Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 40
15 Av 5761
August 4, 2001
Orach Chaim 490:5-7
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 8
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Berachot 42
This Shabbat is commonly known as “Shabbat Nachamu” after the opening word of the haftarah: “Nachamu, nachamu ami / Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d. Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her iniquity has been conciliated, for she has received from the hand of Hashem double for all her sins.” (Yishayah 40:1-2)
Chazal note a parallel between the beginning and end of this passage, and they comment: “She sinned doubly, she was punished doubly, and she will be comforted doubly.” What does this mean? R’ Shmuel M. Fine z”l (rabbi in Lithuania, Moscow and Detroit, Michigan; died 1938) offers the following explanation:
The Torah makes seemingly conflicting demands on us. On the one hand, the Torah teaches us to be humble, merciful and low- key. On the other hand, one must serve Hashem with pride, one must feel uplifted, and one must recognize his own spiritual stature. [Ed. note: See Divrei Hayamim II 17:6.] How can these demands be reconciled?
The answer is that when we deal with our fellow Jew, for example, when we give charity or perform acts of chessed, the proper attitude is humility. One should not make the pauper feel like the recipient of a favor; indeed, the Sages teach: “More than the benefactor does for the pauper, the pauper does for his benefactor.” [The pauper receives a material benefit which will soon be gone, while the benefactor receives an eternal spiritual reward.] On the other hand, when one is threatened from the outside, one must stand his ground and stand up with pride for his Judaism.
The gemara states that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam / baseless hatred. Clearly, then, Jews were not relating to each other with humility and mercy. Likewise, the Jews did not stand up to the Roman intruders; worse, many Jews willingly assimilated into Roman culture. Thus they sinned doubly – they related improperly both to their fellow Jews and to those who attacked their way of life. Likewise, we have been punished doubly – we lost control of Eretz Yisrael and we have been abused at the hands of our hosts in exile. May we soon be comforted doubly! (Eitan Shmuel p. 110)
“Honor your father and your mother . . .” (5:16)
R’ Eliyahu Capsali z”l (16th century rabbi in Candia, Crete) writes: R’ Yehuda Hachassid z”l (Germany; author of Sefer Hachassidim; died 1217) quotes an otherwise unknown midrash, as follows:
When G-d said, “Honor your father and your mother,” the guardian angels of each and every nation stood up and said (Shmot 15:18), “Hashem will reign for all eternity.”
Therefore, continues R’ Yehuda Hachasid, one should take great care not to transgress the will of his parents. Merely for walking alone at night in a place where his parents will worry that he could be killed, one will not escape the judgment of Gehinnom, unless, of course, he repents and honors his parents doubly over how he honored them before.
R’ Capsali adds: I do not know the source of the midrash which R’ Yehuda Hachassid quotes, so I cannot be certain of its meaning. However, it appears to refer to the fact that honoring one’s parents is a logical mitzvah. Accordingly, when Hashem gave the Torah, this mitzvah alone was accepted by all of the nations. Each angel accepted this mitzvah on behalf of the nation that he represented.
Alternatively, writes R’ Capsali, the angels’ exclamation reflects the fact that one who honors his parents is likely to honor Hashem as well. Therefore, when the angels heard Hashem command that parents be honored, they said, “If people honor their parents, Hashem will reign for all eternity.” (Meah Shearim, Ch. 51)
“You said, `Behold! Hashem, our G-d, has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; this day we saw that Hashem will speak to a person and he can live. But now, why should we die when this great fire consumes us? If we continue to hear the voice of Hashem any longer, we will die’.” (5:21-22)
R’ Aharon Berechiah z”l (Modena, Italy; died 1639) explains these verses as follows: The Sages teach that if people had no physical desires, all human reproduction and all creative endeavors would cease. But that is not Hashem’s Will! “He did not create [the world] for emptiness; He fashioned it to be inhabited” (Yishayah 45:18). Therefore, said Bnei Yisrael, if Hashem continues to speak to us directly, we will become as lofty as the angels; our physical desires will be eradicated. It is not Hashem’s Will that we “die” and become like the angels, yet how can man continue to hear the voice of Hashem and remain unaffected?
R’ Aharon Berechiah writes further: Hashem’s intention, too, was only to speak directly to Bnei Yisrael on that one occasion, at the giving of the Torah, in order to show them the level that a person is capable of attaining. Then, when they returned to the level of normal men, a trace of their previous level would remain with them. The purpose of this, in turn, was to test them, to see whether the memory of the level that they had once attained and were capable of attaining would save them from sin.
Chazal (Niddah 30b) say that a fetus in the womb studies Torah with an angel. Then, before the child is born, the angel slaps him across the cheek and he forgets everything he had learned. If so, what was the purpose of learning? Here, too, it is because the distant memory of the Torah that one learned helps him to stay on a proper path and to regain what was lost. (Derashot Ma’avar Yabok, p. 117)
“Shema Yisrael / Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only.” (6:4)
We read in the Pesach Haggadah that five sages sat through the night relating the story of the Exodus from Egypt. They continued their discussion until their students entered and said, “Our teachers, the time has come to recite the Shema of Shacharit.”
R’ Levi Yitzchak Horowitz shlita (the “Bostoner Rebbe”) writes: The word that the Haggadah uses for “telling a story” is “me’saprim.” This word shares a root with the gem “sapir” / sapphire. This alludes to the fact that through their story, these sages illuminated the darkness of the exile. [These sages lived shortly after the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash.]
R’ Horowitz continues: When we recite Shema, we are supposed to accept Heaven’s yoke upon ourselves. And, though not everyone is capable of achieving the same level of subordination to G-d, through the spiritual light which these Sages brought about that night, everyone achieved a higher level. That morning’s Shema was recited equally well by each of the Four Sons of the Haggadah. It was a Shema of “Shacharit” – an acronym for: She’aino yodea lish’ol / the one who does not know how to ask; Chacham / the wise one; Rasha / the wicked one; and Tam / the innocent one. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Ezrat Avoteinu p. 82)
Shemittah Observance Today
The Torah states (Devarim 7:1-2), “When Hashem, your G-d, will bring you to the Land, to which you come to possess it, and many nations will be thrust away from before you – the Hittite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite . . . and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver them before you, and you will smite them . . . lo techonaim.” What does “lo techonaim” mean? The gemara (Avodah Zarah 20a) interprets, “You shall not give them chaniyah / an encampment or resting place in the Land.” In other words, one is seemingly forbidden to transfer land in Eretz Yisrael to non- Jews.
If so, how can the Land be sold to a non-Jew for the shemittah year? The following are among the answers offered:
(1) The gemara cited above derives other (seemingly unrelated) laws from the words “lo techonaim.” In connection with one of those laws, the gemara interprets the word “techonaim” as coming from the root “chinam” / “for no reason” (as in “sinat chinam” / “baseless hatred”). Perhaps, then, only transferring Land to a non-Jew for no reason is prohibited. However, if one obtains a benefit, as here, perhaps it is permitted.
(2) The prohibition applies only when it will result in Jews’ _losing_ control of the Land. Selling the Land to a non-Jew for one year actually will result in _strengthening_ Jewish control because it will promote farming.
(3) Transferring Land to a non-Jew is prohibited only when there is a Jewish buyer. In this case, it is as if there is no Jewish buyer, since selling the Land to a Jew could not accomplish the same objective.
(4) The Torah does not say, “Do not sell the Land to a non- Jew,” rather it says, “You shall not give them an encampment in the Land.” Here, where the Land effectively remains in Jewish hands, the prohibition is not transgressed.
(5) To whom does this prohibition apply? In context, the verse appears to prohibit transferring land in Eretz Yisrael only to the seven Canaanite nations listed in the verse. However, Tosfot (Avodah Zarah 20a) writes that there is no reason to distinguish between those seven nations and any other idolators. Perhaps, however, the prohibition does not apply to non-Jews who are not idolators, for example, Moslems.
(6) So long as the majority of Jews are not in Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah of shemittah is in force only due to a Rabbinic decree, but not according to Torah-law. Perhaps, likewise, all mitzvot that relate to the Land are not in force today. Even if the prohibition on transferring the Land still applies by Rabbinic decree, there is a general rule that the Sages allowed their decrees to be set aside when doing so will promote the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Ironically, selling the Land to a non-Jew temporarily promotes settlement by making farming easier.
(7) The Torah prohibits granting non-Jews a place to encamp in Eretz Yisrael. However, if the non-Jew is already there, e.g., an Arab who lives in the Land, the prohibition does not apply.
(8) The Land is sold only to the depth of the plants’ roots. Since the buyer’s rights are so limited, for example, he has no right to dig a foundation for a house, the prohibition is not transgressed.
[Sources: R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l, Shabbat Ha’aretz, Introduction, pp. 52-55; R’ A. Y. Kook, Mishpat Kohen, Nos. 60 & 63; R’ Yechiel Michel Tickochinsky z”l, Sefer Ha’shemittah, Ch. 10; R’ Zvi Pesach Frank z”l, Har Zvi, Yoreh Deah, No. 122; R’ Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog z”l, Pesakim U’chetavim, Vol. III, No. 53; R’ Shlomo Yosef Zevin z”l, L’ohr Ha’halachah, pages 123-125. It should be noted that not all of the authorities cited agree with all of the answers; indeed, each of the answers can be challenged on various grounds, but space considerations will not permit us to present all sides of the arguments.]
Copyright © 2001 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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