Parshat Behar Vol.9 No.30
Date of issue: 16 Iyar 5760 -- May 20, 2000
|This week's issue has been sponsored
by Dr. and Mrs. Joel Berman
L'Avi Mori Pinchas ben Malka
V'Imi Morati Baila bat Yeta Gittel
The Spirit of Sinai
by Rabbi Hershel Solnica
Parshat Behar begins with a famous comment by Rashi on the words "Behar Sinai" (25:1), "As all the detail of Shmittah is written at Sinai, so every detail of the oral Torah is from Sinai." This basic approach to Mitzvot, which range from Chukim (ritual rules) to Mishpatim (logical regulations), is a subtle lesson of learning to follow not only the commandments of the Torah, but also the spirit and essence of the Mitzvot.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt"l, in his Maayan Bait HaShoeva, notes that the Torah teaches us, "One may not fool his fellow man by verbally misleading him" (25:17). But the Torah also teaches us, "Do not put a stumbling block before a blind man" (19:14). Rabbi Schwab points out that in Behar, the Torah underscores not just the blatantly vile and ugly mistreatment of the unknowing blind man, but also the equally sinful behavior of tricking or deceiving even the sharpest or wisest person.
This Mussar is a powerful statement of what the goal of a Jew should be. It is not what you do, but how you do it that is of fundamental importance. This applies to Tzedaka and every facet of life.
Shabbat, for example, can be looked upon as a day to sleep late and "lounge around" without any purpose. It should be a day of Kedusha, a day for families to bond with each other and learn the wealth of our heritage. Woe to the Jew who is not blessed with a Shulchan Aruch, a table with a warm family singing Zemirot and discussing Torah and topics of daily living.
This even applies to schoolwork. One can do homework to survive the exams or one can view school as an opportunity to discover options of life, vocation, and personal fulfillment. In many disciplines, such as math and science, one can also learn to profoundly appreciate the greatness of Hashem by learning the incredible formulas, equations, and rules of nature and science.
We as humans have a golden opportunity to catch the Spirit of Sinai rather than follow its rules without "Geshmak" (joyous intent).
The Covenantal Mitzvot
by Binyamin Kagedan
At the very end of Parshat Behar, there are a number of Mitzvot that seem out of place. The Parsha discusses Shmittah, Yovel, and various other monetary- and land-related issues until the last two Pesukim, where the Torah seems to stray: "You shall not erect for yourselves a statue or a pillar, and in your land you shall not emplace a flooring stone on which to prostrate oneself; I am Hashem, your God. My Shabbatot you shall observe, and My sanctuary you shall revere; I am Hashem" (26:1-2). Ramban says that in mentioning the Bait Hamikdash the Torah is referring to the Aliyot Leregel on the three Regalim. Why are these three Mitzvot presented here? They are no doubt important, but they seem to be out of context.
Rabbi Zvi Grumet explains that these three Mitzvot have meanings that go beyond their importance as commandments. The Torah tends to list these three themes, Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Avoda Zara, together whenever the Brit between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael is mentioned. Another time we see this is in Shemot 23, right after the Aseret Hadibrot are given. Why were these three chosen to herald the covenant between man and Hashem?
Let us start with Shabbat. Shabbat is a celebration of Hashem's creation of the universe. Just as He rested on the seventh day, so do we. However, shouldn't this celebration of creation apply to all peoples of the world? The world does not only house Jews, but billions of others who should be equally grateful. The fact that Shabbat is reserved exclusively for Jews demonstrates that we have a special relationship with Hashem that no other nation shares.
All ancient civilizations had festivals based on the agricultural calendar. There was the harvest, the sowing, the first budding, and various other occasions that deserved celebration. Similarly, we have agricultural festivals: Chag HaAviv, the spring festival; Chag HaKatzir, the harvest festival; and Chag HaAsif, the ingathering festival; in other words, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The fact that we dedicate our agricultural festivals to Hashem shows that we have a special connection to Him.
Avoda Zara makes sense as a choice to herald the Brit because in order to serve Hashem we must believe that He is the only God. It is the most basic part of the relationship between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael.
Clearly, these three Mitzvot are the formula for a functional Brit. Why, then, is it necessary to place them at the end of a set of laws about property? Because man has the potential to become arrogant regarding his own abilities. He may think that he earned his property through his own actions, and it is therefore exclusively his. He might begin to wonder why he must give credit to Hashem for his wealth by leaving his field fallow for one year or by giving charity to those in need. The Torah reminds him of the Brit through these three Mitzvot and reestablishes his unique relationship with Hashem.
Vahavta Et Hashem Elokecha
by Yair Manas
The decree of the Shmittah year might have appeared to be a harsh restriction when Hashem first presented it. Hashem commanded us not to work our fields for an entire year. (This was long before farmers learned that leaving a field empty for a year would restore nutrients and minerals, thus improving the field.) The wild produce would not belong by right to any person, and the land was considered to be free, under the ownership of Hashem. What was the basis for this decree? Why does it specifically apply every seventh year? How were the Jews supposed to sustain themselves during the Shmittah year?
The significance of the number seven may provide the key to these answers. This number appears many times in the Torah. Paroh dreamed of seven fat and seven skinny cows, Yehoshua circled the walls of Yericho seven times, and, of course, Shabbat occurs on the seventh day of the week. This is based on the fact that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In acknowledging His creating the world and His control over all aspects of life, we rest on the seventh day. This reminds us that our souls are of a Divine, spiritual nature.
The Shmittah year is of a similar nature. The land is allowed to rest and remained unused. It is an acknowledgment that all our earthly possessions, our land, our homes, our money, and even our personal freedom are ultimately under Hashem's control. We should never let ourselves be tricked into thinking that we really own and have full control over everything. Whatever we own is given to us temporarily to use for the utmost good. When we have money, we should give a portion of it to Tzedaka. When we own land, we should give some of the produce to the needy. If we forget that we are only temporary guardians of our possessions, we forget that everything is under Hashem's control. The Shmittah year, in which we give up ownership of the land, reminds us that everything is under Hashem's control.
How does someone make a living if he lacks possession of his field and its produce? Man must realize that Hashem provides sustenance. The growth of crops in the previous six years is also from Hashem. The Jew is promised that if he is deserving his produce from the sixth year will be enough for the seventh year as well. We should all thank Hashem for our blessings and have belief that He will provide for us.
Ma Inyan Shmittah Etzel Har Sinai?
by Avi Marcus
Once, in Israel, I had a conversation about politics with an Israeli I had recently met. Growing tired of the topic at hand, I decided to abruptly change the subject. My acquaintance was a little puzzled, expecting me to stick to the original subject. Immediately, without hesitation, this long-haired, secular teenager with cutoff jeans asked me, "Ma Inyan Shmittah Etzel Har Sinai? What does Shmittah have to do with Har Sinai?" This, as it turns out, is the standard Israeli way of asking what one topic has to do with another.
The question itself was first asked by Rashi. Parshat Behar opens with an unusual choice of words: "Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai saying…When you come to the land that I will give you, you should let it rest - a Shabbat for Hashem" (25:1-2).
An obvious question arises from the wording of these Pesukim. We know that the Mitzvot were all given at Har Sinai. Why must the Torah specifically mention that the Mitzva of Shmittah was given at Har Sinai?
Rashi teaches that this is in order to remind us that not only were the Mitzvot given at Har Sinai in the general sense, but their specific details were given as well.
The Sefat Emet offers another explanation. As human beings, it is easy to forget that while the laws of nature never change, it was Hashem who set them up in the first place (Chok Natan V'Lo Yaavor). This, by definition, makes Hashem the true primary Force in the world. At Har Sinai, it was simply impossible not to recognize this; today, is it is a good deal more difficult. Shmittah, allowing the land to rest for a year, helps us to realize that it is, in fact, Hashem who controls the world.
The two ideas are not unrelated. The link is in the idea of Hashem being interested in details. Just as He did not just give a general framework without giving details for its use (i.e. Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba'al Peh), He did not set a wheel (i.e. the 'general' laws of nature) in motion and relinquish His own control over the details either. May we resist the temptation to forget that Hashem is interested in the details.
Slave of a Slave
by Ari Teman
Parshat Behar is a digest of the laws of Shmittah and Yovel. However, it also teaches a lesson in compassion and humility. The Torah says, "You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants" (25:10). This sentence sounds simple; all slaves and servants are freed. But why does it say "for all its inhabitants?" Are the masters and owners in need of redemption too?
Rabbi Mordechai Kaminetzky says yes, the owners are in need of redemption. A Jewish employer may not force his Jewish slaves to work under harsh conditions, as the Torah says, "If your brother becomes impoverished with you and is sold to you, you shall not work him with slave labor" (25:39). The Torah understands that keeping an employee happy is not an easy task. In fact, the Gemara (Kiddushin 15a) says, "One who buys himself a slave buys himself a master." Therefore, when the employee leaves, the employer is relieved of that job and is freed as well.
Furthermore, Seforno discusses a Jew who has sold himself to a non-Jew to pay off his debts. When discussing this, why does the Torah say, "After he has been sold, he shall have redemption; one of his brothers shall redeem him?" If the Torah discussed redeeming a fellow Jew a few Pesukim earlier, why does it state this commandment again? The Seforno answers that Jews may be quick to judge one who has sold himself to a non-Jew. Hashem is telling us again that all Jews are equal in His eyes and we must not think that we are more worthy than our compatriots. It is for this reason that in the fiftieth year everything is returned to its original owner and work stops during that year. It is a time to realize that Hashem is the sole Owner and Master of the world.
Halacha of the Week
We are required to recite one hundred Berachot each day (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 46:3). One must remember to eat some fruit to make up for the reduced number of Berachot that we recite in Tefillah on Shabbat an Yom Tov and smell spices on Yom Kippur to make up for the reduced number of Berachot that we recite on Yom Kippur (Mishna Berura 46:14).
Food for Thought
by Dani Gross
1) Rashi on 25:15 says that this Pasuk teaches that one sells his property based on the closeness to the Yovel year. Why does Rashi find it necessary to state this? Wouldn't a person realize this when buying the land even without the Torah's instruction?
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