One of the commandments in this week's parashah is the mitzvah
of bikkurim / "First Fruits." In Chapter 26, verses 3-10, we
read that a farmer who brings bikkurim to the Bet Hamikdash is to
recite certain pesukim which recall our enslavement in Egypt and
the subsequent Exodus.
The Mishnah (Bikkurim 9:7) relates: "Originally, anyone who
knew how to read, read, and if someone did not know how to read,
it was read to him and he repeated it word-by-word. When those
who could not read stopped bringing bikkurim [because they were
embarrassed], the Sages instituted that every person would have
the verses read to him and he would repeat them word-by-word."
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic
Chief Rabbi of Palestine) comments regarding this mishnah: It is
true that every outstanding person should act in spiritual
matters consistently with his own level of development. However,
there also exists a concept of serving Hashem as a klal / a
community, and if any institution is made to bring up the level
of the klal's service, every individual must participate. An
example of this is prayer. There are some outstandingly
sensitive and knowledgeable people who might pray better if there
were no fixed order of prayers, if every person could pray in his
own words, as once was the case. Nevertheless, for the sake of
the klal, a fixed nusach / order was established, lest most
people not pray at all, and now, G-d forbid that one person not
pray according to this fixed nusach.
This idea is at work here with regard to bikkurim. No doubt, a
person derived great satisfaction from reading the appropriate
verses in a manner that expressed the love of Hashem that burned
within him. However, when the illiterate stopped bringing
bikkurim and something had to be done, everyone had to
participate in the new order. (Ain Ayah)
"He descended to Egypt . . . and there he became a nation -
great, mighty, and numerous." (26:5)
The Pesach Haggadah relates the words in this verse, "great,
mighty," to the verse (Shmot 1:7), "Bnei Yisrael were fruitful,
they teemed, they increased and they became mighty - b'me'od,
me'od / very, very much so." The parallelism is clear in that
both verses describe Bnei Yisrael as "mighty." However, where in
the Shmot-verse is there any allusion to Bnei Yisrael being
R' Zvi Hirsch z"l (Grodno, Poland; died 1831) explains in the
name of his grandfather R' Eliezer z"l (1722-1795): The word
"great" connotes wealth (see Iyov 1:3). The word "me'od"
similarly can be rendered as "wealth," as in the verse (Devarim
6:5), "You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all you heart, with
all your soul, and with all your me'od." (The other meaning of
"me'od" is "very," as we translated above.) Perhaps, then, the
author of the Haggadah was reading the verse in Shmot differently
than the simple translation given above: "Bnei Yisrael . . .
became mighty with very much me'od."
There is support for this interpretation from the fact that the
Sages derived from this verse that Jewish woman in Egypt commonly
gave birth to sextuplets. Chazal learned this from the fact that
the verse contains six expressions of greatness: "Bnei Yisrael
were (1) fruitful, (2) they teemed, (3) they increased and (4)
they became mighty - (5) b'me'od, (6) me'od." This derivation is
more reasonable if, as suggested above, the two occurrences of
the word "me'od" have different meanings.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Zera Gad)
R' Moshe Yisrael Feldman z"l (rabbi of Dragomiresti, Rumania;
grandson-in-law and close disciple of Maharsham of Brezhan;
killed in 1944) offers another answer to the question posed
above: where in the Shmot-verse is there any allusion to Bnei
Yisrael being "great"?
He answers: The phrase "me'od, me'od" alludes to the trait of
humility, as we read in Pirkei Avot (4:4): "Me'od, me'od / very,
very much should you be humble." The truly "great" person is the
one who is humble. Rashi notes similarly in his commentary to
Bereishit (10:25) that Yaktan, whose name means "small,"
signifying his humility, merited to have a very large family.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Shem Yisrael)
"The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us, and they
placed hard work upon us." (26:6)
R' Yehoshua z"l (1819-1873; the "Ostrova Rebbe"; known as the
"Toldot Adam") explains that this verse alludes to both the
physical and spiritual oppressions which the Egyptians oppressed
our ancestors. "The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted
us"-physically. "And they placed hard avodah / work upon us"-
they caused our avodah / service to Hashem to be difficult.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Admorei Biala-Ostrova)
"Then we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our forefathers,
and Hashem heard our voice . . ." (26:7)
The Pesach Haggadah relates this verse to the verse (Shmot
2:24), "G-d heard their groaning, and G-d recalled His covenant
with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaakov." R' Binyamin David
Rabinowitz z"l (Warsaw; died 1885) explains that the Exodus had
two aspects-first Hashem ended our suffering as slaves, then He
showered us with material and spiritual riches. The verse from
Shmot alludes to both of these aspects, while our verse
elaborates on one of them.
First Hashem ended our suffering as slaves, and the verse from
our parashah explains how this came about. Chazal teach that a
person who prays to be answered in his own merit, will be
answered in the merit of his ancestors. On the other hand, a
person who bases his prayers on the merit of his ancestors will
deserve to be answered in his own merit. Thus, when we cried out
to Hashem, "the G-d of our forefathers," knowing that we
ourselves were bereft of any merit, "Hashem heard our voice."
However, this sufficed only to bring about the first part of the
Exodus, i.e., to end our "groaning" and suffering. In order to
bring about the second part of the Exodus, i.e., to give us
material and spiritual riches, Hashem had to recall His covenant
with our forefathers, as alluded to in the verse from Shmot.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Ephod Bad)
"Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand . . ."
R' Levi Yitzchak Horowitz shlita (the "Bostoner Rebbe") writes:
We read in Shmot (6:13), "Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and
commanded them to Bnei Yisrael and to Pharaoh. . ." The
commentary Siftei Chachamim explains that besides speaking to
Pharaoh about Bnei Yisrael, Moshe and Aharon were to command Bnei
Yisrael to take themselves out of Egypt. In other words,
explains R' Horowitz, just as the first step in obtaining
treatment for an illness is to recognize that one is sick and to
go to a doctor, so the first step in the redemption is to
recognize that we are in exile. Unfortunately, many of the Jews
were complacent in Egypt despite the hardships in their lives.
The story is told of a chassid who asked the Chernobyler
Maggid: "Why do you keep praying for mashiach? If mashiach comes
and takes us to Eretz Yisrael, who will feed our chickens?!"
The Maggid responded, "How can you worry about the chickens?
Would you not like to be freed of the Cossacks who terrorize us
"Then pray that mashiach come and take the Cossacks to Eretz
Yisrael!" retorted the chassid.
This is why Hashem had to take us out of Egypt with a strong
hand. Let us at least apply this lesson to our present
condition, concludes the Bostoner Rebbe. Let us not be
complacent with the short term success that we have achieved, but
let us rather pray and cry out to Hashem that He hurry and bring
our redeemer and rebuild Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Ezrat Avoteinu p. 138)
It is an affirmative commandment to forgive loans in the
shemittah year, as it is written [Devarim 15:2], "Every creditor
shall remit his authority over what he has lent his fellow." One
who demands repayment of a loan after shemittah has passed
transgresses a negative commandment, as it is written [ibid.],
"He shall not press his fellow or his brother."
The remission of loans does not apply according to Torah
law except when the Yovel / Jubilee applies [i.e., when a
majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael]. . .
By decree of the Rabbis, the remission of loans applies
even in our times and in every place [i.e., even outside of Eretz
Yisrael], even though the Yovel does not apply. The reason for
this decree was so that the laws of forgiving loans should not be
Shemittah causes loans to be forgiven only at the end of
the year. . . Therefore, if someone lent money to his friend
during the shemittah year itself, he may collect the debt all
year long. However, when the sun sets on the night of Rosh
Hashanah of the year following shemittah, the debt is lost.
[Paragraph 5 discusses a specific example of a lost debt.]
Shemittah causes a loan to be forgiven - even a loan
documented by a note and secured by real property. However, if a
specific plot of land was identified as security for the loan,
the loan is not forgiven. Shemittah also excuses a debtor from
taking an oath. [When a debtor claims that he repaid a loan and
the creditor denies that the loan was paid, halachah requires the
debtor to swear that he paid. However, if he has not yet taken
the oath by the time shemittah ends, he need not take the oath
since the loan is forgiven in any case.]
[Paragraph 7 elaborates on the previous halachah.]
If one made a loan and attempted to collect it, and the
borrower denied that there was a debt, but after shemittah
passed, he admitted that there had been a loan, or witnesses came
and testified to the loan, the loan is not forgiven.
If one made a loan for a fixed period such as ten years,
the loan is not forgiven by the shemittah. Even though he is
"pressing his fellow" [which the verse prohibits, there is no
prohibition here because], at the present time, he cannot press
his fellow. . .
When the Sage Hillel the Elder saw that people were
refraining from making loans and were thereby transgressing the
prohibition [Devarim 15:9], "Beware lest there be a lawless
thought in your heart, saying, `The seventh year approaches, the
remission year,' and you will look malevolently upon your
destitute brother and refuse to give him," he established the
prozbol so that loans would not be forgiven. The prozbol is
effective only in our times when forgiving loans is required only
by rabbinic decree. A prozbol has no effect when forgiving loans
is required by Torah law. . .
The following is the body of the prozbol: "I submit to
you, so-and-so and so-and-so, the judges of such-and-such a
place, that I may be permitted to collect any loan that I have
outstanding at any time that I wish."
[Ed. note: The prozbol will be discussed in further detail next
week from both a halachic / legal and a philosophical
perspective. However, due to our proximity to Rosh Hashanah, it
is recommended that any reader who believes these laws may apply
to him or her should consult with a qualified rabbi as soon as