Eye Want Yours
But the seventh year shall be a complete rest of the land..."(25:4)
The Midrash introduces this week's parsha by noting that Eisav
had a "rah ayin" - "bad eye". This attribute, continues the Midrash, is also
exhibited by a person who fails to observe the laws of shemitah, i.e.
abstaining from working the land on the seventh year and allowing others to
partake from its produce.1 Why is Eisav's pursuit of wealth
described as possessing an "ayin rah"? If a "rah ayin" indicates that a
person exhibits an unquenchable thirst for material possessions to the
extent the he is willing to violate the precepts, examples can be shown
involving other precepts which require sustaining a financial loss. Why is a
violator of the laws of shemitah singled out as possessing a "rah ayin"?
The Torah promises that a person who adheres to the laws of shemitah will be
blessed with an abundance of food for the sixth, seventh and eighth
years.2 Yet Rashi reveals that one of the primary reasons for the
Babylonian exile was Bnei Yisroel's failure to observe shemitah; the seventy
years of exile correspond to the seventy shemitos which were not
observed.3 With Hashem's guarantee that they would not go hungry,
why did Bnei Yisroel not observe the laws of shemitah?
Rashi, in Parshas Vayishlach, contrasts Yaakov's manner of relating to his
possessions to that of Eisav. Yaakov states "yeish li kol" - "I have all
that I need", while Eisav proclaims "yeish li rav" - "I have much more than
I need".4 Generally, we attribute a person's greed to his
insatiable appetite. Concerning Eisav , this explanation does not suffice
for he admits that he has more than he would ever need. What could be the
motivating factor that drives him to continue amassing more wealth?
Eisav is not driven by an intrinsic desire to satisfy his needs. His desire
is fueled by his need to ensure that no one else will posses this wealth.
Although he is aware that he has no personal need for this wealth, he
attempts to obtain it only in order to prevent another from having it. This
is the characteristic that the Midrash defines as a "rah ayin", the
inability to "fargin" another person his good fortune. Not only does Eisav
not appreciate the good fortune of others, but he does whatever he can to
prevent others from having this good fortune.
The inability to observe the laws of shemitah is a result of possessing a
"rah ayin". Even with Hashem's guarantee to supply us with all our needs, we
could not tolerate opening our fields so that others could benefit from
them. Although the portion that they would have consumed would not have
diminished what we needed for our own well-being, the mere thought of others
possessing that which could be ours prevented us from observing the shemitah
for the entire duration of the first Temple.
1.Tanchuma 2.25:21 3.26:17, See Shabbos 33a 4.33:11
"The Sabbath produce of the land shall be yours to eat...And for your
animal and for your beast that is in your land..." (25:6,7)
During the Sabbatical year, the Torah renders all produce of
the land ownerless. The verse teaches us that the owner is permitted to take
from the produce for his own and his animals' needs, provided that he allows
equal access to everyone else as well. The Torah says "lachem" - "for you"
prior to "livhemtecha" - "for your animal", placing the owner's consumption
before that of his animal. This appears to contradict the halacha taught by
the Talmud that before partaking of a meal, a person should first feed his
animals.1 A similar question is posed by Reb Naftali Amsterdam in
Parshas Chukas where Hashem instructs Moshe "Speak to the rock so that it
may bring forth water and give drink to the assembly and their
animals."2 Why are the people given water to drink before their
If a person has only one portion of food, there is no question that his
consumption supersedes that of his animals. The Torah requirement is that
when a person has sufficient food for both himself and his animal, the
responsibility to his animal comes first. If the food does not belong to the
owner of the animal, but it is being given to him as a gift, the person
giving the gift does not have a responsibility to his friend's animal. In
fact, it could be viewed as disrespectful to feed an animal prior to its
owner. Therefore, during the shemitah year, when a person does not own his
produce, but Hashem is gifting it all to him, he may eat prior to his
animals. Similarly, when Hashem gives Bnei Yisroel water to drink, His
responsibility is to the people first.
With the understanding that feeding an animal prior to its owner is only
applicable when the owner owns the food, and not when someone else is
providing it, there may be grounds to question a ruling made by the Magen
Avraham. The Magen Avraham asks why Rivka gave Eliezer water to drink prior
to his animals. He concludes that a person is required to feed his animals
first only in regard to eating, and not drinking.4 Since Rivka
was providing Eliezer with the water. Therefore, her responsibility was to
the person first and not his animals, and no distinction between eating and
drinking is necessary.
1. Berachos 40a 2. Bamidbar 20:8 3. Binyan Ariel ibid 4. Magen Avraham
167:18, See Torah Temimah Bamidbar 20:8 for explanation of Magen Avraham