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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Change takes time


Moed Katan 4

The Jewish National Fund has performed miracles in the State of Israel, making the desert bloom.  They have literally planted hundreds of millions of trees!  A number of years ago, on a mission to Israel, a friend went to visit a JNF project and was introduced to Shimon and Avi, two JNF volunteers.  He watched as Shimon dug the hole and Avi took his shovel and gently pushed the dirt back into the hole.  One hole after another, this strange activity continued. 

My buddy couldn’t control himself any longer and blurted out, “What are you guys doing?”
“What do you mean?” asked Shimon, “we’re doing volunteer work for JNF.”
“Seriously?” he asked incredulously, “It seems like you’re digging the hole and Avi’s filling it in again.  What are you accomplishing?”
“Oh, you don’t understand,” Shimon replied, “normally Koby is here with us.  My job is to dig the hole, Koby places the sapling in the hole and then Avi refills the dirt into the hole.  Koby’s off sick today, but rest assured we’re soldiering on with our sacred tasks!”

The Mishnah states:  Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah teaches that one may not dig an irrigation canal on Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and during the sabbatical year.

The Gemara asks: It makes sense that it should be forbidden during the festival, because it involves toil, but for what reason should it be forbidden during the sabbatical (when only work in the field is proscribed)? 
Rabbi Zaira and Rabbi Abba bar Mamal disagree as to the reason for the prohibition.  One says that it appears as if he is hoeing, which is fieldwork.  The other says that the mere act of digging prepares the banks for sowing vegetation.

The Gemara further asks: Why is the latter opinion not concerned lest it appear as though he is hoeing, which is the first opinion and arguably a more likely assumption?
The Gemara answers: It does not look like hoeing, since when one digs a canal, one removes the dirt to another area.  In contrast, when one hoes, one digs up the soil and leaves it in the same place. 

Hoeing or its more contemporary form, tilling the soil, involves digging into the soil and turning it over in its place in order to aerate it and warm it up so that when you plant the seeds, they will grow better.   As the Talmud demonstrates, hoeing is certainly considered work (and therefore forbidden during the festival or sabbatical). 

Imagine for a moment, however, that someone was new to farming and was told to begin by hoeing.  He goes up and down the field digging holes and putting the dirt back in.  At the end of the day, he looks out at the field and thinks, ‘What did I accomplish today?  I simply dug up the earth and put it back!’  He then figures that he is wasting his time and decides to quit farming.

Of course you and I realize that he has given up too soon.  The hoeing may appear not to achieve anything, but it is important in terms of preparing the earth for the future planting.

Sometimes we toil in our service of G-d and man and we get disappointed with the lack of results.  You’ve worked so hard and apparently have nothing to show for all your efforts.   Don’t give up!  Hoeing is hard work and it may look like you’ve achieved nothing, but in fact you’ve softened the earth to prepare it for the planting!

Maybe you’ve poured over the Talmud and can’t seem to get it.  Don’t quit!   Every word that you’ve toiled over has laid the groundwork for your success as a Talmud scholar!

Maybe you’ve been on the board of a community institution such as the synagogue or school and you feel you’ve wasted your time because nothing has changed.  Don’t give up!  Sometimes change takes years but every act of hoeing softens the earth for those seedlings of change!


Hoeing is hard work and you don’t always see immediate results.  But never give up!  The seeds will be planted and will eventually grow into strong plants and trees.   Hang tight, every effort has incredible positive consequences!