Trust – Behar 5784

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Johnny Carson was the erstwhile king of late-night talk shows until his retirement in 1992. Few will remember his humble beginnings as a game show host. “Who Do You Trust?” was a show that capitalized on the contestants’ willingness to rely on their partners (hence the program name). The tension and the humor in the show laid in the exchanges between those who let down their husbands, wives, or friends. The show aired from 1957 to 1963. It covered a period in which young people were counseled not to trust anyone over thirty and not to believe everything they read in the newspapers. Popular mistrust, however, was never limited to era or decade. One cynical social observer once quipped that the catch phrase of the nineteen-sixties was “I gave at the office,” of the seventies was “The check is in the mail,” and of the eighties was “It’s only a cold sore.” In the Trumpian universe of “alternative facts,” even the truth is suspect.

No matter corroboration, people will not accept any longer what doctors diagnose, what public health officials recommend, what lawyers advise, what elected representatives say, what voters determine, what retailers advertise, and more. And, despite its inclusion on U.S. currency and posting in U.S. courtrooms, people will not even trust God. It is this latter kind of skepticism that is addressed by the Torah.

God tells Moses that every seventh year shall be a sabbatical year when no crops can be planted or harvested (Leviticus 25:4-5). Should people worry that they would go hungry without planting crops in the seventh year and having to wait one year more until the crops planted in the eighth-year reach maturity and are harvestable, God assures Moses that there will be sufficient grain produced in the sixth year to last for three years (Leviticus 25:20-21). However, the question remains: will people accept this reassurance? Or, alternatively, can we trust God with the food supply? God, it seems, anticipates the skepticism that might arise. So does RaShI.

In his commentary to Jeremiah 17:5, RaShI imagines that some farmers will refuse to take the risk and will harvest what they plant in the seventh year. Hence, the prophet Jeremiah needs to proclaim (17:7) “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord alone.”  Trust in God is not a given. It is a rarity. But one that enriches life. A healthy skepticism is a tool for finding truth. But an unhealthy skepticism is, as Rev. Fulton J. Sheen once declared, “a pose to justify bad behaviour.”

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Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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