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Thought for the Day: Suffering/Discipline/Rebuke -- Limited Scope By Design

I have perfect joke to make the point I would like to address, but I am not sure it will be received well.  Feel free to ask me in person.  In the meantime, now put yourself in the frame of mind that you have heard a good joke (I know it good, because my Dad, a"h -- who was known for his excellent sense of humor -- told it to me) and are now excited to see how this connects to a lesson in ישעיהו/Isaiah.

ישעיהו tells the nation (28:23-29): Does the farmer plow and plant, but never reap?  Does he process wheat, barley, and cumin the same way?  Even cumin and black cumin are treated differently... This also comes from the LORD of hosts: Wonderful is His counsel, and great His wisdom.  (My free to the point of only barely recognizably related to the original translation.)

Um.... what?

ישעיהו expends much effort on rebuke.  Now he is explaining: Do you think this is for nothing?  That you hear the rebuke, that you accept suffering, that you even discipline yourselves... and then continue your lives like nothing happened?  Just at plowing and sowing are only a means to an end, so to is suffering and discipline.  You must use those means to effect positive change in your life!

Still... where is the "This also comes from the LORD of hosts: Wonderful is His counsel, and great His wisdom"?  Surely the message is true, but it doesn't seem to be so wondrous and deeply wise.  In the tech world we call this a PICNIC error: Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.  It is, of course, I who is not so wondrous nor deeply wise.  Baruch HaShem, I have been listening to excellent shiurim by Rabbi Aaron Chaim Lapidoth on ישעיהו.  He covers a chapter or less per shiur; slow enough to get some depth, fast enough to keep the historical context and follow the development.

R' Lapidoth notes that the farmer has no interest in "punishing" the land by plowing it, nor the grain by threshing and winnowing it.  If the land is not plowed, the seed can't grow.  If the chaff is not broken away from the grain, it can't be used for food.  If the seeds are not carefully separated by winnowing, then they will not achieve their full potential.  Each step is performed with expertise and wisdom; even the timing is important.  Threshing first and plowing later won't do the job.

But there is more.  The entire field is plowed; some lessons and trials apply to the nation as a whole.  Yet the process to thresh the wheat would pulverise the cumin.  The winnowing of the cumin would leave the barley unimproved.  The Navi is explaining that there are national events that shape the nation.  But there are also extremely personal events that shape each individual.

And the overall message?  All of this -- all suffering; all trials and tribulations -- have a limit.  They are for a purpose, and once that purpose has been achieved, they are gone.  As we read on public fast days; just as the rain does not return to heaven before it has brought out the grain, so to the Word of HaShem does not return until it has brought us to our perfection.  All tailored to each and every individual Jew.


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