q What's Bothering Rashi

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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Behar/Bechukosi(66)

These two sedras are the final ones in the book of Vayikra. Behar deals with laws of freeing the land on the Seventh year and then on the Jubilee year - 50th year. Slaves are retuned to their freedom and the land - all land purchased - returns to its original owners. The laws of supporting the poor are also included. The overriding message seems to be: Man is not the ultimate master, neither of his inanimate property or of other humans (servants). Jews are G-d's servants and no one else's. Jews are dwellers on the Land of Israel and not its bona fide owners.

Bechukosi contains the blessings and the curse which observance or non observance of G-d's Torah respectively lead to. The ultimate punishment for the People is exile from the Land.

Let us examine a verse dealing with the how one becomes impoverished.

Leviticus 25:25

The Torah teaches us proper conduct in financial matters, with Rashi's help.

If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him, shall come and redeem his brother's sale.


If your brother becomes impoverished. Rashi: This teaches that a person is not permitted to sell his field except when under the pressure of poverty.

From his heritage. Rashi: But not all of it. This teaches proper conduct, that he should leave a field for himself.

These two Rashi-comments are connected. We will look at each one individually, then at them together. First, the first comment.

What would you ask about it?

Your Question:

Questioning Rashi:

A Question: How does Rashi derive the rule that one must not sell his real estate unless he is impoverished? What about verse lead him (and the midrash) to this conclusion?

What's bothering him?

Hint: Compare our verse with the following verses, also from this section.

"When you make a sale to your fellow or when you buy from the hand of your fellow, do not victimize one another, ..."( 25:14)

" If a man shall sell a residence house in a walled city, its redemption shall be until the end of the year of its sale, ..." (25:29).

Do you see any difference between them and our verse?

What's bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:

What Is Bothering Rashi?

An Answer: Verse 29, like our verse, also speaks of a sale; in that case, the sale of one's house. The verse says: And if a man sell a house..." and goes on to tell us how it can be redeemed. No mention is made of "If your brother becomes poor..." The reason for the man's deciding to sell his property is really irrelevant. All that concerns us are the conditions for redeeming it.

In view of this, our question is: Why does our verse mention the man's becoming impoverished? Why should the Torah tell us the man's financial condition that lead him to sell? All that should concern us are the conditions for redeeming it.

This is what is bothering Rashi.

How does his comment help us?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

An Answer: His comment explains that these "irrelevant words" are really quite relevant. They teach an important rule: That " a man is only permitted to part with his ancestral heritage" if his financial misfortunes have brought him to the point of poverty.

Now let us look at Rashi's second comment.

What would you ask?

Your Question:

Questioning Rashi

A Question: How does Rashi know that a person should never sell all his property; rather he should leave at least one field for himself? What in these words lead him to that conclusion?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

An Answer: The Hebrew word here is "M'ei'achuzaso" literally " from some of his heritage." It could have said: "Achuzaso" The extra letter Mem (meaning "from") clues us in that he hasn't sold all of his heritage.

A Closer Look

Now that we have understood both comments, let us compare them. Do you see any difference between them in the way Rashi phrases the two rules of conduct?

Your Answer:

An Answer: In the first comment, Rashi says one is "not permitted" to sell his field, unless he is impoverished. In the second comment, Rashi says it is "proper conduct" not to sell all your land. Why in one case is it "not permitted" while in the other it is only "improper conduct."?

Can you think of a reasonable answer?

Your Answer:

A Clearer Understanding

An Answer: If a man is not in difficult financial straits, the Torah may forbid him to sell even part of his ancestral heritage. Inasmuch as he doesn't need the money for survival there is no justifiable reason for him to sell the land of his heritage. Therefore, Rashi tells us, under such circumstances, the person should not sell his land. If, on the other hand, he needs the money to live on, (which is the case in this verse) then the Torah does not prohibit selling his heritage. If this is necessary for survival, he may do so. But, Rashi tells us, it is proper conduct not to sell it off completely. It is not forbidden to do and under particularly dire financial circumstances, he may even sell all of it. The Torah can only say that doing so isn't proper conduct and that he should do his best to avoid such an eventuality. But being a Toras Chaim, a "Torah of Life" it would not absolutely forbid such an act, since it enables him to live.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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