Friday, September 21, 2012

VAYELECH: THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER

By Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. This famous expression is so true. We always desire that which is just beyond us, that which we cannot reach, that which lies behind the fence. From the distance, it always looks better than one's own grass, one's own situation.

Every rule has its exception, or else it wouldn't really be a rule, perhaps just a truism. In Parshat Vayelech, Moses urges the people to be strong and have courage (chazak ve amatz), because they will need it to withstand the temptations and blandishments on the other side (of the Jordan). Similar to the soul emerging into the world as a newborn soul carrier, the angel urges the soul to swear to be good and righteous on the other side and to withstand the temptations to be found there. To be righteous, to remain pure and unsullied, requires tremendous strength.

So yes, the grass really is greener on the other side of the Jordan. And likewise, the diversions and the temptations truly abound on the other side of the womb, in this world. This world is greener than the foetal world in its wombic cushion, for the temptations and allures are purposely planted in the garden to tempt us. The evil inclination, the yetzer hara, serves in this world only, as a means to propel the soul to grow by dint of its wrestling. If the grass weren't greener, we'd have no reason to want to leave the warmth and safety of the womb. And, truth be told, it's not a matter of choice.

Green is all around us. The green found in nature, that is. Scientists have even shown that green is the most relaxing of all the colors. God must have planned it that way!

And the idea of being green is also all around us. The idea that we need to radically shift our orientation to nature and to resource allocation and utilization to be in harmony with nature. All actions have consequences. How we use nature also has its consequences.

The Bible in Genesis records the Garden of Eden narrative where mankind through Adam is told "to work it and guard it." Indeed, if we wish the planet to be healthy and to ensure that the earth will continue to be a life-sustaining Eden for us we must continue to take heed and treat the planet and nature with respect, guarding its resources carefully to ensure a healthy environment.

Every seven years the Bible instructs us to let the land lay fallow so that we can tend to our spiritual needs over our material needs. It is in this year that the farmer recharges his spiritual batteries and devotes his time and energy to learning the Torah and delving deeply into the Bible with the same devotion paid to running the farmstead and attending to its myriad responsibilities.

In this season of repentance we must also ask forgiveness and repent for the many abuses we have heaped upon nature and the natural resources of our beautiful planet. There is enough abundance in nature to serve our needs while we at the same time serve as stewards and guardians of nature.

When humanity sees itself as greater than a mere cog in an economic machine and devotes itself to a higher spiritual purpose beyond a "mere" survival mentality, it then attains a degree of dignity heretofore unknown by the masses in human historical consciousness.

When the Greeks and the Romans encountered the Jewish Sabbath, they accused the Jewish People of a certain chronic laziness, in their refusal to engage in any kind of manual labor every seventh day. Little did they know that this was the key to human dignity even as it honored G*d in the process.

So too during the seventh Sabbatical "year of release," the Shemittah Year. Giving the land a rest, allowing it to return once every seven years to replenish its nutrients not only enriches the environment but at the same time recharges our spiritual batteries and helps us to recalibrate our moral compasses. As the Torah teaches, "man does not live by bread alone."

And as Isaiah says, "Days are coming. There will be a hunger in the land. But the hunger will not be for bread and the thirst will not be for water, but to hear the Word of God." 

Green is also the color associated with envy. The Torah teaches that one should never be envious of another person, except in one, exclusive area - the knowledge of Torah. 

In that sense, may we all become green in our love for Torah and righteousness. And may we not fall and succumb to the false "grass is greener" material allures and blandishments of things of foolishness and vanity. Being green. It's a good thing. For all humankind.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

© 2000 - 2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

1 comment:

Torah Flight said...

Hazak U Baruch for this great post. Through protecting the Earth will also protect ourselves as this is our habitat. Also green is definitely the color of envy - a topic which I plan on devoting a whole blog post on down the road into the future. Shabbat Shalom!

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!