does not say “im bechukosai tilmidu,” if you learn my statutes, or even if you perform my statues. Rather, the verse uses the word “teleichu,” which means to walk. This, too, echoes the idea that Torah Judaism is not just about learning, knowing, or analyzing, but about performing, about doing the Mitzvos and practicing the laws.

However, there is a beautiful idea noted by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb in his book, The Person in the Parsha. He quotes the Ohr HaChaim, who notes that one of the core differences between humans and animals is that we humans can walk – and more importantly, we can determine where we go, and when we go, and if we go. Hashem’s entreaty to “walk in [His] ways,” highlights that as human beings, we are different than both animals, who have no ability to walk, and angels, who do not have any evil inclination. As humans who are “holchim,” literally walkers, those who go forth in the world, we can choose to take action or refrain from action, and in that choice lies our bitachon, our abilty to trust God.

During these difficult times, we are faced with a pandemic of inaction. Forced to refrain from productivity to a large degree, some people are literally out of a job, while others must refrain from the kind of active Torah Judaism or social or professional lifestyle they are used to. We must all find ways to make meaning of this struggle, and to recognize that while this inactivity is not necessarily by choice, it is an opportunity for the land to rest, so to speak. Like Shmittah, these times are fraught with uncertainty and force us to go against our natural inclinations. Like those Giborei Koach, those resilient farmers whose faith is so strong, we, too, can embody the kind of Bitachon that is required to let go, and let God take the reins.

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