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Parashat Behar - Feeding on Faithfulness

Feeding on Faithfulness

Further thoughts on Parashat Behar

by John J. Parsons

[ Note: The following page concerns the weekly Torah portion of Behar
Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here.

In this week's Torah portion (Behar) we learn that God commanded the Jews not to work the fields during the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land was to lie fallow and not be seeded or harvested (Lev. 25:4). This "Sabbath for the land" was called Shenat Ha-Shemittah (שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה), or the "Shemittah year." It is further called a "Sabbath for the LORD" (שַׁבָּת לַיהוה). Any produce of the field or trees that grow during the Shemittah could not be sold and were simply free for the taking, and any private loans were canceled as well.  As you might imagine, in an agricultural economy the observance of the shemittah year presented a real test of faith, since it required complete trust (emunah shelemah) that the LORD would provide despite "letting go" of the usual means of doing business... In response to the natural question, "What will we eat in the seventh year?" (Lev. 25:20), the LORD promised to regularly bless the preceding harvest to last for three years - the sixth, the seventh (shemittah), and the eighth - because planting was not permitted in the shemittah year (Lev. 25:21).

The sages note that the underlying blessing from heaven is actually the gift of contentment (שְׂבִיעוּת רָצוֹן), or being completely satisfied with little.  Rashi stated that the preceding promise, "you will eat to be satisfied" (Lev. 25:19) meant that "in your intestines there will be a blessing."  This idea is repeated parashat Bechukotai when the blessings of obedience are described (Lev. 26:5). The blessing to be satisfied - to be free of inner craving, to be unconstrained by lust, hunger, etc. - is considered a greater miracle than even the threefold provision of harvest promised for observing shemittah. Indeed, it is often the sign of a curse to be well-off, since the rich tend to forget God and vainly believe that their own efforts bring them blessing (see Deut. 8:17). As David wrote, "Let their table be a snare for them..." (Psalm 69:22; Rom. 11:9).

When we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, "all these things" will be added to us (Matt. 6:25-33). Those who have faith and do not question whether God will provide for them are thereby enabled to receive miraculous provision from God. Moses lived 40 days and nights on Sinai without food because he trusted that God would meet his needs (Exod. 24:18). Likewise, the wilderness generation never worried about shoes and clothing, and therefore these things never wore out (Deut. 8:4; 29:4). On the other hand, the manna that fell from heaven might have been given as a concession to human frailty, since Israel would have miraculously survived without food just as Moses had on the mountain as they made the journey from Sinai to Zion.  According to midrash, the manna itself tasted either satisfying or repulsive based on the attitude and faith of each person. For those who believed in the goodness of God, the manna tasted delectable; for those who mistrusted God, it tasted like gravel in the mouth.

Ultimately it may be said that God satisfies us based on our desire or will. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done for you" (Matt. 8:13, 9:29). "Let it be as you have trusted." This idea is also expressed by King David in the Psalms:

פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת־יָדֶךָ וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל־חַי רָצוֹן׃

po·te'ach  et-ya·de·kha  u·mas·bi·a  le·khol-chai  ra·tzon

"You open your hand and satisfy the desire
 of every living thing"
(Psalm 145:16)


The LORD sustains us according to the expression of our ratzon (will or desire). When we eat food, the hunger within us is a signal of our will to live, and God in His goodness provides food for us to eat. God rewards people according to their desires: the wicked in this world and the righteous in the world to come. Often the righteous do not receive any reward for their faith in this world and yet the wicked seem tranquil and content. Indeed, the Midrash states, "From the righteous, God collects payment in this world for the misdeeds they have committed, in order to give them reward in the World to Come; which God gives peace to the wicked in this world, paying them for the few good deeds they have done, so as to inflict punishment upon them in the World to Come." According to their desires, God rewards the wicked in this world and the righteous in the world to come. As C.S. Lewis once said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"

    Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

In this connection, Kierkegaard tells the story of a poor old couple that possessed nothing but poverty. As they grew older, their anxiety about the future increased:

    They did not assail heaven with their prayers, for they were too pious for that; but nevertheless they continually cried to heaven for help. Then it happened one morning that the wife, going out to the oven, found a precious stone of great size upon the hearth. She immediately showed the stone to her husband, who saw at once that they were well supplied for the rest of their life. A bright future for this old couple – what joy! Yet, God-fearing as they were, and content with little, they resolved that since they had enough to live upon for another day, they would sell the jewel not that day, but the following. And then a new life would begin.

    That night the woman dreamed that she was transported to paradise. An angel took her around and showed her all the glories an oriental imagination could invent. Then the angel led her into a hall where there were long rows of armchairs adorned with pearls and precious stones, which, the angel explained, were for the devout. Finally the angel showed her the chair that was intended for her. Looking more closely, the woman saw a large jewel was missing from the back of the seat. She asked the angel how that had come about.

    Now be alert, here comes the story! The angel answered, "That was the precious stone you found on the hearth. You received it in advance, and so it cannot be inserted again." In the morning the woman related the dream to her husband. She felt they should hold on to the stone for a few years longer rather than let the precious stone be absent throughout eternity. And her devout husband agreed. So, that evening they laid the stone back on the hearth and prayed to God that he would take it back. In the morning, sure enough, it was gone. Where it had gone the old couple knew: it was now in its right place. (Attack upon Christendom, 246)

In the end, you can only "keep" what you give away (John 12:25). This old couple's treasure was stored in the "right place," free from the vanity and illusions of this world and its comforts, and free from the concessions made to human frailty that would result in an eternal loss...

Feed on Faithfulness

The blessing we regularly recite over bread (hamotzi lechem) is really a prophecy of sorts. "Blessed are You, Lord our God, who will bring bread up from the earth." This applies first of all to the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead, but it also applies to Yeshua as lechem ha-chayim (לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים), the Bread of Life (John 6:35). We may not be tested to see whether the LORD will provide for us in obedience to His commandment to observe the Shemittah year, but the principle of being fed by faith still applies to us:

בְּטַח בַּיהוה וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב שְׁכָן־אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה׃

be·tach  ba·Adonai va·a·seh-tov,  she·chon-e·retz  ur·reh  e·mu·nah

Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on faithfulness.
(Psalm 37:3)

Are you trusting in the Lord's care for your life, despite the shock waves of a world that is beginning to face judgment?  Are you "feeding on the faithfulness" of God? Or are you more anxious about the present economy than about your future life in heaven? God has promised to never leave nor forsake you (Josh. 1:5, Heb. 13:5). Where is your treasure being stored, chaverim?  The trials and testings of this life are meant to prepare us for eternity. They are God-given opportunities to exercise faith! We have one chance to walk this life and then we face judgment. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). I pray we do not miss the reward that comes from living in genuine faith in God's Presence and provision.

לא אַרְפְּךָ וְלא אֶעֶזְבֶךָ

lo ar·pe·kha  v'lo  e·ez·ve·kha

"I will not fail you nor abandon you" (Josh. 1:5)

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