Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 14   No. 30

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Parshios Behar-Bechukosai

Thoughts on the Sh'mitah
(Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchak)

The Seventh Year

The Medrash Agadah compares the Mitzvah of Sh'mitah to that of Shabbos, inasmuch as not only is it the seventh, which as we shall see shortly, is always special, but, like the Shabbos, despite its inactivity, it causes the other six years to be blessed. Indeed, it is due to the Sh'mitah that the land, which like the Shabbos, belongs to Hashem, produces the crops during the rest of the cycle.

Come and see, says the Medrash, how all the sevenths are special

1. In the generations Adam, Sheis, Enosh, Keinan, Mahalalel, Yered and Chanoch (whom G-d took early, because "he went with Hashem").

2. In the Avos Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'akov, Levi, K'has, Amram and Moshe (to whom Hashem spoke 'mouth to mouth').

3. In the sons of Yishai; Eli'av, Avinadav, Shim'a, Nesanel, Radai, Otzem and David (who was crowned king).

4. In the Heavens; Raki'a, Shomayim, Shechokim, Z'vul, Mo'on, Mochon and Arvos (about whom the Pasuk writes "extol the One who rides on Arvos").

5. In the lands; Eretz, Adomoh, Arkeh, Chorboh, Yaboshoh, Neshiyoh and Teivel (about which the Pasuk writes "He will judge Teivel with righteousness").

6. In the years, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim "Six years you shall sow your field and in the seventh, you shall leave untended and unharvested".

7. In the months; Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tamuz, Av, Elul and Tishri (which was chosen for blowing the Shofar, atonement and rejoicing).

8. In the days, as the Torah writes in Yisro "Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day is Shabbos for Hashem ").


An Object-Lesson in Emunah and Bitachon

The purpose of the Mitzvah of Sh'mitah, the commentaries explain, is to implant into Yisrael the Midos of Emunah and Bitachon. For, you see, G-d was concerned that when Yisrael would enter Eretz Yisrael and begin tilling the land in the way that farmers do, they would become so taken up by their work that they would forget Him and lose their faith in Him, as they became more and more convinced that their success was based on their hard work and would ultimately come to believe that the land belonged to them and that they were its exclusive owners. That is why Hashem changed the system, in that, instead of sowing the land for two years and leaving it fallow for one (in order not to drain its strength), as was the custom of non-Jewish farmers, He ordered us to till the field and to sow the crops for six consecutive years, promising that the land, far from becoming weaker, would retain its full strength throughout this time.


A Miracle within a Miracle within a Miracle

And not only that! He promised that not only would keeping the Sh'mitah not cause the land to get weaker, but, as the Torah writes "And I will command My blessing in the sixth year, and it will produce enough produce to last for three years".

And that's not all, says the K'li Yakar! But the crops that will grow in the sixth year will achieve that end, despite the fact that they will not measure one ounce more than the crops that grew in each of the other six years of the cycle. How is that possible?

It is because G-d's blessing will not be quantitative, but qualitative. One will eat only a third of what one normally eats and be satisfied, for the food will be blessed in one's stomach. Consequently, one year's produce will be sufficient to last for three years.


Counter Evolution

The Mitzvos of Sh'mitah and of Shabbos, says the Remah, serve as two witnesses that counter the theory of evolution. The laws of nature never cease to function, and so, by working for six days and resting on the seventh, Yisrael demonstrate their belief that the world did not evolve, but that G-d created the world in six days and 'rested' on the seventh. Exactly the same lesson emerges from the Sh'mitah cycle, when the land is worked for six years and rests on the seventh. That is why the Torah refers to both of them as "Shabbos la'Hashem".


Days, Weeks, Years and Cycles

As a reminder of our purpose in life and our obligations in this world, Hashem made Simanim (Omens) in the days of the week, the weeks leading to Matan Torah, the years in the Sh'mitah cycle, and the cycles leading to the Yovel year, all based on the number seven.

He gave us six days in which to complete our work, and the seventh, to remind us that He is the Creator and our Master (as we explained earlier).


Once we know there is a Creator, we become obligated to observe His Mitzvos, hence the Torah that we received on Shavu'os, which is the source of life in both this world and the next, and for this we require seven weeks of counting and preparation.


When we entered Eretz Yisrael, Hashem was concerned that we may become subservient to it (as we explained earlier).

So He decided to remind us that we are here, not to become slaves to it, but for a higher purpose, and working on it is no more than a means towards that end. So what did He do? He gave us the Mitzvah of Sh'mitah, whereby we work for six years and desist in the seventh in His honour. This serves as a reminder that we do not subsist by virtue of our work, but by the good grace of Hashem. And that in turn, will remind us during the other six years of the cycle, to reduce our workload to our basic needs, and to cut out excesses.


And finally, the commentaries refer to the seven cycles leading to the Yovel year, representing the seven ten-year phases of man's life-cycle.

1. He attains the age which enables him to enact business transactions ('Pe'utos') and the first stages of knowledge; 2. & 3. He reaches the age when he becomes punishable first at the hand of Beis-Din shel Matah, then at the hand of Beis-Din shel Ma'alah; 4. He becomes a fully fledged member of society; 5. He has passed the half-way mark; 6. He enters the realm of old age; 7. The last ten years constitute the period of decline, reminding a person where he is heading, and that he should 'sanctify the fiftieth year', by switching from material endeavours to spiritual ones. Because when the fiftieth year arrives, everybody will return to his possession, the body to the earth from which it was taken and the Neshamah to its celestial source. No amount of wealth that one amasses here in this world will be of any use to help his situation at that time.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

What is the B'rachah Based on?

"And if you will say 'What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold we cannot sow!' Then I will command My B'rachah for you in the sixth year!" (25:20/21).

Bearing in mind the well-known principle that a B'rachah cannot take effect on nothing, says R. Yosef Shaul Natanson, Yisrael have a point when they complain that, if they cannot sow in the seventh year, in which case, there will be nothing to harvest, what are they going to eat?

But Hashem is ready with His reply; Who says that the B'rachah has to come after the event. G-d knows if and when Yisrael will observe the Sh'mitah. And if they do Hashem will prepare the B'rachah in advance (much in the same way as He prepares the cure before the stroke), so that sufficient will grow in the sixth year (when sowing is permitted) to cover their needs for three years in a row.


The Exodus & Lending on Interest

"Do not give him (the poor man) your money on interest I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out from the land of Egypt " (25:37/38).

'Whoever agrees with the Mitzvah of Ribis (interest) agrees with the Exodus; whoever denies the Mitzvah of Ribis, denies the Exodus from Egypt', says the Yalkut.


It is understandable, says the K'sav Sofer, when a person objects to having to lend his hard-earned money to others, without being able to earn anything in the process. But if Reuven presents a large sum of money to Shimon, stipulating that should his (Reuven's) son require a loan, Shimon should not hesitate to lend him. That is an entirely different matter. This is a condition that any right-minded person would gladly accept.

And that is what happened here. G-d took us out of Egypt with all the accompanying miracles that this entailed, and showered us with vast amounts of money. And He stipulated that should any of His sons require a loan, then we should provide it, interest-free.

Anybody who ignores the condition and insists on taking interest, automatically denies the Exodus together with the miracles that took place at the time.


Do the Sons Go Free or Don't They?

"And he (the servant) shall go free, he and his sons with him" (25:41).

Interestingly, in Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah mentions only that his wife goes out with him, but not his children, observes the Toras Moshe.

Regarding the actual Halachah, Rashi asks on what grounds do the sons fall under the jurisdiction of their father's master? They don't, he answers. What the Torah means is that the master is obligated to sustain the servant's children too. Once the father goes free, the Torah is teaching us here, the master is no longer obliged to feed his children.

It goes without saying, says the Toras Moshe, that the master is not obligated to sustain the servant's children any longer than the servant is. Now the Shulchan Aruch obliges a father to sustain his children up to the age of six.

The stage is now set to reconcile the two above Pesukim. The Pasuk in Mishpatim is speaking about a servant who goes free after serving a full six years. Consequently, any children who were born when he began his years of service and whom his master was obligated to sustain, have passed the age of six and are therefore no longer sustained by their father, In which case it is unnecessary to add that the master is exempt from feeding them when their father goes out. This Parshah on the other hand, is speaking about a case where the Yovel occurs before the six years of service have terminated. Consequently, the servant may well have children under the age of six, and the Torah therefore needs to tell us that when the father goes free, the children go with him.



Give the Poor in Full

"And you shall eat your bread to satisfaction" (26:5).

To explain why the Pasuk says "your bread" (and not just 'bread'), R. Chayim Valodzin cites Rashi, who explains satisfaction to mean that one will eat little, but that the food will be blessed in one's stomach, so that the little that one eats will satisfy.

That is why, concerned that one may come to take advantage of this blessing when giving a poor man bread by giving him little, the Torah therefore wrote "your bread"; yes indeed, your bread will suffice in small quantities, but not that of the poor. To them you shall give generously, as if the Torah had not issued such a B'rachah.


R. Yisrael Salanter said that the Midah of Apikorsus (having no faith in Hashem), was created with regard to one's interrelationship with others. When a poor man asks for Tzedakah, for example, one should respond as if one's failure to do so will result in the asker dying of starvation. Here too, faith in Hashem's promise to bless the food in one's stomach is in place with regard to one's own personal eating habits; but when it comes to a man begging for alms, Hashem's promises must be put aside, and one must give on the understanding that the poor man will eat as much, or a little as one gives him, and not a scrap more.


Sh'mitah & Galus

"Then the land will be appeased for its Sabbatical years " (26:34).

The Chashavah le'Tovah explains why the punishment for Sh'mitah is specifically Galus.

The purpose of Sh'mitah, he points out, is to remind us that G-d is Master of the land and that in reality, the land and all its produce belongs to Him. As long one absorbs this lesson, then He will provide one's every need.

If the people fail to keep Sh'mitah, they are demonstrating that they consider themselves to be the owners of the land. In that case, the Owner will banish them and send them into exile.


The Songs of Ge'ulah

"These are the Mitzvos that Hashem commanded to the B'nei Yisrael " (27:34).

After extrapolating from the Pasuk "These are the Mitzvos that Hashem commanded", and no Navi is permitted to add to them, the Gemara in Megilah (2b) queries this from the final letters 'Me.Na.Tz.Pa'Ch' (the acronym of 'Mem', 'Nun', 'Tzadik', 'Pey', 'Chaf') which, they say (playing on the word 'Tzofim') the Nevi'im introduced.

They did not actually introduce them, answers the Gemara; What happened was that at some stage, they were forgotten and the Nevi'im of that time re-introduced them, exactly as they were given at Sinai.

The Yalkut (in Lech-L'cha) explains that these five letters hint at the five redemptions. How is that?

'Chaf' represents the Ge'ulah of Avraham - "Lech-L'cha"; 'Mem', that of Yitzchak - "Lech Me'I'Manu"; 'Nun', that of Ya'akov - "HatzileiNi Na"; 'Pey' represents the Ge'ulah from Egypt - "Pokod Pokadti". All these refer to Ge'ulos that have passed, whereas the 'Tzadik' represents the future Ge'ulah, "Ish Tzemach sh'mo", that we are eagerly awaiting.

The Pasuk in Yeshayah (24:16) writes "mi'K'naf ha'aretz z'miros shoma'nu, Tzvi la'Tzadik" (from the corner of the earth we have heard songs, glory for the righteous"). The D'rush ve'ha'Iyun observes that the word "mi'K'naf" contains the first of the four letters that represent the past Ge'ulos ('Mem', 'Chaf', 'Nun' and 'Pey'), whereas the Pasuk ends with the fifth, when it writes "Tz'vi la'Tzadik", a clear hint to the future one. This constitutes the exciting message that just as the songs of Ge'ulah were sung in their respective time, so can we look forward to singing the song of the Ge'ulah, which we hope will come soon.

* * *



"And open cities that are not surrounded by a wall, are like tents spread out in a field. They are redeemable, and they go out in the Yovel year" (25;31).


"Either his uncle or his cousin, or any other blood relative, shall redeem him; or he becomes able to afford it , or the community, and he is redeemed" (25:49).


"Because B'nei Yisrael are mine, they are subservient to My Torah; They are My servants whom I took out to freedom from the land of Egypt. " (25:55).


"Do not make for yourselves gods and images, neither may you make for yourselves an Altar made of one stone on which to bow down, nor may you set up an ornamented stone slab in your land to bow down on it. Only stones with pictures and images you shall place on the floor of your Mikdash, but (outside) to bow down on" 26:1).


"And I will rest My Shechinah among you; My word will be for you as a Redeeming G-d, and you will be a holy nation for My Name's sake" (26:12).



"And you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 'How terrible must be the purposeful sins', Moshe the Navi exclaimed, 'that they result in fathers having to eat the flesh of their sons and daughters because they failed to observe the Mitzvos of the Torah" (26:29).

* * *


(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 326:
Not to Till the Land in the Sh'mitah-Year

It is forbidden to till the land in the seventh year, otherwise known as the Sh'mitah, as the Torah writes in Behar (25:4) "And in the seventh year you shall not sow your field".

A reason for this Mitzvah together with all its details, the author already gave in the Mitzvah of lending money (Mitzvah 66).

Someone who contravenes this La'av and tills his land, performing anything that the Torah forbids during the Sh'mitah, at the time when the Beis-Hamikdash stands, receives Malkos, as the author explained there.


Mitzvah 327:
Not to Work on the Trees during the Sh'mitah-Year

One is not permitted to work even on the trees in the seventh year, as the Torah writes in Behar (25:4) "And you shall not prune your vineyard". The Sifra writes that sowing seeds and pruning are included in the Torah's obligation of 'Sh'visah' (since the Torah already wrote "and the land shall rest" and "it shall be a year of rest for the land"). And the Torah only specified sowing and pruning as examples of what one may not do with the land and with trees during the Sh'mitah-year. This Mitzvah, like the previous one, the author already explained in the Mitzvah of lending money.


Mitzvah 328:
Not to Gather the S'fichim during the Sh'mitah-Year

It is forbidden to reap in the seventh year, both crops that the earth produced on its own and crops that one planted in the sixth year, both of which are what the Pasuk refers to as 'S'fi'chim', as the Torah writes in Behar (25:5) "The S'fi'ach of your harvest you shall not reap", by which it means that we may not harvest it in the way that we harvest our crops every other year. It is nevertheless permitted to eat it, provided one does so by way of Hefker (i.e. without preparing it in advance), as we will explain shortly. This is because the Torah only requires that, in all matters concerning this year, we behave as if what grows in the fields is not in our possession, only in that of the Master of the World, as we already explained (in Mitzvah 66).

A reason for this Mitzvah we already gave in the Mitzvah of lending money (Mitzvah 66).

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah Chazal have said that even if somebody transgresses and sows his field in the Sh'mitah-year, the Torah nevertheless allows him to eat the plants that grow, provided he does not harvest them as he does in other years (i.e. by harvesting the entire field in one go, piling up the sheaves and threshing them, using oxen). What he must do is to reap a little at a time, then thresh and eat it, before harvesting the next batch Chazal decreed however, that the S'fichim are forbidden, on account of the sinners who sow their gardens in the winter of the Sh'mitah, then claim that they are S'fichim. This decree however, is confined to vegetables, grain and legumes, which people tend to plant. It does not extend to the fruit of trees or to herbs which grow wild.

This Mitzvah applies to men and women in Eretz Yisrael (min ha'Torah), provided Yisrael are living there. Regarding other places, refer to Mitzvah 66 (Parshas Mishpatim). Someone who contravenes it at the time of the Beis-Hamikdash, and reaps the crops in the regular manner (as we explained above), is subject to Malkos. Whereas someone who collects the S'fichim of the species of crops that are normally sown, is subject to Makas Mardus (mi'de'Rabbanan), even if he did not harvest it all in one go.

* * *


In the main article in Parshas Emor, at the beginning of the second column, we inadvertently used the word 'Resha'im' in connection with the Talmidim of R. Akiva who died during the Omer period.

This was a slip of the pen. It goes without saying that the Talmidim of R. Akiva, whatever error they were guilty of, were great sages, and such a title is totally inappropriate.

We duly apologize for the mistake.

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