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May 8, 1999 22 Iyar 5759
Day 37 of the Omer

Pop Quiz: How many of every 50 years must the land remain uncultivated?

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And you will eat your bread until you are satisfied and you will dwell securely in your land" (Vayikra 26:5)

This week we read two perashiyot. The second perashah, Behukotai, begins by describing the great bounty Hashem sends us when we follow the Torah. The Torah says we will have plenty of bread and we will be secure in the land. Our Sages teach us that when we have enough to eat we will not feel the urge to seek out other lands; we will be happy in our own land. So too, we will have peace and serenity in the land because a great source of conflict between people (as well as between husband and wife) is the lack of a good livelihood. When there is enough to go around, there is less reason to be jealous of one another.

An interesting point is brought out by Rabbi Yeruham Levovitz. The pasuk says, "You will eat bread until you are full." Rashi explains: You will eat a little bit and you will be full; you will have a blessing in your stomach. However, as we said above, we are talking about a situation where there is a bounty of food, and plenty to eat. Why do we need this extra blessing that we will be full even with a little bit? From here we can learn that to have a lot to eat is one thing. It doesn't mean you will be full. The physical feeling that we feel is a separate blessing from Hashem. There are unfortunate people who may eat but can't feel full. We must appreciate this simple blessing that when we eat we get and feel full. The Torah adds here that not only will you feel full, but you can feel full with very little. This is the extra blessing one has when he follows the Torah. Without that merit, a person can eat an abundance of food without feeling full. How numerous are Hashem's gifts to us. Let's not take them for granted. Shabbat Shalom.

by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

One of the most difficult and yet most rewarding misvot of all is the misvah of shemitah, which is keeping the land fallow on the seventh year. In an agrarian society, almost everything came to a halt for one full year. Understandably, this created many hardships, but it also brought the emunah, faith, that lay dormant in the Jewish people out to the forefront.

Although we don't live in a society where stopping work for one year is a reality, we are still faced with similar tests when closing our businesses on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. When the competition opens up whenever they want, and salesmen and buyers expect to see their contacts upon demand, we have the same challenge that our forefathers had. This is what brings out our faith in Hashem, which ultimately helps us out not only in business, but in all facets of life. When we realize that it is only Hashem Who makes our business run during the regular workweek, then we will have the fortitude to withstand this test and close our businesses on Shabbat and holidays. This will further our faith in Hashem and cause Him to shower His blessings on all of us. Shabbat Shalom.


"If your brother becomes shall strengthen him...Do not take from him interest and increase" (Vayikra 25:35,36)

The prohibition against paying interest to a Jew presents a number of difficulties. First, why should interest be forbidden altogether? Second, if taking interest is so bad, why are we permitted to exact interest from gentiles? Isn't this a form of "double standard"? In response to these questions, Rabbi S.R. Hirsch offers an explanation which focuses on the true meaning of this prohibition.

It is an accepted norm for one to make use of his home, animals and various other possessions. One can do this either by personally utilizing them or by renting them out, applying the rental money to supporting oneself and one's family. On the surface, one would think that this idea should similarly be valid in reference to money. In reality, lending money is like renting money; charging interest is tantamount to collecting rent! Furthermore, interest would seem to be a logical reimbursement for the money the lender has "lost" by not having these funds accessible for the duration of the loan. Indeed, he might have profited from an investment made with this money. Therefore, we may conclude that taking interest is not in itself antithetical to morality.

The Torah's admonishment against taking interest is not based upon general ethical principles. Rather, it is a way of establishing the obligation of mutual assistance among the Jewish people. It is a duty which must be totally fulfilled. If the entire world were inclined to accept such a noble attitude, it would seem logical that taking interest would be forbidden throughout. The world community, however, has not accepted this honorable approach. Therefore, it seems unfair to impose upon the Jewish people the charge to refrain from lending money without receiving some form of compensation from their gentile neighbors. After all, if we have been subjected to paying interest, we should be permitted to receive remuneration for lending.

Although the prohibition against interest cannot be instituted universally, the Torah has imposed it upon the Jewish people to distinguish them from a society based upon self-interest. This serves to inspire B'nei Yisrael to be a community founded upon self-sacrifice and mutual concern. As Rabbi Hirsch concludes, we should not view money as a vehicle for attaining dominion over others, but as an instrument for effectively contributing to others' happiness and well being. (Peninim on the Torah)


"If you walk in my statutes" (Vayikra 26:3) Rashi - "That you will toil in the study of Torah"

Perashat Behukotai starts off with promises of success and well being for anyone who keeps the laws of Hashem. Rashi explains that the primary way for a person to keep Hashem's laws is to actively study Torah. There is a short prayer that is read when one completes a Masechet (Tractate) of Gemara. In it we say, "We toil and they (those who do not study Torah) toil. We toil and receive reward, while they toil and do not receive any reward." This phrase needs explanation. Do people really work without receiving reward? Any worker who completes a project gets paid by the one who hired him.

Generally, when a person is hired to do a certain job, such as to make a pair of shoes, even if he works day and night, he will not get paid unless he succeeds in constructing a usable pair of shoes. He is not getting paid for the effort he puts in. Rather, he is simply receiving his "reward" for the finished product.

This is where Torah study differs. We are commanded to study Torah. This means that even if one makes an honest attempt to understand something from the Torah, but fails to understand it, he has still fulfilled his obligation to study. Even without full comprehension of the subject matter, a person will still receive his reward for fulfilling the misvah of studying Torah. (Hafess Hayim on the Torah)

Answer to Pop quiz: Eight - seven years of Shemitah, and one Yobel (Jubilee) year.

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