August 16, 2021

Sukkah 40

A principle taught in today’s daf (Sukkah 40) and derived from Vayikra 25:6 is that Shemitta sanctity only applies to items whose benefit and consumption coincide (שהנאתו וביעורו שוה) such as food, drink, oils and wax (see Rashi). On the basis of this principle, given that only after wood has begun to burn does it provides heat (i.e. its consumption does not coincide with its benefit), wood does not retain sanctified Shemitta status.
Reflecting on this distinction while looking beyond the specific laws of Shemitta, there are many areas of our lives where benefit and consumption do coincide, and even more things where they do not; there are things that we do and enjoy which provide us with instant gratification, and other things that take time before we are able to reap the benefits of their consumption. The problem – however – is that many of us are impatient and expect instant gratification and immediate results.
In terms of Judaism, we are taught that the Torah is comparable to ‘a tree of life to those who grasp it’ (Mishlei 3:18) – which leads some people to mistakenly think that all religious experiences should be like fruit of a tree whose benefit and consumption coincide. However, while that is true in some cases (as our sages teach us, אֵלּוּ דְּבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּירוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה – ‘these are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world’ – Shabbat 127a), some aspects of the Jewish experience are more comparable to us using the branches from the actual tree of life to give us heat – and in such a situation, the benefit and consumption don’t coincide.
As you may know, the name for the wooden handles on which the parchment of Sifrei Torah is wrapped is עצי חיים (literally ‘trees of life’), and I believe that in this there is a deep message that while we should enjoy our study of Torah (as we say, וְהַעֲרֶב נָא ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ אֶת דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתְךָ בְּפִֽינוּ – ‘please God, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth’), studying Torah and living a Torah life does not always provide instant gratification and immediate results. Instead, there are times when what we do is a slow burn and when there is a long period between our efforts and their results. And if we ever forget this message – which we often do – we should look at the עצי חיים which holds a Torah scroll and remember that while some aspects of a Torah life is like fruit, other aspects are like wood.
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