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Cache of the Day: Nissan

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A few years ago I came across a computer farming game. I (as the farmer) proceeded to purchase land, buy seeds, plow, plant a crop on each plowed field, harvest each at the right time, (between one and three days in Computerland), and then repeat all of the above every day so as to avoid the horrific specter of computer-graphic rotting produce.

And found it exhausting. Although my “farm work” — for the week it lasted, and all with the click of a mouse — didn’t begin to approach a millionth of what a real farmer does day in and day out, my inability to keep up with “my farm” gave me a new, lasting appreciation for the dedication of real farmers.

Although I lost nothing concrete by giving up — there was no actual financial outlay, and my family’s livelihood didn’t depend on my getting the harvest in — I do remember feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep track of what to plow, sow, harvest, and purchase, and when, without a break. But I also remember the feeling when all my “crops” were taken perfect care of, the feeling of “I, and I alone, am making this happen.”

The word for farmer in Hebrew is ikar, alef-kaf-reish, also meaning “plow, turn soil over.” Cognate roots include ayin-kuf-reish, to uproot; ches-gimmel-reish, to gird; ches-kuf-reish, to dig; alef-gimmel-reish, to collect; ayin-kaf-reish, to trouble. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch says that all have the basic meaning of concentrating energy. Each one radiates purpose.

The word for the most important part of something is ikar, ayin-kuf-reish. Everything on a farm can be in place — the land, the seeds, the plows, the fully grown produce — but if there is no farmer overseeing each step in the process, then either nothing will grow, or produce ready for harvest will rot in the fields. And yet, as crucial as he is, as much as he may be the ikar, the “farmer,” he is not the ikar, the “main ingredient.” That is Hashem. That is where our acute focus needs to be. We need to actively make Hashem the focus of our thoughts, because our energy, thoughts, and concentration can so easily be diverted from what’s truly important.

Me’am Lo’ez writes that hamotzi, the brachah over bread, has ten words, because bread comes to the table through the observance of ten mitzvos about bread: 1)do not plow with an ox and donkey together; 2)kilayim: do not plant mixed seeds; 3)leket: leave the gleanings for the poor; 4)shichachah: leave the forgotten bundle of wheat, 5)pei’ah: leave the corner of the field; 6) do not muzzle an animal on the threshing floor; 7) trumah to the Kohein; 8) maaser rishon: first tithe; 9) maaser sheini: second tithe; and 10) hafrashas challah, taking challah.

I also heard that the ten words of hamotzi correspond to the ten steps in the agricultural process that produces bread. Saying hamotzi, (especially for a farmer whose hard work may lead him to feel that the bread is entirely his doing, much more so than we who buy it in the supermarket) reminds us that even though the farmer did do those ten steps, the only reason the bread is there is because of Hashem, Who commands the earth to turn water and seeds into wheat and then ultimately to bread. We bless G-d because without Him those ten steps will produce nothing.

Before bentsching on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim we sing Shir HaMaalos, (Tehillim 126), which includes the words: “Hazor’im b’dim’ah, b’rinah yiktzoru, Those who sow with tears will reap with joyous song; Haloch yelech u’vachoh, nosei meshech hazara, bo yavo b’rinah, nosei alumosav, He who went out weeping, bearing a measure of seed, will come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.”

That’s the usual translation, but Rav Zusha of Anapol (brought by Rav Shmuel Alter in his Likutei Basar Likutei) interprets it differently. Hazor’im, there are two types of people who sow: b’dim’ah, those who sow with tears; and b’rinah, those who sow with joy. [But] Yiktzoru, both will harvest.

Haloch yelech u’vachoh, the one who goes out weeping, nosei meshech hazara, he will bear [only] a measure of seed [one for one]; bo yavo b’rinah, [but] the one who works with joy, nosei alumosav, he will come back carrying sheaves.”

An exodus generally refers to a going out of many people, and that surely describes the three million Jews who left Egypt during Yetziyas Mitzrayim. But there is also a very private, personal aspect to Yetziyas Mitzrayim, in that each of us is commanded to regard ourselves as if we, too, left Egypt.

Prit can mean an object, or a detail, but it also means personal, or private. Pesach is heavy on the details, but although each of us does the same details, the same cleaning, the same search for chometz, keeping the same intricate halachos, some of which — the Korban Pesach and the Seder — are designed specifically to bind us to others as a group, we must each make it a personal, private experience as well. It’s not enough to go out of Mitzrayim just because everyone else is; we must each, actively choose to leave as well, and choose the manner of our leaving.

Will we embark upon our Pesach preparations b’dim’ah, with tears? Complaining the entire time about the cost, and the cleaning, and the kids, and return — although we’ve fulfilled the mitzvah on a practical level — with only the barest measure of grain (gain)?

Or will we embark upon our Pesach preparations b’rinah, joyously, thanking Hashem for every aspect of every mitzvah, and emerge bearing sheaves?

Hazor’im, we’re all going to sow over the next few weeks. How we sow, and what we harvest is up to us.


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