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Parshas VaEschanan - Re-SEEDing                  14 Av 5778

07/26/18 16:36:21

Jul26

Growing up in New York city, I never developed an appreciation for agriculture. We had a small patch of grass that made up our lawn which was totally maintained by Tony the Landscaper. I never really developed a ‘green thumb’; the total extent of my interaction with trees, or anything green, was my Friday afternoon job: dusting off the leaves of the tree in the living room in honor of Shabbos!

Moving to California changed my perspective of agriculture because we had a lemon tree in the backyard. Lucky for me (not that I knew any differently), I didn’t have to do a thing to the tree and lo and behold big, beautiful lemons popped off the tree for years. Until there was trouble. From December 2011 to March 2017, the state of California experienced one of the worst droughts to occur in the region on record. The period between late 2011 and 2014 was the driest in California history since record-keeping began. 102 million trees died in total; 62 million died in 2016 alone.

One day during the summer of 2016, I stared at my lemon tree, suddenly realizing that two-thirds of the tree was dead. I was stunned. The issue of the drought didn’t register with me until that very moment. Sure, my water bill had gone up and we stopped watering the lawn, but the fact that my lemon tree was almost dead was unbelievable. At that point I pruned the tree, started watering it every day,, and last week bought garden soil specifically for citrus trees. The tree has a little more life to it but still has a way to go to reach its former days of glory. The front lawn, on the other hand, received a few spritzes of water a few times a week. Most of the grass turned brown, leaving patches of earth exposed. With no end in sight, I thought about ridding the lawn of natural grass and installing a water-free landscape.

The drought came to an official abrupt end and one year later the grass slowly started to rejuvenate. I thought of asking the gardener to re-seed the entire lawn to speed up the process, but I never did. Nevertheless, the grass is slowly growing stronger, but it is not really creating new grass where it had completely dried up. It would require tilling the earth, re-seeding, and watering daily, as though there had never previously been any grass in those areas. I marveled at the once-mighty lawn: a lawn with strong blades of grass boasting a rich deep green color that covered the entire area like a beautiful plush carpet. Now the lawn was alive but due to the lack of water it was drained of its previous vitality, its physical life drying up before my eyes. This condition could be reversed by nourishing the earth with the nutrients it once had and providing daily sustenance such as water and the grooming of its physical body. I came to realize that the lawn had another life, perhaps it was Techiyas HaMeisim, a revival of the dead!

In 2018 every Jew has challenges within their daily lives. Life is always changing and although I am pretty much the same person, I don’t necessarily do the same things I did in the past. By and large everyone I know at one point or another has ups and downs in their religious and spiritual journeys. Many of us go through periods of drought when the demands of life cause us to lose focus on areas of our spiritual beings which require focused care, attention and nurturing. For many of us who have flourished in learning, davening, minyan attendance, doing chessed, performing mitzvos, we have forgotten to keep ourselves “watered”, failing to realize how dry and almost dead we’ve become. It takes awareness of a drought in order to nurse the tree back to its former time of producing the juiciest most delicious fruit. No one should ever think that it is too late; it is never too late to get back and revive ourselves. We are also all intimately connected to the need to be nurtured; like a beautiful fruit tree, we need to conscientiously care for our human roots, branches and leaves. Never give up hope. It’s never too late to put an end to our spiritual drought, as we see in the following narrative from the Navi.

The Navi Yeshayahu in 22:13 states: And behold joy and happiness, slaying cattle and slaughtering sheep, eating meat and drinking wine; ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die.” Rashi explains that Hashem is mourning while the Jews are eating and rejoicing. Instead of worrying about their fate and fearing God’s word, they mocked the prophets and rejoiced. They rejoiced and said, “Since we will eventually die, let us make merry and rejoice as long as we are alive in this world. They said the Nevi’im told them in the name of Hashem that we will not have a share in the World to Come; therefore let us enjoy ourselves during our lifetime.” The Jews at the time believed in the afterlife; they believed that there is a World to Come, but they also believed that they would not have a portion in it. Hundreds of years later, Rambam penned the Thirteen Principles of which one believes with perfect faith that there will be a resurrection in the times of Mashiach. In Judaism there is no denial of another life, but in context of the Navi cited earlier, the Jews at the time felt they were not entitled to it, not that they didn’t believe in it.

We believe life is not only in this world but continues into the next world as pointed out in the Torah. In this week’s Parsha VaEschanan the Torah states in Devarim 4:4: “V’Atem HaDveikim Ba’Hashem Elokeichem, Chayim Kulchem HaYom”. Only you, the ones who remained attached to God your Lord, are all alive today.” The words ‘alive today’ connote today - here in this world and today - in the next world. With reference to the words ‘are all alive today’ the Gemara in Sanhedrin teaches us that the same way you are alive today (physically), so, too, you will be alive in the next world (spiritually). From this we see a hint, or even a proof, that Techiyas HaMeisim - revival of the dead - is a Torah principle.

The Midrash Rabbah 17:6 offers a parable to help us more clearly understand how we can attain this life. Someone who is cast off into the water, The captain of a ship grabs a rope and calls out to a drowning man,”Grab onto this rope with your hand so that I can hoist you up onto the boat or pull you to dry land. Hold tight! Do not let go of the rope! If you let go of the rope, you will have no life.” So, too, Hashem says to B’Nei Yisrael, “As long as you hold onto the Mitzvos and cling to the Torah, then you will live; if not, you are choosing to forego your life in this world and the next.”

Baruch Hashem, I am so pleased how many members have started to address the spiritual drought issue by participating in our annual SEED program. All it takes is some will and desire to cut away the dead parts and add some new ideas and nourish your soul to eat, drink and live for today and continue to eat, drink and live for tomorrow.                                       

Ah Gut Shabbos    Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or Amazon

Mon, December 17 2018 9 Teves 5779