Parashas Kedoshim, Part 2

In this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Vayikra 19:23): “When you come to the land, and you plant any fruit tree, you shall treat its [initial] fruit as sealed off; for three years it shall be sealed off from you – it shall not be eaten” (this is the mitzvah of orlah). The Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3):
At the beginning of His creation of the world, the Holy One Blessed Be He engaged first in planting, as it is written (Bereishis 2:8): “And God planted a garden in Eden.” You, also, when you enter the land, you should engage first in planting, as it is written (our verse): “When you come to the land, [and you plant] ….”
The Midrash then expounds further on the verse, building on the following passage (Koheles 2:2-4):
I did great things: I built myself houses and planted myself vineyards. I made for myself gardens and orchards, and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made for myself reservoirs of water from which to irrigate a forest growing with trees.
The Midrash states (Vayikra Rabbah 25:4):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: “Tell the forefathers, ‘I have done great things with your children, in accord with everything I stipulated with you. I build for Myself houses, as it is written (Devarim 6:11): “And houses full of all good things.” I planted for Myself vineyards, as it is written (ibid.): “Vineyards and olive-trees that you did not plant.” I made for Myself reservoirs of water, as it is written (ibid. 6:11, ibid. 8:7): “Hewn cisterns” – “Springs and deep water sources.” To irrigate from them a forest growing with [non-fruit] trees. (Said R. Levi: “Not even wooden sticks for making arrows did the Land of Israel lack.”) I made for Myself gardens and orchards, as it is written (ibid 8:8): “A land of wheat and barley.” I planted within them all kinds of fruit trees, as it is written (our verse): “When you come to the land, and you plant ….”’”
In his commentary on this week’s parashah in Ohel Yaakov, and in his commentary on the passage in Koheles, the Maggid analyzes the above two Midrashim.
The first Midrash indicates that Hashem issued an edict obligating those entering the Land of Israel to plant all kinds of fruit trees immediately upon entry. The second Midrash, on the other hand, indicates that Hashem Himself filled the land with all forms of good, even down to wooden sticks for making arrows. Moreover, in the passage in Devarim 6 that Vayikra Rabbah 25:4 builds on, Hashem states that all the resources He lists would be already in place when the Jewish People entered the land, without their having developed them. If so, why would they need to take up planting as their first act upon entering the land, as if they had entered a desolate area and needed to put forth their own effort to develop it? We can ask a similar question about the passage in Koheles. If Shlomo HaMelech wanted houses, vineyards, and so on, he could easily have bought them. Why, then, did he build these things himself?
To answer these questions, and thereby draw out the message of our passage, the Maggid directs us to a basic teaching. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 36:7): “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the great deep. You save both man and beast, Hashem.” The Midrash remarks (Vayikra Rabbah 27:1): “Just as the mountains subdue the [waters of] the deep, so that they do not flood the world, so, too, righteousness subdues misfortunes, so that they do not come upon the world.” The idea behind this teaching is as follows. Our physical desires are themselves our misfortunes, for they are what bring misfortune upon us. They are like the currents of the great watery deep. If not for the mountains, these currents would flood the world. Similarly, the currents of physical desire that race within us, if unchecked, would lead us to follow the whims of our hearts and forget about Hashem – the One Who provides the power behind everything we do. We would succumb completely to our desires. The only force keeping us from going under is the Torah. The mitzvos of the Torah are what subdue our physical desires.
Hashem gave us mitzvos to accompany our every act. Thus, the Midrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni I:766, slightly paraphrased):
No one, not even the lowliest commoner, puts a piece of bread into his mouth without first fulfilling [a whole series of] mitzvos. How so? When he plows, he fulfills the mitzvah of not plowing with an ox and a donkey together. When he plants, he fulfills the mitzvah of not planting a forbidden mixture of seeds. When he reaps, he fulfills the mitzvos of leaving over for the poor the corner of his field, the gleanings, and the forgotten sheaves. When he threshes, he fulfills the mitzvah of not muzzling his ox while it is threshing. When he stores his grain, he fulfills the mitzvah of terumah (the Kohen’s portion) and the mitzvah of the first and second tithes. When he bakes, he fulfills the mitzvah of challah (giving some of the dough to a Kohen).
Similarly, when a person builds a house, he must fulfill a number of mitzvos. Likewise, there are mitzvos associated with food and clothing. And even when he is on the road, he has mitzvos to fulfill, such as the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking eggs or chicks from a nest. In short, every single act that a person does to take care of his needs involves a number of positive and negative mitzvos. These mitzvos subdue misfortunes and keep a person from falling into the clutches of the yetzer hara. And Hashem judiciously fashioned the mitzvos to suit their purpose, just as He did with the mountains. Yeshayah HaNavi states that Hashem “weighted the mountains with a scale and the hills with a balance” (Yeshayah 40:12). That is, Hashem configured the mountains and hills in accord with their function of subduing the waters of the deep: He put mighty mountains in the places where the currents of the deep are strong, and gentle hills in the places where the currents are gentle. Hashem followed the same strategy with the mitzvos. He carefully analyzed every human activity, and for activities that involve a high level of physical desire – with its consequent threat to a person’s soul – He developed a multitude of mitzvos, in order to subdue the yetzer hara. This is the message of Vayikra Rabbah 27:1. Without the Torah and mitzvos that are associated with every human activity, in just the right measure, a person’s soul would be deluged by the many waves of desire that race within him.
We can now understand why Shlomo developed his great land assets on his own rather than acquiring them from someone else. When a person builds something on his own, meticulously observing the corresponding mitzvos, his righteous conduct serves as a buffer that keeps his evil inclination from leading him astray. Without this buffer, one cannot be secure. Indeed, after telling us that He is bringing us into a land full of ready-made resources, Hashem warned us to guard ourselves from forgetting Him (Devarim 6:12). Hence, Shlomo did not trust himself to acquire his land assets from others and enjoy them straightaway. He wished instead to develop them himself, so that the mitzvos he fulfilled in the process would guard him against the pull of desire, and thus protect him from misfortune.
And this is the idea behind the Midrashim we began with. The first Midrash teaches that Hashem ordered us to plant fruit trees upon entering the Land of Israel. We are led to wonder why. The second Midrash points to the answer. Hashem tells us that He filled the Land of Israel with ready-made resources in order to fulfill His promise to our forefathers. But the panoply of ready-made resources posed a risk of spiritual degeneration. This is why Hashem ordered us to plant fruit trees on our own as well – so that would fulfill the corresponding mitzvos and thereby be sheltered from all evil.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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