When You Eat the Labor of Your Hands
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The Midrash writes (Bereishit Rabbah 39:8):
When Avraham was traveling through Aram Naharayim and Aram Nachor, he saw them [the residents] eating, drinking and reveling. He said, "I wish that I should have no share in this land." Upon arriving at the ladder of Tyre [near Israel], he saw that they were busy weeding at the time of weeding and hoeing at the time of hoeing. He said, "I wish my share were in this land." Hashem said to him: "To your offspring I will give this land" (Bereishit 12:7).
A land that possesses natural wealth can create an atmosphere of idleness and boredom, on the one hand, and, at the same time, an atmosphere of materialism and possessiveness. Eretz Yisrael does not possess natural deposits of gold, oil, or the like. Its wealth lies in its human resources, and because the land does not possess natural wealth the residents learn that they have to struggle and toil both in the material and spiritual realms. This embodies the pasuk: "When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and it is well with you" (Tehillim 128:2).
The common belief, "The more a person develops the physical world – the more the spiritual world gets destroyed," is relevant only outside of Israel. In Eretz Yisrael work does not cause harm. Just the opposite; developing the body and settling the land creates a fabulous vessel which lifts up the soul.
The Chatam Sofer writes: (Sukkah, 3rd chapter):
R. Yishmael also applied the pasuk: "That you may gather in your grain" only in Eretz Yisrael, and when most of Am Yisrael are dwelling [on their land], when the work itself is a mitzvah to settle the land, and to extract its holy fruits. This is what the Torah referred to when it commanded: "That you may gather in your grain." Boaz was winnowing barley that night on the threshing floor because of the mitzvah. Just like saying: "I will not wear tefillin because I am studying Torah," here, too, one cannot say: "I will not gather in my grain because of Torah study." It is possible that this includes even other occupations that contribute to the development of society. They are all included in the mitzvah. However, when we are spread out in this world among the nations, and the more the world develops the work of Hashem is further harmed – even R. Yishmael will admit to R. Shimon b. Yochai [that one should forsake all worldy matters and focus on Torah alone].
This is what the Vilna Gaon used to pray for: "May Hashem grant me to plant trees with my own hands near Yerushalayim in order to fulfill, 'When you shall come to the land and you shall plant' (Vayikra 19:23) – at the revealed end [of the Redemption].
The battle and inner turmoil between a person's spiritual tendencies and his material dealings is unnatural, especially in Eretz Yisrael. This is what Rav Kook zt"l wrote: "The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. The Divine Presence that descended in exile with Am Yisrael is the force for establishing holiness, against nature. However, holiness that goes against nature is an incomplete holiness." (Orot p. 77)
"The is another difference between Eretz Yisrael and the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, the main focus of worship is to weaken the hold of impurity, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the focus of worship is to reveal the holiness." (Ma'ayanei Hayeshua, by Rav Y.M. Charlop, p. 256)
Unfortunately, in recent years more and more parts of the nation are becoming like the rest of the world. The contamination of materialism is spreading and weakening the local service, and many of the land's inhabitants abhor physical labor and prefer to sit idle and live off of charity. At the same time, the pasuk "Yeshurun became fat and kicked" (Devarim 22:15) is being fulfilled through us. These also are signs of the days that precede the Mashiach.
It is told that while Yigal Alon was serving as Minister of Labor, he was asked by one of the Kibbutzim to assist them in purchasing new tools in order to work. He sent them a telegram saying: "The hoes are on the way; in the meantime lean on the trees!"
קוד השיעור: 3566