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Parshas Behar

Shemittah and Torah: From Sinai

This parashah opens: “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying, ‘. . . When you come into the land that I give to you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you shall sow your field . . .’” Chazal (quoted by Rashi) ask: Why does the Torah mention that the laws of shemittah were given at Sinai? To teach that just as every detail of shemittah’s laws was given at Sinai, so every detail of the Torah was given at Sinai.

R’ Pinchas Menachem Alter z”l (1926-1996; Gerrer Rebbe) observed that Sinai is mentioned in connection with other mitzvot too. Why, then, is this lesson taught here of all places?

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 39a) asks: What is the reason for shemittah? It answers: “The Torah says, ‘Plant for six years and rest in the seventh year, so that you will know that the land is Mine’.” It appears from here, says the Gerrer Rebbe, that planting during the six years also is a mitzvah, provided that it is done with the same faith in Hashem with which one rests in the seventh year. (This is why, says the Rebbe’s grandfather, the Sefat Emet, the consequence of not keeping the shemittah is exile. If we lack the faith in G-d to keep the shemittah, then we also will not plant with faith. In that case, we have no business being on the Land.)

The whole world was created so that we can keep the Torah; when we observe the Torah, we testify that Hashem created the world. We bear the same testimony when we live a life which is imbued with the message of shemittah. This is why it is appropriate to compare the entire Torah to shemittah, as in the Rashi quoted above. (Pnei Menachem)

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    “Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbat rest for Hashem.” (25:2)

Rashi z”l writes: This means a rest in honor of Hashem in the same sense as these words are used in the case of the weekly Shabbat (Shmot 20:10) where “Shabbat La’Hashem” cannot mean “a day for G-d to rest.”

R’ Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein z”l (1848-1896; Nowy Dwor, Poland) explains: On Shabbat, we are commanded to rest, and to cause our animals and belongings to rest as well. If such a thing were possible, we should cause our land to rest and our crops not to grow on Shabbat. However, Hashem made certain laws of nature, and He does not want them to be violated regularly. Therefore, our crops do continue growing on Shabbat. In exchange, we let our land rest for His honor every seventh year--one seventh of the time, as if it had rested one day each week. (Shem Olam)

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    “The word of Hashem came to me, saying: ‘Behold! Chanamel, son of Shallum your uncle, is coming to you to say, “Buy for yourself my field that is in Anatot, for the right of redemption is yours”.’” (From the haftarah - Yirmiyah 32:6-7)

In the continuation of the haftarah, after fulfilling Hashem’s command and buying the field, Yirmiyah asks Hashem the meaning of His command. To paraphrase: The Babylonians are besieging Yerushalayim and will soon destroy the Temple, and You want me to invest in real estate? Hashem answers (verse 27), and with this the haftarah ends, “Behold! I am Hashem, the Elokim of all flesh; is anything hidden from Me?”

What was the purpose of Hashem’s command that Yirmiyah buy his cousin’s land, and why didn’t Hashem answer Yirmiyah’s question? R’ Nosson Friedland z”l (1808-1883; one of the earliest European rabbis to speak and write extensively about the idea of mass resettlement of Eretz Yisrael) explains:

On the eve of the destruction of the Temple, Hashem was revealing to Yirmiyah one of the ways by which the Final Redemption may take place. Specifically, if Hashem will see that the Jewish People demonstrate their love for Eretz Yisrael by buying property to build homes and farms, He will hasten the Redemption. In that event, mashiach will arrive as a powerful king (see Daniel 7:13). Otherwise, he will arrive as a “poor man riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Why didn’t Hashem answer Yirmiyah’s question? Because the Jewish People have free will to determine whether or not to bring this prophecy to fruition, i.e., whether to rebuild the Land. If Hashem had spelled it out for Yirmiyah, that would have made the outcome a given, thus depriving us of our free will. (Kos Yeshuah U’nechamah p.61)

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Pirkei Avot

    “Rabbi Eliezer of Bartota says, ‘Give Him from that which is His, for you and yours are His. Similarly, King David said (Divrei Hayamim I 29:14): Everything is from You, and from Your hand we have given You’.” (Chapter 3)

R’ Ovadiah Yosef z”l (1920-2013; Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel) writes in the name of R’ Shimon ben Tzemach Duran z”l (Spain and Algeria; 1361-1444):

The lesson of this mishnah is befitting the one who taught it. The Gemara (Ta’anit 24a) relates that charity collectors used to flee from R’ Eliezer of Birta – whom R’ Duran presumes to be the same sage – because they worried about his habit of emptying his pockets whenever he had the opportunity to give charity, leaving nothing at all for himself.

R’ Yosef writes further: The midrash states, quoting Mishlei 3:9), “‘Honor Hashem with “honcha” (הונך) / your wealth’ – In reality, I am not asking you to honor Me with what is yours, but rather with what is Mine, as if the word ‘honcha’ were the phonetically similar word ‘chanancha’ (חננך) / that which He gave you.” The midrash continues: “Can one circumcise his son if I have not given him a son? Can one place a mezuzah or build a railing if I have not given him a house? Can one offer his firstborn animal as a sacrifice if I have not given him animals? Can one sing praises to Me if I have not performed miracles for him?” (Anaf Etz Avot)

R’ Shlomo Kluger z”l (1785-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) comments in a related vein on the mishnah in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot which states: “Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive a ‘pras’.” The word “pras” is commonly translated as “prize” such that the mishnah is teaching that one should not serve G-d with an expectation of reward.

In fact, R’ Kluger writes, G-d wants to reward man and He has no expectation that man will serve Him for free. Rather, the word “pras” as used in this mishnah means “half” or “piece.” (This is a common usage of the word pras in the Talmud.) The mishnah is teaching the following: An argument could be made that man should expect at most a partial reward for serving G-d. After all, it is G-d Who gives man the ability to serve Him. Nevertheless, the mishnah teaches, “Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive only a ‘pras’.” Rather, G-d, in His goodness, will give you a full reward. (Magen Avot)

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Memoirs

    R' Yom Tov Lipman Heller z”l (1578-1654) is best known as the author of the Mishnah commentary Tosafot Yom Tov. In 1629, while serving as rabbi of Prague, he was imprisoned on a false charge. That experience is the subject of his memoir “Megillat Eivah”--literally, “The Scroll of Hatred.”

    In last week’s excerpt, we read that the Prague police chief came to arrest R’ Heller, but ended up asking one of the leaders of the Jewish community to deliver the news to R’ Heller instead. R’ Heller continues the story:

This is what the police chief told the Jewish nobleman: “The Emperor ordered his deputy [in Prague] to capture the Rabbi in iron chains and bring him to Vienna in chains, under tight guard. The chains and ten guards are waiting at the deputy’s house, and I must bring the rabbi there this very night.”

The [Jewish] nobleman replied, “Please, my master, don’t be in a hurry. I will send community leaders to the deputy to plead before him about this matter.”

The police chief answered, “Do as you have said. I will sit here all night until I have heard the deputy’s answer.” So the community leaders went. They were R’ David Luria, R’ Henne ben “R’ Yisrael’s” and R’ Yisrael Weiseles. The deputy’s residence was on the other side of the Elbe River in Prague. When the messengers arrived in the courtyard, everything was shut because of the darkness of the night. . . When the door was finally opened, they asked the gatekeeper to tell the deputy that the leaders of the Jewish nation had come to discuss a matter of life and death. . . . The deputy said, “Let them enter.”

When they were before him, they prostrated themselves, and they said, “Our master sent the police chief to capture the rabbi and take him, bound in chains, under strong guard, to Vienna. How will we handle our humiliation? Tomorrow, people will say, ‘If this was done to the greatest among you, it can only be because the Jews have rebelled against the Emperor.’ In every city where this is heard, they will attack the Jews, and the Emperor himself will suffer [the loss of the heavy taxes that the Jews pay]. Therefore, we request that the rabbi be permitted to travel to Vienna on his own and to appear before whomever you command. We will guarantee that he will hurry to fulfill your command.” [The deputy agreed, and allowed R’ Heller six days to reach Vienna. R’ Heller concludes this part of the story with the words:] “May Elokim remember them for good, for they have done all manner of good things for me.” To be continued...


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