Behar - Bechukosai
By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the double parsha of B'har-B'chukosoi. B'har begins
with the laws pertaining to shmitah -- the seventh year serving as a
sabbatical year. "Va'y'dabare Hashem el Moshe b'Har Sinai laimore...
v'shavsa ha'aretz Shabbos la'Hashem (And Hashem spoke to Moshe at
Mount Sinai saying... the land shall rest as a Sabbatical to Hashem)
Since all of the mitzvos were commanded at Sinai, why does the Torah
specifically connect the mitzva of shmitah to Sinai? Rashi explains in
the following manner. The details of many of the mitzvos were
elaborated upon later at arvos Moav (the plains of Moav). (They
comprise a substantial part of Sefer Devarim - Deuteronomy.) The
mitzvah of shmitah is one of those which were not elaborated upon
later at arvos Moav. Therefore, by this mitzva it is clear that all of
its details were given at Sinai. Shmitah then reflects upon all of the
mitzvos, even those which were mentioned at arvos Moav, showing that
they too were given in their entirety at Sinai. At arvos Moav there
was only a repetition of that which had already been taught at Sinai.
The Chasam Sofer explains why, of all of the mitzvos not repeated at
arvos Moav, shmitah was chosen to show that all aspects of all mitzvos
were taught at Sinai.
There are certain mitzvos that are undeniably of Divine origin. If a
person was trying to `ghost-write' a Torah and pass it off as being
from Hashem, he would not include any difficult guarantees that would
be beyond his control to fulfill. This would ultimately destroy any
credibility that might have been established.
Imagine a person writing a Torah and putting in this verse: "And when
you'll say: What will we eat on the seventh year? And I will command
My blessing on the sixth year and it will give forth enough produce to
sustain you for three years [25:20-21]." You will, will you!? Anyone
want to try that themselves? How long would such a religion last?
Smart money says less than seven years...
Shmitah is clearly from Sinai -- of Divine origin. It then reflects
upon all of the mitzvos contained in that same Torah, even those whose
Divine origin is not self evident, that they were all given, in their
entirety, at Sinai.
Shmitah contains many lessons for us. In addition to the obvious
bitachon (trust) that it builds in a person, the Olas Tamid writes
that it also helps to establish a sense of achdus (unity) amongst Klal
Yisroel. We all began as one neshama that was contained within Adom
Harishon. In order to help us retain this unity we were given many
mitzvos of helping one another. Shmitah is one of these mitzvos.
We often have the attitude that what's mine is mine and what's yours
is yours. If I've worked hard and become successful in life, then why
should I share that with you?
During shmitah, all of our fruits become hefker (ownerless). This
drives home the point that what is mine really isn't mine! The world
belongs to Hashem. He has blessed us with certain things in order to
give us the opportunity to use them correctly. If these blessings make
us haughty, then we are missing the point and we are certainly in
danger of having these blessings transferred to a more responsible
caretaker. We can be compared to a bank teller who, with millions
passing through his hands daily, begins to have delusions that he's
really quite wealthy. When this attitude leads him to `mouth off' to
his supervisors when they have the audacity to ask him to do
something, he quickly finds himself looking for another job.
We must appreciate our blessings and use them wisely, being that we
never really know why we were given what we have...
Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells the story of a person who approached the
Baal Shem Tov. He was a wealthy man and hadn't come to ask for
anything -- he just wanted to meet the renowned Tzaddik. The Baal Shem
Tov asked him to listen very carefully to a story that he wanted to
"There were once two young boys, Chaim and Boruch, who lived very
close to one another, attended the same school, and became extremely
close friends. The two were inseparable as they and their friendship
progressed through the teenage years into early adulthood.
"When they married, each moved to their wife's hometown and for the
first time that they could remember, they were separated. They pledged
to remain friends for eternity and they kept in close contact through
letters. As time passed and their families and responsibilities grew,
the communication gradually slowed down until it ultimately had
"Each went into business and did well. However, life is often a cycle,
and Boruch who had been at the top of his business fell to the very
bottom. He eventually became penniless. Thinking that perhaps, his
friend Chaim would help him, he borrowed travel money and went to
Chaim's town. When Chaim saw his old friend, he embraced him and the
two spoke for hours. When Boruch got up the courage and told Chaim
about his sorry state of affairs, Chaim didn't waste a moment. He
summoned his accountant and had him tally all of his assets. He
immediately wrote a check, giving half of all of his worth to his
friend Boruch. Boruch, with tears of joy and thanks, returned home.
"With money to invest, Boruch rebuilt his business and once again
became wealthy. However, as Boruch's wheel of fortune ascended,
Chaim's descended. Chaim quickly became impoverished. Remembering his
good friend that he had helped so generously, Chaim traveled to see
Boruch. Boruch, however, showed a very different attitude. `Chaim,
there is a very clear pattern here. We can't both be prosperous.
Either you succeed while I suffer or I succeed while you suffer. If I
help you, I'll lose everything. Even if I'd be willing to do that for
you, I have a responsibility to my wife and children. I'm very sorry
but I can't help you.' Chaim returned home empty handed and broken
"Years passed and both Chaim and Boruch left this world. When they
came before the heavenly court, Chaim was allowed entry to Gan Eden
(paradise) for the kindness he had shown to Boruch. Boruch, for
turning his back on his friend, was being placed in a different
`department'. Chaim then proclaimed: `How can I enjoy Gan Eden when my
friend Boruch is suffering? True, he might have failed his test, but I
refuse to enter Gan Eden without my friend Boruch!'"
At this point the Baal Shem Tov told the man to listen very carefully
and to look him in the eye.
"There was a heavenly uproar. Allowing Boruch into Gan Eden was
impossible, yet Chaim refused to enter without him. The court decided
on the following solution. Both souls would be sent back to this
world. Boruch's would be rich and Chaim's would be a pauper. If this
time Boruch would help Chaim, then the sin would be rectified and
Boruch would be allowed to ultimately join Chaim in Gan Eden.
"The person bearing Chaim's soul became a pauper who survived on alms.
He'd keep just pennies for himself and gave the rest to support his
wife and small children. The person bearing Boruch's soul became
"One day, the weary pauper made his way to the wealthy man's town.
Tired, hungry and depressed, he felt he hadn't the strength to
continue. Perhaps someone would give him more than a few pennies and
he'd be able to take care of his family. Winter was approaching and
his children needed shoes and warm clothing. If only he could speak to
a wealthy man in person, perhaps he would give generously and allow
him to meet his family's needs.
"The beggar knocked on a wealthy man's door and was met by the butler
who gave him a few pennies. `Please, let me speak to your master for
just a few moments', he begged. The butler explained that his master
was far too busy to meet with him. The beggar began to cry, `please,
ask him to have mercy and grant me just a few moments'.
"At this point, the wealthy man heard the commotion and asked the
butler what the problem was. He explained that a stubborn beggar
wouldn't accept the alms he had given him and was demanding to meet
with the master personally. The wealthy man became furious. `The
audacity! If he refuses to leave, throw him out!' The butler, heeding
his master, literally threw the pauper down the stairs. Exhausted,
famished and humiliated, the beggar breathed his last breath and his
soul returned to the heavens.
As the Baal Shem Tov finished his story, the wealthy man became to
cry. "That is what happened to me just last week! How was I to know?
How was I to know!"
The Baal Shem Tov continued. "You had the opportunity to correct your
sin. Had you met with him and listened, perhaps his words would have
pierced your heart. You would have repaid that debt of long ago...
Now, you still can redeem yourself. Leave only enough for the
necessities of life for you and your family. The rest of your wealth
must be given to the beggar's widow and orphans."
Shmitah. Achdus (unity). We must appreciate our blessings and use them
wisely, being that we never really know why we were given what we
Chazak, chazak v'nischazek.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).