Wisdom from an Ant
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (6:6), “Go to the ant, lazy one; see its ways
and become wise. For it has no commander, policeman or ruler, yet it
prepares its bread in the summer and stores away its food at the harvest.”
R’ Yehoshua ibn Shuiv z”l (Spain; 14th century) explains that this verse
teaches two important lessons, one relating to the body and one to the soul.
First, man must make appropriate efforts to provide for his own needs. One
should avoid laziness and practice diligence. Our Sages have taught: If you
make an effort, you will be blessed; otherwise, you will not. At the same
time, one may not take pride in his wealth because even diligence is
unavailing without G-d's blessing.
Second, this verse teaches that man must prepare provisions in this life for
the World-to-Come. One must be diligent about this, for one does not know
when he will run out of time. This is why our Sages taught: Repent one day
before you die, which means every day, for one never knows when he will die.
Moreover, even if one did know how long he has, should he therefore waste
his best years?
R’ ibn Shuiv continues: To accomplish the above goals, Hashem gave us three
types of intelligence, referred to in the fourth berachah of Shemoneh Esrei
as “De’ah,” “Binah” and “Haskel.” These refer respectively to the ability
to understand nature, the ability to understand the Torah, and the ability
to attain prophecy. These are alluded to as well in our parashah by the
mitzvah to appoint a king to deal with worldly matters, the mitzvah to
appoint a sanhedrin to decide Torah matters, and the mitzvah to obey a
prophet. (Derashot R”Y ibn Shuiv)
“So that [the king’s] heart does not become haughty over his brethren
and not turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will have years
over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Yisrael.” (17:20)
R’ Hillel Lichtenstein z”l (1814-1891; rabbi of Kolomyia, Galicia) writes:
We learn in Pirkei Avot, “If his fear of Heaven precedes his wisdom, his
wisdom will persist.” Fear of Heaven is the foundation for remembering
This may be alluded to in our verse, R’ Lichtenstein writes. Our Sages say
that if one is haughty, his wisdom will be forgotten. And, there is an
expression in the Gemara, “Who are royalty? Torah scholars!” Thus, our
verse could be read: If one is not haughty and one does not deviate right or
left from the mitzvot, i.e., he has fear of Heaven, then he and his
descendants will remain royalty, i.e., Torah scholars. (Shiyarei Maskil
“The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say, ‘Who is
the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house,
and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart’.” (20:8)
Rashi z”l writes: Rabbi Akiva said that these words are meant literally,
referring to a person who is afraid to go into battle where he will see
swords and blood. Rabbi Yose Ha’Gelili, however, says that it refers to a
person who is afraid of the sins he has committed. [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Yerucham Halevi Levovitz z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva; died
1936) asks: Isn’t fear of sin praiseworthy? Why should a person who
experiences fear of sin be disqualified from serving in the army of Yisrael?
He explains: There are two types of “fear of sin.” We read (Tehilim 100:2),
“Serve Hashem with joy.” Elsewhere, we read (Tehilim 2:11), “Serve Hashem
with fear.” Aren’t these instructions contradictory? Rabbeinu Yonah z”l
(Spain; died 1263) explains that they are not in conflict. In everyday
situations, “joy” and “fear” are mutually exclusive, but when we recognize
G-d’s greatness and fear Him because of it, it is an uplifting and joyful
R’ Levovitz continues: The fear of sin which is praiseworthy is that fear
which is joyous and uplifting. That is not the fear of sin of which our
verse speaks. Our verse speaks of a fear of sin that leads to depression.
The uplifting fear of sin goes hand-in-hand with bitachon / trust in G-d.
Yaakov Avinu, for example, feared that he would fall into the hands of Esav
because perhaps he (Yaakov) had sinned, but that did not stop Yaakov from
continuing to pray. In contrast, a person who experiences a depressing fear
of sin will have weakened bitachon. Such a person does not deserve to
experience miracles on the battlefield, so he is better off returning home.
(Shevivei Da’at: Mo’adim p.142)
Rambam z”l writes: “If one transgressed any mitzvah in the Torah -- whether
an affirmative commandment or a negative commandment, whether intentionally
or negligently -- when he repents and returns from his sin, he is obligated
to confess before G-d, Blessed is He.” (Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1)
Many commentaries observe that, according to Rambam, there does not appear
to be a mitzvah to repent. Rather, when one is ready to repent, there is a
mitzvah to follow a certain procedure, which Rambam outlines.
R’ Yosef Gruenwald z”l (the Pupa Rav; died 1984) explains, citing the work
Yismach Moshe, that one cannot be commanded to repent, because the essence
of repentance is regret, which is a feeling. Feelings cannot be commanded;
either one has them or he does not.
However, R’ Gruenwald notes, the Sefer Chareidim does list repentance as a
mitzvah. [The Chareidim lists two aspects to this mitzvah -- one part which
occurs in the individual’s mind, i.e., regret, and a second part which is
spoken, i.e., confession.] R’ Gruenwald explains that although feelings
cannot be commanded, one can be commanded to perform actions that awaken
feelings. In this case, the action that awakens the feeling of regret that
leads to teshuvah is studying mussar works and the laws of teshuvah.
(Quoted in Imrei Vayechi Yosef p.99)
This coming year – 5775 – will be a shemittah / sabbatical year, when
certain agricultural activities are prohibited in Eretz Yisrael. In
preparation, we are devoting a portion of each issue to legal and/or
philosophical aspects of the sabbatical year. The following laws are taken
from Chapter 2 of Sefer Ha’shemittah, by R’ Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky z”l
(1872-1956), a prominent halachic authority in Yerushalayim, probably best
known outside of Israel for his work Gesher Ha’chaim on the laws of
The shemittah includes four general categories of commandments:
1) Letting the earth rest from agricultural work, as the Torah says (Vayikra
25:2), “The land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem.” The Torah also
states (Shmot 34:21), “You shall desist from plowing and harvesting,” and
(Vayikra 25:4-5), “Your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall
not prune; the after-growth of your harvest you shall not reap and the
grapes you had set aside for yourself you shall not pick.”
One does not transgress the law of “You shall desist from plowing and
harvesting” unless he physically works the field of a Jew, whether his own
field or the field of another Jew. However, the owner of a field
transgresses the positive commandment of “The land shall observe a Sabbath
rest for Hashem” if his field is worked by anyone, even a non-Jew. [This
will be discussed in a future issue.]
2) It is a mitzvah to abandon the produce of one’s fields that grows in the
seventh year and to declare it hefker / ownerless, as it is written (Shmot
23:11), “And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and unharvested,
and the destitute of your people shall eat . . .”
All produce that grows on its own, whether on trees or in the fields, must
be treated as hefker. One may bring from them into his house like anything
that he acquired from hefker. However, one may not lock his gardens. One
who does lock his garden or who gathers all of his produce into his house
[at one time] transgresses this positive commandment.
If one did guard his produce, most poskim / halachic authorities hold that
the produce does not thereby become prohibited [although a mitzvah was
Fields adjacent to non-Jewish communities, for example on the borders of
Eretz Yisrael, may be guarded so that they will not be looted. In such a
case, it appears [R’ Tukachinsky writes] that one may bring more than his
immediate needs home at one time; however, one should harvest with a shinui
/ a change from the ordinary method. Of course, even in such a field, one
must let any Jew take from the produce.
3) It is a mitzvah to treat the produce of shemittah with sanctity and not
to market or waste it. This is learned from Vayikra (25:6), “The Sabbath
produce of the land shall be yours to eat,” [i.e., not to market or waste].
This mitzvah includes the requirement to destroy all of the remaining
produce at a certain time, for the next verse continues, “And for your
animal and for the beast that is in your land shall all its crop be to eat.”
[Ed. note: From here our Sages learned that each type of produce of the
shemittah may be eaten only so long as it is found in the wild. This
mitzvah, called “Biur,” will be discussed in a future issue.]
4) The fourth commandment is not dependent upon the Land. It is to forgive
outstanding loans at the end of the shemittah year. [This, too, will be
discussed in a future issue.]
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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