By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“It shall be that when Hashem, your G-d, brings you to the Land … to give to you great and good cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing that you did not fill, chiseled cisterns that you did not chisel, orchards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Beware for yourselves lest you forget Hashem …” (Devarim 6:10–12).
‘“Filled with every good thing.’ Says R’ Yermiya bar Abba in the name of Rav: [this refers to] bacon” (Chullin 17a).
Partial Truth As A Substitute For Genuine Truth
One of the unfortunate effects when people discover a bit of truth is that often this piece of truth becomes, in their eyes, the truth in its entirety. For instance, when a person draws close to a great Torah scholar who helps him progress tremendously in spiritual growth, often he does all he can to convince as many people as possible to draw close to this rabbi. He figures that if it was good for him, it will be good for everyone else as well. A certain path in the service of Hashem can be beneficial to one person while detrimental for someone else. Unfortunately, these zealous disciples (with genuinely good intentions) simply do not understand this; instead, they try to pressure their friends into adopting their rabbis.
This is not just a personal issue. It can also be true of any good thing —whether people see it as a way to serve Hashem or even as something “neutral,” like healthy behavior. Often people take on a health-related activity and go all out, bending over backwards for its sake, and believing it is “the great truth.” We have to know, though, that even if something is inherently good, everything in this world has an appropriate place and time.
Focusing on a specific aspect of truth becomes a problem when people turn it into a substitute for the Great Truth: Hashem. This behavior can even be tantamount to idol worship, in that man essentially takes off the crown from the King and crowns, instead, one of His servants. However, when one understands that the absolute truth is only the Source of Truth and not one of His servants — as great as the servant may be — this is the solution to this problem. With this in mind, one will not become entirely subservient to any one tzaddik, path of serving Hashem, or certain bit of truth one discovers, as great or small as it may be.
The Land Of Israel And The Mitzvot
This principle is true even for the most important things. An excellent example of this is the Land of Israel: “The land the eyes of your L-rd focus on;” the land that has a whole series of mitzvot that only apply there; the land of prophecy, which the loftiest tsaddikim — Moshe Rabbeinu in particular — yearned to enter.
Some people, though, turn the Land of Israel, as exalted as it is, into an end in and of itself. When some believe the Land of Israel is valuable on its own, as a separate entity disconnected from the Master of the Universe, this brings with it grave danger, both physical and spiritual. The Land of Israel itself then becomes endangered.
Moreover, at times, people can turn the mitzvot into the main goal, while the One who commanded them is forgotten. This, G-d forbid, does not mean that there is a time when the mitzvot need not be observed, but rather that people should not make taking on stringencies their raison d’etre, while totally losing sight of the fact that there is Someone who commanded those mitzvot. In other words, a person can be “super-machmir” while at the same time being very distant from Hashem.
To avoid this, Hashem gave us interesting guidelines. So that we do not come to believe that the Land of Israel and the mitzvot are goals unto themselves, disconnected from Hashem, He permitted the warriors to eat whatever they found during the first seven years of the conquest of the Land of Israel. According to one opinion in the Gemara, this was not only during wartime or when lives were in danger (see Torah Temimah, Devarim 6:11).
The same was true for the laws of orlah: “When our forefathers came to the Land of Israel, and they found [a tree] already planted, it was exempt from the laws of orlah” (Mishnah, Orlah 1:2). Despite the fact that trees planted by non-Jews are subject to the laws of orlah (its fruit can only be consumed in the fourth year after being planted), whatever trees they found that had already been planted were exempt from these laws.
We must remember that the Land of Israel on its own does not generate sanctity, but rather He Who Created It infused it with its sanctity. The proof is that during the country’s conquest, warriors were allowed to eat orlah. Even pork, the quintessential non-kosher food, is forbidden for consumption only when Hashem decides it to be so. If He says it is permissible, it is no longer a problem. Permitting bacon and orlah was meant to serve as a reminder that the purpose of the mitzvot is to draw us closer to Hashem, and that they are not goals in and of themselves.
HaRav Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute, which engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.