Going Out Into The Real World And Finding G-d In The Details Of Daily Life [Lag BaOmer & Parshat Emor By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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Do not cut the corners of the field, nor the gleanings of the harvest shall you cut; leave them for the poor and the Levite; I am the L-rd your G-d — Lev 23:22

 A large section of the Torah reading this week deals with the festivals and holy days of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What seems strange is that right in the middle of the section, there is one verse which has nothing to do with the festivals … the verse about leaving part of the harvest for the poor: “And when you will cut the harvest of your land do not cut the corners of the field, nor the gleanings of the harvest shall you cut; leave them for the poor and the Levite; I am the L-rd your G-d.”

Why is this verse inserted here, right in the middle of all the festival offerings, and seemingly so out of place?

Rashi (1040-1105 CE) quotes an answer in the name of Rabbi Avdimi. He says there is a meaningful message being hinted at here in the Torah: When a farmer, who has toiled hard to grow crops from the bare earth, leaves a section of his field to provide for the poor — G-d considers that as valuable as if he had built the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) and brought the festival offerings. This, says Rashi, is why this mitzva is inserted here, to equate it with the festival offerings.

It is easy to be fooled into thinking that spirituality lies only in the prayer books and houses of prayer, yet in reality the path to spirituality can take a most mundane route, including through a field of wheat.

This Sunday is Lag Be’Omer, a festive day when we commemorate the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (135 – 170 CE), known by the acronymRashbi, and the great spiritual heights he achieved in his lifetime, including authoring the Book of the Zohar. Every year, on this day, up to quarter of a million people pour into Meron, in the north of Israel, to visit and pray at his gravesite.

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During his life Rabbi Shimon was under a Roman death sentence for sedition and went into hiding for twelve years. He hid for all these years, together with his son Elazar, in a cave with only a carob tree and spring water for nourishment. Tradition has it that this cave is in Peki’in, in the Galilee mountains, where it is still surrounded by carob trees today. The story about Rabbi Shimon is fascinating, especially when he finally re-enters society after twelve years in isolation, and has great difficulty readjusting. As he looks around at people absorbed with working the land, after over a decade of his own lofty spiritual study, he cannot grasp why they are frittering away their lives on such mundane activities as ploughing the land. This apparent waste of time is so painful to him that he cries out to his son: “Manichin chayei olam, ve’oskin be’chayei sha’ah! – Why are these people wasting time on trivialities, on ephemeral things, rather than delving into the infinite – the world of G-d and the study of his Torah!?”

It is only later, after (a Divinely ordained punishment of) one final year in the cave, that Rabbi Shimon and his son understood that the path to G-d is found not only by withdrawing into a spiritual cocoon, but also by going out into the real world and finding G-d in the details of daily life. He understood that for certain select individuals, their mission is uniquely spiritual, but that for most of humanity G-d is found not only in the holy books and wooden pews, but in the corners of the field we leave for the poor, in the care we give the widow and the orphan, in the love we show one another, and in the myriad daily activities we do in accordance with His commandments.

Let us be inspired this Lag Be’Omer to ensure that we follow those commandments in our daily lives, alongside and interwoven everything else on our schedule. If we have the opportunity we can encourage others to do the same, to bring a little spirituality into all our physical lives. For Jews, there is a long list of relevant mitzvot to do, for others there is a shortlist of seven, the Seven Noahide laws.

If we all endeavour to imbue our everyday activities with a little G-dliness, we can be sure that G-d will reciprocate with abundant blessings for health and happiness. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of  Chabad of Ireland.


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