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May 15, 2015

Getting away with it

by Rabbi Dovid Felt

This year coincides with the seventh year in a cycle that started when Bnei Yisreol inhabited Eretz Yisroel after leaving Egypt. It is vernacularly know as the Shmittah year. This weeks Parsha talks about the mitzvah of Shmittah (allowing the land to lie fallow) and it is distinctively introduced with the clause that it was given on Mount Sinai. It is also a mitzvah of great importance as evidenced by the Torah’s warning that if exile occurs, it will be for failure to observe Shmittah (Leviticus 26:24-35).

There are two unique components to the mitzvah of Shmittah that make it so important. First, it is a test of our Mesiras Nefesh (personal sacrifice), since it requires both the individual and the nation as a whole to refrain from working the land and harvesting crops for an entire year. Second, it highlights the Bitachon (belief in the Divine assurance) we need to have in HKB”H. The Torah promises us that there will be an overabundance of crops in the sixth year, which will suffice for three years (25:21).

The Bnei Yisroel upon settling in Eretz Yisroel observed the mitzvah of Shmittah and found that they suffered no loss by allowing the land to lie fallow, and the economy continued to thrive. So what went wrong how was it that shmittah was violated? Why would Bnei Yisroel take the risk of harsh consequences the Torah warns us about, that will result from transgressing the mitzvah of Shmittah?

Rabbi, Dr. Twersky a Rabbi and a Psychiatrist tells us that, a weakness of human nature is to have a compulsive urge to see if one can “get away with something,” even though rational thought dictates otherwise. He recounts how he has seen this frequently with alcoholics who relapse after a period of sobriety. Bnei Yisroel fell into this same mindset, while they had experienced the blessings that came with keeping Shmittah, they thought they could “get away with it” and capitalize on the additional income by working the land on the seventh year. Rabbi, Dr. Twersky tells that “getting away with it” does not work, it has never worked for the alcoholic, it did not work for our ancestors, and it will not work for us.

This additional, unspoken, message of the Mitzvah of Shmittah is that the word of Hashem is non-negotiable. If you keep the Mitzvos you will be blessed and if unfortunately you don’t the reverse will happen. This is underscored by the Torah singling out the mitzvah of Shmittah as having been given at Har Sinai to teach us that this message holds true for the other 612 Mitzvos. It is also reiterated in Moshe Rabbenu’s last communication to the Bnei Yisroel when he tells them behold “l have placed before you life and good, death and evil. . .and you should choose the good” (Deuteronomy 30:15- 19). The Mitzvah Shmittah is the concrete expression of this principle.

Felt Tips

Our children are more susceptible to this phenomenon of “getting away with it”. Perhaps it is their lack of experience of the consequences; perhaps it is their natural impulsivity coming from their development. We have to factor that in when we parent our children. The innocent request to stay over by a friend may be an opportunity for them to try and get away with ______________ (you can fill in the blank). When your child tells you “Oh there is no school this Sunday” the prudent thing as a parent is to verify it through a third party or to subscribe to the schools newsletter. The flip side to this phenomenon is the curiosity that precedes discovery, which is a part of a child’s maturity. As in everything in life it is about finding the balance and that’s where we as parents are there to help our child.

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