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Home » Vayikra Parshah

Vayikra: The Contract

Submitted by on March 13, 2021 – 10:02 pmNo Comment | 120 views

G-d signed a contract with King David and through David, He signed it with the Jewish people. David asked G-d to preserve him, and G-d replied, if you look after my commandments, I will look after you.

Our sages offered a parable: One man owned a vineyard in the Galilee, and another owned a vineyard in Judea. Both men traveled frequently to tend their vineyards. Eventually, one proposed to the other, “You guard my vineyard in the Galilee, and I will guard your vineyard in Judea. Similarly, G-d said to King David, you look after my commandments, and I will look after you.[1]

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am scratching my head after reading this parable. What insight does this parable offer? Why are the commandments and David compared to vineyards, why does G-d need anyone to look after His vineyard, and how does the parable help us understand David’s exchange with G-d?

The Parable
David wasn’t asking G-d to look after his physical health. David was asking G-d to look after his spiritual health—his soul. The human is a physical creature who belongs on earth with all other physical creatures. But at Sinai G-d endowed us with a sliver of heaven—a soul. We, earthly beings, are incapable of relating to Heavenly beings, let alone look after them. David thus asked G-d to look after his heavenly soul.

G-d replied that just as David has something from heaven so does G-d have something on earth. G-d issued His commandments—Mitzvot on earth. Like the soul, the commandments are heavenly issues, yet they were dispatched to earth. G-d can’t observe them for us. He needs us to fulfill them. So, we need something from G-d and G-d needs something from us.

The parable now makes sense. G-d has something on earth and David had something in the heavens. David asked G-d to look after his heavenly soul and G-d proposed a contract. I will look after your heavenly soul if you look after my heavenly Mitzvot. Just as the two vignerons contracted to tend to each other’s vineyards, so did David and G-d.

This contract is offered to each of us. Just as G-d pledged to look after King David’s soul in exchange for observing the Mitzvot, so does he make this promise to us all.

The Contract
But why does G-d need to condition His pledge? Why can’t G-d offer us His protection for free? After all, He created us as earthly beings and gave us a heavenly soul. Isn’t it His responsibility to help us master this paradox? Why must we pay Him to do what He should do by rights?

To answer this question, we must reexamine the entire contract. Let’s first examine exactly what King David was asking of G-d. What did He want G-d to do with his soul, was David’s soul in danger? What kind of looking after did King David’s soul require?

The answer is that King David’s soul, like all our souls, was in danger of becoming irrelevant. The soul is dispatched from the glorious divine kingdom in heaven to the lowly physical plane on earth. It is directed to inhabit a craven body that responds to physical pleasures and indulgences. The soul cries for G-d, but the body can’t hear it. The soul wants to share some of its profound depth with the body, but the body can’t understand it. The soul feels forlorn and alone.

The body is also in dire straits. The body is a broken vessel given to cravings, greed, lust, self-absorption, and addiction. The body needs the soul to lift it from the morass of earthliness. David begged G-d to protect and preserve him. Preserve the soul despite its despair and crushing loneliness and spare the body from a G-dless existence.

G-d’s reply was that if David would observe the Mitzvot, his soul would be vibrant, and his body, spiritually responsive. Some think that we can think our way to G-d. If we can answer all our questions and resolve all our doubts, G-d will become obvious, and we will embrace Him. But the human mind can never reach or master G-d—we can’t think our way to G-d. The only way to reach G-d is to fulfil the traditions; observe His commandments. This brings out the G-dliness that is already in our souls. We don’t need to look elsewhere for G-d. He is already in us—in our souls. But to become responsive to the soul, we need to tend to it through the Mitzvot.

This was G-d’s reply to King David. If you look after my commandments—if you fill your earthly life with the habits and patterns of my heavenly Mitzvot, I will preserve your soul. You will find me lurking within you—your soul. You won’t be alone, and your soul won’t be alone. Because a Jew is never alone. Wherever we are, G-d is with us. Within our soul.

G-d didn’t need David to pay for His service. G-d needed David, and He needs us, to take responsibility for our spiritual selves. G-d wants us to be earthly humans, but He wants us to be holy. Living a lifestyle of holiness brings out our inner holiness.

The Vineyard
We now understand the contract and the parable, but we still wonder why our sages described the Mitzvot and the soul as vineyards?

On the simple plane, it is because nothing requires more tending than a vineyard, but if it is properly tended, it produces the greatest wines. Similarly, nothing requires more tending than the soul, but if properly tended, through the Mitzvot, it produces the greatest fulfillment.

On a deeper plane, it is related to the vine itself. The grape is a fruit like all others, but it is also unique. If you press it, it produces wine. Unlike other fruits, whose juice is associated with the fruit, such as apple juice or orange juice, grapes produce a drink that is all its own. It has its own name and its own quality. Once it ferments, it becomes alcohol, something the grape doesn’t have. You don’t see it in the grape or on the grape, but if you dig deep, it releases its secrets.

Similarly, when you look at the body, you don’t see a soul. You see a corporeal body that responds to physical stimuli. But if you dig deep, you can reveal an entirely new quality—a soul.

Mitzvot also seem like ordinary activities. Lighting a candle or blowing a Shofar is just another thing to do. But if you light it on Chanukah or blow it on Rosh Hashanah, it is not just an action. It is a Mitzvah. A connection with G-d that nurtures the soul. It is a vineyard.[2]

[1] Devarim Rabbah 4:4.

[2] This essay is based on Nesiv Hatorah 16 by the Maharal.

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