These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #987 – Limud HaTorah — Must You Understand What You Are Learning? Good Shabbos!
What Will We Eat In The Seventh Year?
Parshas Behar begins with the mitzvah of Shemittah. “…When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years, you may sow your field and for six years, you may prune your vineyard; and you may gather in its crop. But on the seventh year a complete rest there shall be for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune…” [Vayikra 25:2-7]
The pesukim [verses] then move on to discuss the laws of Yovel [the Jubilee year], during which we are also forbidden to perform agricultural work [Vayikra 25:8-13]. From there the Torah moves on to the prohibitions of cheating a fellow man in business transactions [Vayikra 25:14-18].
Then the Torah says “If you will say: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? — behold! We will not sow and we will not gather our crop!’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years.” [Vayikra 25:20-21] This blessing of bounty will suffice to provide your agricultural needs even in situations where Yovel follows the Shemittah year!
We must ask two questions. The Noam Elimelech, in the name of his brother, the Rebbe Reb Zishe, cites the first question: The Torah, as we know, is very stingy with its words. If the Torah is merely promising us that in a situation when a Yovel year (every fiftieth year) immediately follows a Shemittah year (every seventh year) we will have enough to eat, the Torah could have stated that blessing directly without introducing it with the question “What will we eat in the seventh year? — behold we will not sow and we will not gather our crop!” What is the purpose of the question? Let the Torah just promise that everything will be all right and that Hashem will give us a blessing that we should have all the food we need when we keep his commandments.
The second question is the placement of this blessing. It really belongs at the very beginning of the laws of Shemittah. However, the Torah does not put it there. The Torah first lists the laws of Shemittah, then Yovel, then cheating, and then, as a seeming afterthought, the Torah says that we do not need to worry about keeping the laws of Shemittah and Yovel because Hashem will bless our crops in the year prior to Shemittah such that the produce from that harvest will last for 3 years!
A sefer called Avir Yosef (by Rav Yakov Yosef Reinman) answers these questions. Shemittah is the most demanding law in the Torah, in terms of requiring bitachon [trust and faith in the Almighty] on the part of those who observe it. Hashem is telling us, in effect, “Lest you think when you work for six years and bring in a good livelihood for your family that it is you who are really responsible for your success and your livelihood, you should realize that this is not the case.” The Ribono shel Olam ultimately provides our parnassa [livelihood].
Ideally, we should work for six years and let the land observe a Sabbath on the seventh year and there should be no questions asked whatsoever. Ay, “What’s going to be?” You do not need to ask that question, because the Almighty provides. Either you will need much less, or as Rashi says, “a small amount will be blessed within your intestine” (so that you are satiated by small quantities). There are two ways to earn a living — one is to earn a significant amount of money and the other one is to earn a modest amount of money but that money lasts because the person has very minimal expenses. Optimally, the way Shemittah is supposed to work is that a person works for six years, stops in the seventh year, and there are no questions because we put our full faith in the Ribono shel Olam.
This is how the parsha continues. Hashem tells the Jewish people: I know you. There may be righteous individuals among you who will not ask this question, but certainly, some people among you will ask, “What are we going to eat on the seventh year?” That is why the Torah needs to introduce the blessing by mentioning this question. In truth, he should not and need not ask the question because the Almighty will provide. This is why the question is not part of the parsha of Shemittah proper. This is primarily not a necessary facet of the laws of Shemittah. However, if there are individuals among you who are not on that spiritual level that they can accept these laws without asking this question then that is observance of Shemittah on a non-optimal level, Shemittah b’dieved. Hashem promises to those people who observe Shemittah b’dieved that they do not need to worry. “I will command my blessing upon you during the sixth year…. and you will harvest three times the normal amount of produce.”
This leaves us with just one last question: Why does the Torah reward a person who is deficient in his faith in G-d with a miraculously bountiful crop — triple what he would normally expect? The person, who keeps quiet and does not say anything, somehow makes it through on his normal income. However, someone who is not such a spiritual personality, who does ask the question — Hashem specifically, promises him a bountiful crop on the sixth year that will last for three years. Is this fair?
We do not find such a promise by Shabbos. For us living in America at the beginning of the twenty-first century, asking “What will be if I am Sabbath observant?” does not seem like something we need to be terribly concerned about. However, if you go back in history seventy, eighty, ninety or one hundred years — this was a powerful question: What will become of my livelihood and me if I do not work on Shabbos? Perhaps a generation of Jews lost their children because they had to work Shabbos! I am not that old, but I remember people who came to shul Shabbos morning and then left early to open the business. However, the Torah does not give us such a blessing by Shabbos. It does not say, “What is going to be? My boss tells me ‘If you don’t come in on Saturday, then don’t bother coming in Monday either?'” This was the working principle in American industry for most of the early part of the twentieth century. Why does the Torah not give us a promise regarding Sabbath observance like it does by Shemittah observance?
The Avir Yosef suggests a very novel idea: He says the nisayon [test; temptation] of Shemittah is such a difficult nisayon that it in fact needs a promise from the Almighty to ensure its observance. Hopefully, a person can survive not working one day a week. However, sitting an entire year idle in an agrarian economy is a spiritual challenge of an entirely different magnitude. In that environment, if a person did not grow his produce, then he did not have any produce and there was nothing to eat! When a Yovel follows Shemittah, we are talking about two consecutive years of non-productive idleness. This is very difficult! A person needs to be on an exceptional spiritual level to not ask this question.
Even though this is not optimum bitachon, this kind of bitachon (observing Shemittah, but asking the question) is also very acceptable bitachon. The Almighty is very understanding of this question and he responds, “My dear child, I will take care of you – do not worry!”
Shemittah — A National Year of Learning
Parshas Bechukosai begins with the pasuk “If you will go in My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them…” [Vayikra 26:3] Rashi interprets “What is meant by ‘if you will go in My decrees’? That you should be laboring in the Torah (she’ti’heyu ameilim b’Torah). The Torah then relates the great bounty we will have if we keep the Torah. Everything will be wonderful.
Several pesukim later, the Torah relates the other side of the equation: “But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments…” [Vayikra 26:14]. Rashi is consistent here in his interpretation. Rashi says that “if you will not listen to Me” means “to be laboring in the Torah”. The positive is that you should labor in the Torah and the negative is what will happen if you do not labor in the Torah. The negative leads into a downward spiral of spiritual decay, which will lead to troubles and punishment for the Jewish people.
Then the pesukim say, “Then the land will appease its Shemittah years during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your foes; then the land will rest and it will make its Shemittah years appeasing.” [Vayikra 26:34] In other words, while you are in exile as punishment for your sins, the land will, in effect, observe Shemittah and achieve atonement for all the sabbatical years that you did not observe while you were residing on the land. The clear implication from a simple reading of the pesukim is that the punishment of exile is in large part because of non-observance of the Shemittah.
Rav Yakov Kamenetsky asks — who mentioned Shemittah? Rashi (on verses 14-15) enumerated a whole domino effect of sins, all beginning because people did not labor in Torah, but he does not mention Shemittah observance as part of the list of sins that triggers the exile. Suddenly out of nowhere in pasuk 34, the Torah introduces that the exile came because of non-observance of Shemittah. Who mentioned Shemittah? The Torah changes the subject, so to speak, because the initial explanation of the trigger for exile was (according to Rashi) failing to labor in Torah.
However, Rav Yakov says it is even more puzzling that Rashi says in pasuk 35 that Klal Yisrael did not properly observe Shemittah the entire time they were living in Eretz Yisrael — not a single Shemittah from the time they entered Eretz Yisrael until the destruction of the First Bais Hamikdash and the subsequent Babylonian exile. Is that possible?
Rav Yakov wants to suggest a tremendously novel idea. He suggests that despite the fact that in some years we read these parshios on separate weeks (in particular during a 13-month Jewish leap year), Parshas Behar and Parshas Bechukotai are really one long parsha with a single theme running throughout the unified parsha. Parshas Behar begins with Shemittah and then naturally moves into discussing Yovel. In effect, the Torah goes off on a tangent.
The section of Shemittah led into the section of Yovel, which led into the section of cheating, etc., etc., etc. This continues until the Biblical narration reaches the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, where the Torah gets back to its original theme — the real purpose of Shemittah. The real purpose of Shemittah is that it is a national year of learning. Klal Yisrael needs such a sabbatical. Klal Yisrael can labor in the fields for six years with that occupying their lives. However, we all know what can happen when a person is too occupied with earning a living.
Shabbos is to the workday — a time to recharge and contemplate about the essence of life and to take a break from the normal daily routine — what Shemittah is supposed to be to Eretz Yisrael. The purpose of Shemittah is to give an opportunity for everybody to learn. What do they do the whole year in an agrarian economy if they cannot farm? Nebach, these were the days before television and before video games! What was a person going to do the whole year? The answer is that everyone had an opportunity to sit and learn Torah. What a wonderful opportunity that was!
Therefore, at the beginning of Bechukosai, the Torah continues the parsha of Shemittah, “If you go in My decrees” (im bechukosai telechu) which Rashi explains — to occupy yourself with Torah study. This was literally a time for everyone to come back to Yeshiva or Kollel. However, “And if you do not hearken to My voice…” – meaning “if you do not learn…” then you have not accomplished the purpose of Shemittah because you did not do what you were supposed to do on Shemittah. Then, the Torah continues, “the land will appease its Shemittah years.”
This, Rabbi Yakov Kamentsky says, is what Rashi means when he says they never kept the Shemittah properly all the years they were in Eretz Yisrael. Heaven Forbid that they never kept the laws of Shemittah during all the period of the Judges and the righteous kings (including Dovid and Shlomo). However, they did not properly take advantage of the Shemittah. Shemittah is a two-pronged institution. The first prong involves not working, but it is much more than that. The second prong is using the spare time to learn. It was this second prong of Shemittah that they did not properly fulfill during any of the hundreds of years when Shemittah was Biblically in effect prior to the destruction of the First Bais Hamikdash.
I have a student who learned in my shiur in Ner Yisroel many years ago. I do not wish this on anybody but a few weeks ago (at the time this shiur was given in 2009), when the student was already out of the yeshiva several years, there was a front page story in the Baltimore Sun “T Rowe Price lays off 201 employees in Baltimore, MD.” The next day this fellow, who worked for T Rowe Price, came to me in the Beis Medrash and told me “I just got laid off.” I tried to console him, but he did not come for consolation. He said, “Can I come back to shiur?”
He received 8 weeks of severance pay from T Rowe Price. They were, in effect, paying him to learn in Kollel. He came back to the Yeshiva. Of course, he kept looking for a job and he prepared resumes, etc., etc. However, he took the “opportunity” the Ribono shel Olam gave him and came back to learn.
We do not have a Shemittah in the United States but when the Ribono shel Olam or even the United States government gives us a Memorial Day or a Fourth of July or when people have off the whole “holiday season,” the Beis Medrash should be jammed packed. This is our “mini Shemittah.” Klal Yisrael as a communal entity needs to learn. This has to be our national focus. This is the purpose of Shemittah, Shabbos and days off.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Behar is provided below:
- CD# 011 – Rationing Medical Care
- CD# 012 – Can Teachers Strike?
- CD# 054 – Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
- CD# 055 – Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
- CD# 097 – “Ribis” Problems of Interest for the Jew in a Mercantile Society
- CD# 098 – “Cheremei Tzibur”: A Ban on Living in Germany?
- CD# 145 – Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
- CD# 192 – Making Shabbos Early
- CD# 282 – The Physician’s Obligation to Heal
- CD# 328 – Sh’mita and the Heter Mechira
- CD# 372 – Using Shuls As A Shortcut
- CD# 416 – Supporting Jewish Merchants
- CD# 460 – The Obligation of Checking One’s Teffilin
- CD# 504 – Lag B’Omer
- CD# 548 – Marrying for Money
- CD# 592 – Ribis and the Non-Jew
- CD# 636 – The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
- CD# 680 – Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
- CD# 724 – The Chazzan Who Changes His Mind
- CD# 768 – Dos and Don’ts of Treating a Lender
- CD# 812 – How Much Is That Tiffany Necklace?
- CD# 856 – Distractions When Performing A Mitzvah
- CD# 900 – Oy! My Tefillin Are Pasul
- CD# 945 – Overcharging: How Much Is Too Much?
- CD# 987 – Limud HaTorah – Must You Understand What You Are Learning?
- CD# 988 – Bentching – Making Sure You Eat and Enjoy
- CD#1031 – Sh’mitta – How Did the Farmers Survive?
- CD#1032 – The Child Molester – What Must We Do?
- CD#1076 – Cheating in Business It May Be More Asur Than You Think
- CD#1118 – What Are You/Aren’t You Allowed To Talk About on Shabbos?
- CD#1119 – Davening in a Rented Movie Theater–Is There A Problem?
- CD#1160 – The Mahram of Padua, The Ramo, and l’Havdil the Pope
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.