Lack of a Curse

Not all blessings are what they first seem.  When the Children of Israel would eventually arrive in the Land of Israel and own farmable property, that land would be subject to the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical Year.  The Torah specifies many of the laws of this special year, and also adds the law of Yovel, the Jubilee year, as well.  These passages are followed by a short series of good things that will await them if they follow these laws dealing with the land, one of which is a guarantee that they will dwell securely in the land.  This, at first glance, fits perfectly with the other blessings listed there – the land yielding a good crop and material plenty.  Upon further examination, however, this blessing does appear different than the others.

Why were the Jews exiled from their homeland?   Although the Almighty probably has many reasons why He directs human affairs in a particular way, traditional literature nevertheless often pinpoints one or two such reasons.  One instance is a reason for exile that is offered in Pirkei Avot: working the earth during the Sabbatical year (Ethics of our Fathers 5:11, based on Vayikra 26:34 according to the Vilna Gaon).  If failure to observe Shemita results in exile, then, presumably, its observance would not result in exile.  Instead, in absence of any other factors that might cause exile, the people would remain in their land.  Therefore, when the Torah promises that its observance results in dwelling securely in the land, it may actually be referring to the mere absence of any negative consequences.  Instead of a blessing of a positive reward, it may be just maintenance of the status quo – the lack the curse of a negative punishment.  Although the other blessings in the series seem positive, it is possible that they too may refer to mere avoidance of negative consequences resulting from incomplete compliance with the laws.

One lesson that the nature of the blessing of living securely in the land teaches is the idea that lack of problems is in itself a great blessing.  Rabbi Avigdor Miller (1908 – 2001) had an unusual practice whenever passing by a medical office building.  He would stop in front of the building directory sign and, while reading through the list, he would thank the Almighty that he doesn’t need a neurosurgeon, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, nor any of the other specialists listed.  Though it may sometimes seem boring and unexciting, there’s a lot to appreciate about a humdrum life of just “living securely in our land,” with our health and in our homes.

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