banner2.gif
  Torah from Dixe leftbar.gif [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []    [top_xxx.jpg]

FRUIT BY THE FOOT

by Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

A few weeks ago in Parshat Eikev, I wrote about the dangers associated with becoming too entrenched in the earth. The act of "digging in one's heels" was viewed as a rebellion against Hashem, wherein Man states that the earth is his turf and that he possesses an inalienable right to decide for himself what is right and wrong. This week, I would like to expand upon this theme, playing it out through one of the fascinating mitzvot that we encounter in this week's Torah portion.

complete_story.gif    

[]

A few weeks ago in Parshat Eikev, I wrote about the dangers associated with becoming too entrenched in the earth. The act of "digging in one's heels" was viewed as a rebellion against Hashem, wherein Man states that the earth is his turf and that he possesses an inalienable right to decide for himself what is right and wrong. This week, I would like to expand upon this theme, playing it out through one of the fascinating mitzvot that we encounter in this week's Torah portion.

In one of the final sections of the Torah reading, we are commanded regarding the mitzvah of the levirate marriage, known in Hebrew as Yibum. The Torah stipulates that if a brother should die childless, one of the remaining brothers shall marry the wife of the deceased and have children with her, thus guaranteeing the continued memory of his departed sibling. Should the surviving brother(s) reject this opportunity, a substitute ceremony called Chalitzah (literally removal) is performed. This act requires the wife of the deceased to remove the living brother's shoe and to spit upon the ground in his presence. To spit at someone is the ultimate demonstration of disgust and, in this case, she rightfully displays her feelings towards him for his lack of sensitivity towards his own deceased brother. However, of what significance is her removal of his shoe? What does this have to do with his denial of offspring for his late brother?

Our vocabulary is full of anthropomorphisms. "Mother Nature" and "Father Time" are just two examples of our affinity with such expressions. The term "Mother Earth" bears a unique interpretation which sheds light upon human nature and the essence of our struggle for perfection. Simply understood, the earth nurtures and provides for us like a loving mother, offering every raw material imaginable for achieving our wildest dreams. However, the term carries far greater weight than this. The Torah tells us that Man was created from the earth itself. Hashem assembled Man from the dirt of the four corners of the globe, molded it into a form, and breathed life into him. The physical side of Man was "born" from the womb of the earth. In Hebrew, the word for grave and womb are identical, kever, thus drawing the comparison full circle.

We find an interesting episode in the words of our sages with regards to the creation of the trees. Hashem commands, "Let the ground bring forth fruit trees which give fruit" (Genesis 1:11). The sages understand the term "fruit trees" to be a qualitative description of the type of fruit to be borne. Not only was the tree to bear fruit, it was also commanded to be a fruit tree (i.e. edible from the branches down to its roots!) The earth, however, chose to "disobey" Hashem's decree and instead issued fruit-bearing trees with an inedible bark (ibid. 1:12). The earth selfishly reasoned that if it adhered to the strict letter of the command, its trees would be devoured into oblivion. Later, after the sin of Adam, the earth is punished for its "defiance" with a blistering curse: ". . .the earth will be cursed on your account; in sorrow you shall eat from it all the days of your life, thorns and thistles shall it bring forth. . ." (ibid. 3:17). Rashi, the classic Torah commentator, addresses why the earth is cursed when Adam sins instead of when the earth itself "sinned" three days earlier. Says Rashi: "This is comparable to one whose child has strayed from the norms of society; when people wish to curse the son they also curse the mother who nurtured such a child."

If the earth gave birth to Mankind, then the same "genetic code" which is present in the parent must have passed to the child. When Man displays selfishness as he did in the act of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, there can only be one source for such egotism: Mother Earth.

The mitzvah to marry your brother's widow is not as simple as it may sound. On the surface, it would seem that the Torah requires the living brother to serve as a surrogate father. In reality, this process of Yibum demands one of the greatest sacrifices a human can make - the sacrifice of personal identity. Imagine marrying a woman, moving into her house, and having to adapt to someone else's lifestyle. You wear her dead husband's clothes, follow his routine, eat his breakfasts, use his shaver, etc. One would say that such a life is more an imprisonment than a freedom. This is what in theory, if not in practice, the Torah expects of the living brother. He must allow his identity to be subsumed into his deceased brother's, in essence to become his brother. Why? In order to produce children who will carry on the family heritage.

The earth refused to give up of itself in order to be more fruitful; the brother who refuses to do Yibum has chosen to preserve himself at the expense of another. The widow removes his shoe as if to say, "You are connected to the earth and are just as selfish as it is!"

True growth only comes when we cut the umbilical cord of greed and materialism which anchors us to the physical source of Man's personality. Fortunately for us, Hashem is our "other parent" who has imbued us with an eternal soul, one which is capable of the greatest virtues known to Man. As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us reflect upon which parent deserves more of our attention so that next year will be a fruitful one in every way.

[]

Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein, who grew up in Atlanta and is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a member of the Kollel at the Talmudic University of Florida in Miami Beach.

Read more Ki Teitzei articles.

Would you recommend this article to a friend? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor@tfdixie.com

butombar.gif [] [] [] []