Parshat Bechukotai Vol.9 No.31

Date of issue: 22 Iyar 5760 -- May 27, 2000

This week's issue has been sponsored by Mark and Eunice Glassberg in honor of the Bar Mitzva of our son David Eliezer.
This week's issue has also been sponsored by Rabbi Howard and Malca Jachter
and Rose and Joel Greenman
in memory of our parents
Ben and Shirley Jachter.

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This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Mark Smilowitz
Avi Shteingart
Binyamin Kagedan
Ari Teman
Rabbi Howard Jachter
*Heter Mechira - Part I*
Halacha of the Week
Food For Thought
-by *Dani Gross*

Why Shmittah?
by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz

What atrocity could we commit that is so heinous that for doing it we deserve exile from our homeland? What sin is so infuriating to Hashem that His reaction is to drive us away from His presence? Although Parshat Bechukotai is well known for the Tochacha (rebuke) section, which threatens, in great detail, exile and desolation in exchange for disobedience, little attention is given to the specific behaviors that Hashem would consider to be a breach of His covenant. We are left to imagine that the crimes that could cause such a catastrophe are in the realm of murder, idolatry, adultery, and other major prohibitions.

However, there is one specific law whose violation is mentioned explicitly in relation to the Tochacha, although at first glance the choice to focus on this law is puzzling. "Then shall the land make up for its Shabbat years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies…It shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your Shabbat years while you were dwelling upon it" (26:34-35). Strangely, it seems that the lack of observance of the relatively remote laws of Shemittah (which occurs only once every seven years) can cause the exile. As the Seforno says, "[The Torah] singles out the laws of Shmittah of the land because failure to keep them causes exile from the land" (Seforno 25:1, explaining why Shmittah's laws are detailed in last week's Parsha). Why is this particular commandment singled out as the one upon which hinges our right to remain in Israel?

I believe that if we carefully examine the laws of Shmittah, we discover that from its observance emerges perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our relationship with Hashem. Basically, Shmittah involves three rules. First, during the seventh year of the cycle, no agricultural work such as planting or plowing may be done. Second, all produce that grows during the seventh year is considered Hefker (ownerless) and may be taken by rich and poor alike, no matter who owns the farm or planted the seeds from which the produce grew. Also, no one is allowed to hoard produce in the usual fashion of harvesting. The third rule is that the seventh year automatically cancels all loans. Borrowers are released from their obligation to pay back, and lenders are forbidden to press the borrowers for their money.

What do these rules have in common? One element: trust. Keeping Shmittah is the ultimate statement of our trust in Hashem's promise to protect us. We do not work the land, even though such abstinence would normally spell disaster to our economy and be considered national suicide. As the Torah says, "And should you ask, 'What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?' I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years" (25:20-21). Although we are not usually expected to rely on miracles, Shmittah is one of the few places where the Torah commands us to rely on Hashem to sustain us in a close to supernatural manner. The same idea is true of the other two laws. Instead of gathering and storing our food, we rely on Hashem's goodwill to provide food on a day-to-day basis. We also do not rely on others to provide our money; whatever money we have in hand is sufficient, and whatever else is needed will be provided by Hashem, not by our neighbors. The loans given last month are now gifts, for the lenders are no longer in need of those funds when Hashem is their Provider.

When we were kids, we used to play a game called "trust," in which one person would close his eyes, keep his feet together and hands at his sides, and fall backward, relying on his friend to catch him before he hit the ground. Serious injury was at risk, and many people flinched at the last moment and caught themselves, unwilling to put their lives in the hands of another. During the Shmittah year, we are commanded to play "trust" with Hashem by removing our natural life support system and relying on Hashem to sustain us. I believe that there is no other commandment that so strongly demonstrates our reliance on Hashem on a national level.

Perhaps this is the reason that of all possible crimes, failure to keep Shmittah is the one most directly responsible for our exile from the land of Israel. Passionate, hateful, sinister crimes such as murder, idolatry, or adultery can be taken care of by Hashem's Divine justice system of punishing the individuals responsible, or sometimes may be tolerated or forgiven by Him, for there is always hope that we will improve our ways. But once we begin to question and doubt His promise to sustain and care for us, we undermine our very relationship with Him, and He has no reason to keep us in His land. As a marriage can often survive fights, hurtful comments or actions, and violations of the marriage contract, but falls apart when the two partners have lost faith in one another, so too our relationship with Hashem can survive the blows of many severe violations, but falls apart the moment we lose our faith in Him.

Strong Roots
by Avi Shteingart

This week's Parsha is about Hashem rebuking Bnai Yisrael and their punishment if they do not follow the Torah. Towards the conclusion of the list of laws, Hashem says, "I will remember my covenant with Yaakov and also My covenant with Yitzchak and also My covenant with Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the land" (26:43).

A few obvious questions arise from this Pasuk. First of all, why are the Avot listed in reverse order? Rashi says that when we sin, we ask Hashem to remember Yaakov's covenant with Hashem. If that is not enough, let Hashem rely on His covenant with Yitzchak, and if that is not enough, refer to Avraham's covenant. Hashem does not mention remembering in connection with Yitzchak because He sees the "ashes of Yitzchak." According to the Maharash, this refers either to the ashes of the ram burnt at Akeidat Yitzchak, or to the ashes Avraham pictured of Yitzchak before he was told not to go through with the deed.

The most obvious question is what this Pasuk has to do with the rest of the Sedra. The Magid of Dubno answers in a Mashal (parable). Two people stood in front of a judge and awaited judgment. Both were being tried for robbery. When the judge handed down the punishments, his rulings were very peculiar. One of the men, a thief's son, was given a short sentence of only a few days in prison and a minute fine. The other man, a wealthy and important man's child, was given a long prison sentence and a hefty fine.

The judge explained that the son of the thief was a natural; it was in his blood to steal. He could not do anything productive, he had to steal, and, most of all, he could not be changed. That is why the judge gave him a short prison sentence; he would forever remain a thief. On the other hand, the son of the noble man had grown up in a world of morals where his father taught him to be humble and straight. Therefore, the judge levied a huge fine.

This is similar to the case in Sefer Vayikra. Bnai Yisrael are the children of such prominent people as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Just like the second man in the Mashal, Bnai Yisrael stem from respected personages who raise their children properly. Therefore, the punishment for sins that we do are very severe

We also see from this Mashal that punishment is not intended as revenge for a crime; rather, it is to correct the sinner and return him to the proper path. By contrast, there is no return for a person who has committed sins all his life. The punishments are bittersweet.

Don't Just Do It
by Binyamin Kagedan

In Parshat Bechukotai, the Torah says, "I will place My sanctuary among you, and My spirit will not reject you" (26:11). This seemingly wonderful prophecy is one of the many Berachot found in Bechukotai. The second part of the phrase, however, appears a bit odd. The second half of the Pasuk can also be translated as, "I will not be revolted by you." If we are carrying out Hashem's wishes and receiving blessings for it, why would the thought of being revolting to Hashem even cross our minds?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that the way a Mitzva is done has a great effect on its value. If it is done out of joy and love for Hashem, it is worth much merit. However, if it is done merely because one feels he is bound to the responsibility, it is unacceptable in the eyes of Hashem.

With this in mind, one can understand why the Torah says that Noach found grace in Hashem's eyes. When carefully examining his repertoire, one can see that Noach had many flaws in his righteousness; however, because everything he did was out of joy and love, Hashem decided that He would overlook Noach's flaws.

This is also related to the way Rambam explains the following statement of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, wished to confer merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them Torah and Mitzvot in abundance." Rambam explains that the reason Hashem gave so many Mitzvot was so that every person could have at least one Mitzva that he could fulfill to the highest degree - with joy and love for Hashem.

Seeing Hashem
by Ari Teman

Parshat Bechukotai opens with the phrase, "If you will walk in My statutes." Chazal explain that to walk in Hashem's statutes means to toil in the learning of Torah.

One question that immediately springs to mind is how the Rabbis derive toiling in the learning of Torah from the word walking. Walking does not usually imply toiling.

Rabbi Zev Leff, in his book Outlooks and Insights, helps to answer this question. Rashi (Shabbat 88b) teaches us to approach the Torah with a strong right arm and delve into it in search of Hashem's secrets. Rashi is telling us that only if we strive for a deeper understanding of Hashem and His ways will we gain a true fear of Him.

Chazal add that those who approach Talmud Torah lightly will also approach Mitzvot lightly. Therefore, Hashem says, "If you will not listen to Me," meaning that if you fail to see Hashem in the Torah, if you think you will choose the ideals of the Torah but leave Him out of it, you will eventually come to sin.

In addition, Hashem warns against denying His existence by saying, "If you will walk contrary to Me, I too will walk contrary to you and I will strike you" (26:23-24). Rambam (Hilchot Taaniot Ch. 1) explains that Hashem is telling us that we should not look at something in nature and say that He has no part in it. He warns us that if we see something bad occurring and say it is just nature, Hashem will give us even more of that "nature." Furthermore, points out Rabbi Leff, Ramban tells us that in the time of Mashiach, nature will stay its course and there will be no famine, war, or jealousy. How can nature take its course and still have no bad incidents occur?

Ramban goes on to teach us that the world we live in is not natural. The only reason for bad in the world is because we sin and Hashem must punish us so we will repent.

When a person is sick or in a dangerous situation, he looks to Hashem for help. Parshat Bechukotai teaches us to look towards Hashem and realize that He is responsible for both good and evil in the world. Only then will we be able to live in true nature with the coming of Mashiach.

Halacha of the Week

Men should be careful that the strings of their Tzitzit not be entangled (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 8:9). One should be especially vigilant about this Halacha if he wears Tzitzit with Techelet (see Biur Halacha ibid. s.v. Tzarich L'hafrid).

Food for Thought
by Dani Gross

1) In 26:9, Hashem says that He will keep the Brit. Which Brit is He referring to? Additionally, in Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, one of the Berachot ends "Zocher Habrit." Which Brit is this talking about?

2) Rashi comments on the words "L'Hafrichem Et Briti" (26:15) that there are seven things that one does that lead to violation of other Mitzvot. They are that one does not study Torah, one does not practice the laws, etc. Why do these Mitzvot cause one to turn away from Hashem?

If you have a response to these questions, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editors: Moshe Glasser, Zevi Goldberg
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
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