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 Parshas Behar-Bechukosai - Vol. 4, Issue 31
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Ki savo’u el ha’aretz asher ani nosein lachem v’shavsa ha’aretz Shabbos l’Hashem (25:2)

            Parshas Behar begins by teaching us about the mitzvah of Shemittah, which requires us to allow the ground to lay fallow every seven years. However, in commanding us to allow the ground to rest, our verse seems to unnecessarily repeat the word “Shabbos” – rest. A most novel explanation for this apparent redundancy is offered by the Mateh Moshe (473). In a regular year, even though a farmer refrains from working his field on Shabbos, the laws of nature are such that the crops that he planted during the week will continue to grow on Shabbos, thereby denying the ground the ability to rest on Shabbos along with the rest of Creation.

During the course of a Jewish year, there are 50-51 Shabbosim on which the land is unable to rest. Over a period of seven years, the total number of days which accrue for which the ground must be compensated comes to 354. As a result, the Torah decreed that once every seven years, the land shall lie completely fallow in order to “pay it back” for all of the Shabbosim during which it was unable to rest. It is for this reason that the Torah stresses that in the Shemittah year, the ground should rest a “Shabbos” to Hashem!


V’hishbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz (26:6)

            Although Parshas Bechukosai is commonly referred to as the parsha of “tochacha” – rebuke – it actually begins with a number of blessings promised to those who observe the mitzvos properly. One of the blessings is that “I will cause dangerous animals to cease from the land.” The Toras Kohanim quotes a dispute between two Tannaim regarding the nature of this blessing.

            The opinion of Rebbi Yehuda is that deadly animals will simply cease to exist. Rebbi Shimon maintains that they will continue to live, but their natures will change so that they are no longer dangerous. While this appears at first glance to be a mere technical dispute over the translation of a word, the two legendary sages of Dvinsk write that the opinions of the Tannaim in fact stem from their views regarding other issues.

            The Rogatchover Gaon notes that the root of the word “V’hishbati” is the same root as the word “Tashbisu,” which the Torah uses (Shemos 12:15) in reference to the obligation to remove all chometz from our houses before Pesach. The Mishnah in Pesachim (21a) quotes a dispute about the correct way to dispose of chometz. The opinion of Rebbi Yehuda is that it must be burned, while the other Sages maintain that it is sufficient to throw it into the ocean or scatter it and disperse it in the wind. Rebbi Yehuda, in contrast to the other Rabbis, understands that the only way to properly remove the chometz is to destroy it to the point of nonexistence. It is for this reason that he interpreted this blessing as similarly referring to the complete and utter removal of wild beasts from the land of Israel.

            The Meshech Chochmah similarly suggests that the position of Rebbi Shimon emanates from his opinions in other places. The Gemora in Berachos (35b) quotes Rebbi Yishmael as maintaining that a person should study Torah and also work at a profession. Rebbi Shimon argues that the ideal level is to spend one’s every waking moment engaged in the singular study of Torah while relying on Hashem to take care of his earthly needs. The Gemora in Shabbos (11a) relates that Rebbi Shimon didn’t interrupt his learning even to recite the daily prayers, as he had no earthly needs and relied on his Torah study to protect him. It was for this reason that upon emerging from his cave, Rebbi Shimon burned the first farmer he encountered due to his anger over the man’s wasted time (Shabbos 33b).

            We find that when a Jew serves Hashem with all of his energy, Hashem in turn protects him from the natural dangers posed by wild animals. The Gemora in Berachos (33a) relates that Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa’s neighbors approached him in fear of a poisonous serpent in the area. He placed his foot on top of the serpent’s hole, inciting it to bite him. The snake immediately died, and Rebbi Chanina explained, “The snake doesn’t kill; sin kills.” Similarly, we find in the Gemora in Makkos (11a) that Eliyahu HaNavi informed Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi that had he been on a sufficiently high spiritual level, he would have protected not only himself but his entire surroundings from wild animals in the area.

However, this level of supernatural protection is provided only to a person who spends his entire day engrossed in the study of Torah. One who leaves his studies to tend to his business affairs is left vulnerable. The blessings in Parshas Bechukosai are addressed to those on the highest spiritual level. Because Rebbi Shimon maintains that this refers to individuals who spend their entire day studying Torah, only he can interpret the verse to mean that the wild animals will still exist but will no longer be able to cause any harm!


V’tam l’rik kochachem (26:20)

            One of the greatest and most well-known Rishonim, whose legal opinions and explanations of the Gemora are widely quoted and debated until the present day, is Rabbeinu Tam, a grandson of Rashi who lived in the 12th century. However, it is interesting to note that his birth name was actually Yaakov. How did he come to be universally known by the peculiar appellation “Rabbeinu Tam?”

            In K’Motzei Shalal Rav, it is related that somebody once had a dream in which he received a most fascinating explanation for this historical curiosity. The law is that when a married woman dies, her husband (or his relatives) inherits her possessions. The Toras Kohanim on our verse explains that the curse of “Your strength will be spent in vain” refers to a case in which a person gives a large dowry to his daughter upon her marriage only to have her die shortly thereafter, causing the possessions and money for which her father worked so hard to pass from his family.

One of the laws which Rabbeinu Tam enacted in his lifetime was that the estate and possessions of a woman who dies within 12 months of marriage shall be inherited by her father (or his next-of-kin) instead of by her husband (Sefer HaYashar 579). Because his actions brought an end to the curse of “V’tam la’rik kochachem, he became universally known as Rabbeinu Tam!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Is Shemittah a mitzvah on the person forbidding him from working the land, or is it a mitzvah on the ground prohibiting it to be worked on, such that a person must ensure that it isn’t worked on even by others? (Ibn Ezra, Tosefos Rid Avodah Zara 15a, Minchas Chinuch 112:2 and 326:1, Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     Rashi writes (25:14) that when a person buys products, he should buy them from a Jew, and when he sells merchandise, he should sell to a Jew. Although a person is required to spend money for the performance of mitzvos, to what extent is he required to buy from a Jew or sell to him if it would be cheaper or more profitable to make the transaction with a non-Jew? (Ahavas Chesed Dinei Mitzvas Halva’ah 5:7, Ayeles HaShachar)

3)     The Torah addresses the potential concern over lack of food to eat in the Shemittah year by stating (25:21) that Hashem will bless the crop and cause it to suffice for three years. Is this blessing still in effect at present? (S”ma Choshen Mishpat 67:2, Chazon Ish Shevi’is 18:4, Darkei Mussar, Ayeles HaShachar)

4)     In Parshas Behar, Hashem promises (25:19), “You will eat and be full.” In Parshas Bechukosai (26:5), one word is added – “You will eat your bread and be full.” Why the change? (Imrei Deah)

5)     In the middle of the rebuke, Hashem mentions (26:42) that He will remember His covenant with our forefathers. What is the intention of this verse and its placement? (Shelah HaKadosh, Chiddushei Beis Yosef, Dubno Maggid, Darkei Mussar)

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