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Posted on May 19, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Each man shall return to his ancestral heritage, and each man shall return to his family.[2]

Ibn Ezra[3] expresses surprise that so many people choose to wear a talis during davening. They do this in order to have their tzitzis prominently with them when they recite the third paragraph of the Shma, where that mitzvah appears in the Torah. That doesn’t make sense, he says. The parshah of tzitzis emphasizes that when people see their tzitzis, they are reminded of the mitzvos, and this will prevent them from sinning. We are less likely to sin in the middle of davening, he observes, than at other times, he observes. We need those tzitzis and their reminder at all other hours of the day!

This is clearly not our practice, which follows more closely to the people whom the Ibn Ezra criticizes. He has a point. Why is it that we don’t feel the same way?

The unfortunate truth is that we look at mitzvos very differently than the Ibn Ezra. He understood them – correctly!- to be stratagems to make it easier for a person to purify and consecrate himself from all evil, and to orient himself to his proper goals. When the Torah writes, “You will see it, and remember all Hashem’s mitzvos, and perform them,”[4] Ibn Ezra saw an opportunity to protect himself from faltering in the course of the day; we see it as a raw obligation that needs to be performed. To us, it makes sense to combine its performance with another mitzvah, that of tefilah. We don’t really go beyond that. Ibn Ezra saw mitzvos as wonderful advice on how to advance himself spiritually. He tried to maximize its effect wherever he could.

Our parshah maps out how Jews are expected to act throughout their lives regarding their possessions. We learn about ona’ah, and about rights of redemption of sold property. We hear about letting the land lie fallow during shmitah, and resetting the economy during yovel. All the laws and provisions are capped by a single line: “The Land is mine. You are gerim ve-toshavim/sojourners and residents with Me.”[5] The ger/stranger is not a full citizen; the toshav does not have permanent residence. I find too many people pondering the ideas and halachos of gerim ve-toshavim an entire day, and when finished, they announce to those around them, “I’m going home.”

Going home? They take all the hours they spent learning about this verse, and stand them on their head! How treif are these words, “going home!” A sailor can spend years at a time on a ship. Does he ever feel that it is his home? How does one learn our parshah, and feel that he has a home on this earth? Why does Hashem’s exhortation, “The Land is mine. You are gerim ve-toshavim with Me” not penetrate?

The reason is that we don’t look at the Torah the way Ibn Ezra did – pathways paved for us to get us where we are supposed to go. The only person who has a real portion of Torah is one who regards its mitzvos as facilitators that bind us to the Etz HaChaim, and who squeezes good counsel out of them.

  1. Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Vayikra pgs 240, 241, 244
  2. Vayikra 25:10
  3. Shemos 15:39
  4. Bamidbar 15:39
  5. Vayikra 25:23