Till, Baby, Till!
Despite well-meaning alarm clocks and calls of duty, if it weren’t for breakfast and café lattes I’d see very little incentive to get out of bed each morning. Incentives, after all, are what keep us going after our feet grow weary and we run out of breath. They are the pictures in our mind’s eye that urge us to push ourselves just a bit harder. So I can’t help but wonder why God, who had to coax a stiff-necked nation to wander for 40 years before it received its prize, the Promised Land, only offered a land flowing with milk and honey. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t get me out of bed in the morning. If He offered me a land flowing with oil and gold, emeralds and silks, maybe then I’d heed the call of the rooster.
Talk about incentives, there is a story about a farmer who left his lazy sons a farm knowing full well they’d never get out of bed to work the land once he passed on. In his will he thus told his sons that somewhere under the acres of land he was leaving them a treasure was buried. After the father died, looking for the quick fix, the sons got up early every morning to dig up the land to find the treasure. Day after day, month after month, year after year, the sons toiled and tilled the land to seek the riches and gold, but they found no treasure. But as it turned out, because they so thoroughly turned the earth and worked the land, it became resplendent with abundance and they were able to sell the ensuing produce and earned great wealth. They soon realized that their father had tricked them and understood that the land itself was the treasure.
The land of Israel is also a treasure, but God didn’t have to trick His people into working it. When the Jews entered Israel after being slaves in Egypt and when they entered Palestine after the Holocaust, they were used to working hard and were not frightened to do so again. In fact, even to this day in Israel, its people work six days a week. Sunday is no day of rest. As a result of such persistent efforts, in 62 years Israel has become one of the most innovative countries in the world selling its technologies and medical advancements across the globe. It turned a desert into verdant fields of opportunity. Beneath the rubble, pestilence and arid soil, the “milk” of life flowed. Yet still with all their smarts and hard labor, the people of Israel cannot reap the true honey: peace. So wherein lies the treasure?
The treasure is the Torah, what the rabbis refer to as milk and honey. Thus as Jews around the world today till for peace in diplomacy and alliances, they are forgetting to also till the Torah, all the commandments that came along as instructions with the country they call their homeland. Initially, God did not have to taunt the Jews into Israel with gold because after hearing God’s words on Mount Sinai they lusted not for gold or idols but only His word. Offering them gold would have been tantamount to offering them darkness after they had seen the light. But today, many have stopped seeing the light and think the glitter of gold will illuminate the way. Unlike a life flowing with figurative milk and honey i.e., Torah, a life of artificial sweeteners leaves only a bitter aftertaste and one God cannot digest.
He thus cautions the Jews that if they spurn His laws, the very land itself will reject them and oppress them. “I will turn my attention against you, you will be struck down before your enemies: those who hate you will subjugate you...I will make your heaven like iron and your land like copper.”
Friends, today I celebrate my Jewish birthday in conjunction with the holiday of Lag B’Omer, the day in which the secrets of the Torah were revealed thus bringing great light into the world. So let me just make a birthday wish that the Jewish people will temper their ever-wandering struggle for survival and take a good look into God’s book every now and then to find the roadmap home. It’s their most precious and eternal resource, so till, baby, till.
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