Parashat Bechukotai begins with God’s description of the great blessings He promised to bestow upon Benei Yisrael in reward for their faithful compliance with His laws. These blessings include material prosperity, an abundance of produce to the point where “you will eat very aged produce, and you will remove the old because of the new” (26:10). Rashi explains the first half of this verse to mean that the produce would remain fresh for an extended period, thus allowing the people to eat the land’s yield even long after the harvest. In the second half of the verse – “you will remove the old because of the new,” Rashi explains, God foresees that the people would have to remove old produce from the warehouses to make room for the newly harvested produce. Ibn Ezra cites those who explain that the old grain would be brought to the fields to be planted and reproduced. The Rashbam writes that the old produce would be taken out to be sold. According to Seforno, the old grain would be used to feed members of other nations.
Rav Yisrael of Modzhitz, in Divrei Yisrael (Parashat Bamidbar), suggests that this description might also serve as a symbol of the constant renewal for which we must strive in our religious lives. Each day, the Divrei Yisrael writes, we must endeavor that “yashan mipenei chadash totziu” – that we remove the old to make way for the new. Rather than feel content with our past accomplishments, we should “remove” these successes from our minds and focus our attention on the “new” – the new possibilities and opportunities which currently present themselves. The agricultural surplus which God foresees may be seen as a model for the ongoing process of growth that we should seek to undergo each day. Just as the farmers are described as removing the old grain from their warehouses to make space for the new produce, so must we try to overcome the tendency to feel content and complacent with what we’ve already achieved, and commit ourselves to greater achievement.
The Divrei Yisrael’s comments to this verse bring to mind the story told in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) of Rabbi Zeira, who, upon moving from Babylonia to Israel, sought to forget all the Torah knowledge he had accumulated in the Babylonian academies. He wanted so desperately to forget his Torah that he observed one hundred fasts, pleading to God that he should lose his knowledge. One approach to understanding Rabbi Zeira’s conduct is that he sought to ensure that his past scholarly accomplishments would not lead to complacency and stagnation. He left Babylonia in order to explore new horizons of Torah scholarship under the scholars of the Land of Israel. For this venture to succeed, he would have to remove the “old grain” from his “warehouse,” to put aside everything he’s achieved until then, so he could ambitiously pursue new information, new styles, and new methods. Rabbi Zeira thus exemplified the blessing of “yashan mipenei chadash totziu,” of constantly striving to build upon past success, instead of falling into complacency. He showed that we must never allow our “old grain” to hold us back, but we must instead use all that we’ve accomplished as a foundation for further progress.