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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshiot BeHar-BeChukotai

24 Iyar 5767

May 12, 2007

Vol.16 No.30

In This Issue:

The Importance of Effort

by Rabbi Joel Grossman

The second Parasha we read this Shabbat is Parashat BeChukotai. It begins with the Pesukim, "If you follow My decrees and My Mitzvot you watch and fulfill, I will give rain in the proper time, and the crops will grow, and I will give peace in the land, and you will recline without fear" (VaYikra 26:3-4).

Rashi explains that Hashem promises these blessings if we are Ameilim, if we work hard in intensive Torah study. Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Sefer Darash Moshe, writes that not only does Torah study require intensive effort, but every Mitzvah one is required to perform should be done with all of one's power. Whether one is learning Torah, performing Mitzvot or attempting to influence others to be Torah-practicing Jews, one must put great effort into his pursuits. Only if he does this will he be able to influence others to see that the Torah and Mitzvot are so important and that one must expend great effort in their performance. One who sees such intensity will understand that studying Torah and fulfilling Mitzvot are worth the effort that his friend expends on them.

The same applies to giving charity, into which one must put great effort by giving generously. Rav Moshe said, "When many people are called to the Torah, they donate Chai, eighteen dollars." He continued, "The Shuls and Yeshivot will be much better off if the people would donate Mavet, 446 dollars." He did not only mean the amounts, but he also meant that we should, so to speak, die for the Torah. The Talmud in Masechet Megillah says that only someone who is willing to die for the Torah is successful in Torah. Also, the effort to give must reflect the importance of the Mitzvah. The Gemara in Masechet Gittin teaches us that even if one's finances are exactly balanced, he should still give charity, and should not think that this Mitzvah doesn't apply to him. For this, Hashem will justly reward his effort. Rabbi Yissocher Frand quotes Rav Avraham Pam as saying, "The previous generation, that lived through the Holocaust, was put to the trial of serving Hashem, 'with all your hearts and with all your souls' (Devarim 6:5). Our generation, the Jews of America, is being put through the trial of serving Hashem, 'with all your wealth' (ibid)." We must stand up to our challenge by doing the Mitzvah of Tzedakah properly and with great effort.

Ameilut, toil, is only mentioned in connection with Torah study because it is one's efforts that illustrate if his intentions are merely to pursue wisdom or actually to fulfill a Mitzvah. To this end, one must devote all of his strength and time to what he does. Therefore, one factor governs both Torah study and the performance of Mitzvot; both must be done with the greatest effort. Only with that will we demonstrate that our intent is to fulfill the will of Hashem and not to satisfy our own personal interests.

In the Shemonah Esrei of Shabbat Minchah, we say, "Mi KeAmecha Yisrael, Goy Echad BaAretz," "Who is like your people, Israel, they are one nation in this land." The Gemara in Yoma (86a) says that if one learns Torah and acts properly, people will say, "Praiseworthy are his parents who taught him Torah. Praiseworthy are their Rebbeim who taught them Torah."

May Hashem see our efforts and bestow all the blessing of rain in the proper time, prosperous crops and peace in Israel and throughout the world.

Is the Point of Mitzvot Just for Advice?

by Jesse Friedman

The beginning of Parashat BeHar discusses the laws regarding Shemittah and Yoveil. The Torah states that for six years we should work the fields, and on every seventh year, we should stop working. The prohibitions of the seventh year are specifically against working the land. We know that from an agricultural standpoint, plowing the same land for too many years without giving it rest will make the land barren. Is it possible that the Mitzvah of Shemittah is specifically designed to prevent this, thereby physically benefiting our livelihoods? Moreover, the Torah gives a guarantee that if this commandment is kept, Hashem will provide us with financial success; therefore, the whole essence of this commandment seems to be for our physical (and financial) benefit! Is this truly so?

According to the Sefer HaChinuch, the Mitzvah of Shemittah is designed as a Shabbat for the ground, which humbles us and forces us to realize that Hashem provides us with the very land which we work and depend on for sustenance. Additionally, Shemittah demands trusting Hashem to provide us with food even though we refrain from plowing. However, one could say, maybe this is a primary explanation for the law of Shemittah; still, maybe a secondary purpose is that Shemittah is for our own benefit.

There is a fault with the very notion that Mitzvot are commanded to directly benefit us in this world. We cannot explain every Mitzvah in the Torah, so we cannot possibly anticipate the benefit of performing many Mitzvot. For instance, there is no logical explanation for Parah Adumah; how ash from a burnt red cow mixed with water can make one pure is beyond human comprehension. This is the classic example of the many Chukim in the Torah - laws which human reasoning simply cannot explain. If it is not possible to say that all Mitzvot are solely for our advantage, perhaps it may be suggested that some Mitzvot have secondary purposes just for this world, while some do not have any such advantages. Perhaps, this is why the section of the Tochachah, the rebuke, comes on the heels of the section about Shemittah. The theme of the Tochachah makes the whole issue clear. We must listen to Hashem and do His Mitzvot not because we realize that they will directly benefit us; on the contrary, we must always serve Hashem and perform His Mitzvot solely for the sake of serving God.

Learn It to Earn It

by Shlomo Klapper

Parashat BeChukotai opens with the phrase, "Im BeChukotai Teileichu VeEt Mitzvotai TiShmeru," "If you follow My decrees and observe My commandments" (VaYikra 26:3). Rashi observes that since the phrase "My commandments" clearly refers to Mitzvah observance, the initial phrase "My decrees" must refer to some other aspect of following Hashem's will. He concludes that this verse calls for toiling in the study of Torah. Why is committed Torah study referred to as following Hashem's decrees?

The Ohr HaChaim notes that Torah study LiShmah, with no ulterior motives, can be referred to as following Hashem's decrees. Even if one has completed a particular area of study, or even the entire Torah, he is still commanded to constantly review and explore it further, for there is a unceasing obligation to study Torah.

Simchas Aharon suggests an alternate approach based on a novel interpretation by Rav Yisrael Salanter. The Torah contains a law called the "wayward and rebellious son" (see Devarim 21:18). If a young man steals, eats and drinks specified items, the courts are commanded to put him to death. The Sages teach us that such a case never did - and never will - occur. Why, then, is this law written in the Torah? The Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a) answers that this section exists so we can study its laws and be rewarded for the resultant Torah study. This answer creates another problem: Are there so few areas of practical Torah law that the Torah finds it necessary to write an entire chapter only for the purpose of its study? Surely not! Very few individuals in a generation fully and truly master even the practical areas of Torah law! Rav Yisrael Salanter explained this difficulty. The Sages teach us that one accrues greater reward for performing a Chok (a Mitzvah whose explanation is unknown) than for fulfilling a Mishpat (a Mitzvah whose explanation is rational). One might think that the study of all Mitzvot is equal, since even the Chukim have practical applications. The laws of a wayward and rebellious son offer us the opportunity to attain special reward for the study of Torah exclusively for the sake of study, since this is Torah study that has no practical application.

This can be seen as the thrust of Rashi's comment. Torah study for the sake of fulfilling a Mitzvah is included in "My commandments." To follow "My decrees" obligates us to study Torah for no practical purpose, not even to teach us how to fulfill the other Mitzvot. Hashem calls upon us to study Torah purely as a Chok, for its own sake.

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