SALT - Tuesday, 19 Av 5778 - July 31, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Jeffrey Paul Friedman z"l
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
ז"ל יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
          Parashat Eikev begins with a description of the blessings God promises to bestow upon Benei Yisrael in reward for their compliance with His laws, including the promise, “…and He will bless the fruit of your belly and the fruit of your land” (7:13).  The Midrash (Devarim Rabba 3:5) finds it significant that the Torah juxtaposes the blessing of children and the blessing of agricultural success, suggesting a link between these two blessings.  Interestingly, however, the Midrash offers two opposite explanations for this link.  It first comments, “The Almighty said: Just as the fruit of your land has refuse, so does the fruit of your belly have refuse.”  The Midrash here appears to make the point that just as even the tastiest agricultural produce first emerges together with “refuse,” with dirt and other undesirable matter which needs to be removed, similarly, all people emerge from the womb with “refuse,” with negative traits that need to be eliminated.  However, the Midrash then comments, “Alternatively: Just as the fruit of your land have no sin or iniquity, similarly, the fruit of your belly shall have no sin and no iniquity.”  According to this reading, the Midrash underscores the obligation to try to ensure that children will grow to be faithfully committed to God’s laws, and will live without “sin or iniquity.”
            While at first it might seem jarring that the Midrash offers two such drastically different, and even opposing, perspectives on this association, in truth, the two readings go hand-in-hand.  The Midrash here seeks to teach us precisely that the reality of “refuse,” that we enter this world with ingrained, negative characteristics and tendencies, does not in any way absolve us of the need to work towards living our lives free of sin and iniquity.  The Torah’s demands are not imposed only upon those who are without “refuse,” who are naturally pure and spiritually inclined.  To the contrary, the Torah recognizes the fact that few, if any, such people exist.  The Torah’s commands are intended specifically for us, for complex beings who must occasionally – and often – struggle with our sinful tendencies in an effort to remain faithful to God’s commands. 
            The Midrash’s comments also remind us that we ought not feel ashamed or disadvantaged by our ingrained negative inclinations, by the numerous faults in our characters that we must so often struggle against in our quest to follow the Torah’s laws and values.  The “refuse” in our beings is as natural as the chaff produced by the ground together with the grain.  We should feel no more ashamed or disturbed by our natural human weaknesses than a farmer is about the dirt that needs to be separated from his produce.  The process of personal growth is not all that different from the process of growing agricultural produce, as both involve a long process of hard work, effort and struggle, a process whose results invariably differ from one year to the next.  The “refuse” that we need to eliminate is a natural, expected, and integral part of this process.  Chazal here teach us that we should strive and work to overcome our sinful inclinations, rather than feel distressed over, or hampered by, these weaknesses.  Religious life, like agriculture, is all about hard work, striving to produce the best possible yield given the numerous challenges and obstacles that arise over the course of the long, complicated process.