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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Savo: The real owner
Moses instructs the Jewish people that when they enter the land of Israel they will be obligated to bring from the first fruit to the Temple and give it to a Kohein. Everything that a person produces has special value to him. In general, the very first that a person produces has special value to the person and is most precious. "To G'd belongs the earth and its fullness." Every seventh year is known as the year of Shemitah, and the year after seven periods of Shemitah is known as the year of Yovel. The laws of the Shemitah years apply even nowadays, whereas the laws of Yovel will only apply again after the arrival of Mashiach. For almost sixty years the village of Komemiyut has been in the forefront of Shemitah observance. G'd clearly shows Who is the real owner of the land and He is more than ready to reward those who follow His laws.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Moses instructs the Jewish people that when they enter the land of Israel they will be obligated to bring from the first fruit to the Temple and give it to a Kohein. This commandment is similar to the obligation of redeeming the first born male of every household and bringing the first born of one's cattle as an offering. These commandments have an obvious common denominator, as they are all performed with the very first, but what is the significance of this?
Everything that a person produces has special value to him. In last week's portion (Devarim 22:1-4) the Torah instructs us that if a person finds a lost object he is obligated to guard it and make an effort to return it to the original owner. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 38a) discusses what one should do if one finds produce that starts to rot. The Talmud rules that even if 90% of the produce rots away and is wasted, as long as there is 10% remaining one should still keep it to return it to the original owner. Explains the Talmud: "For a person would rather have one measure that he has produced himself rather than ten measures produced by someone else." This applies to anything that a person produces. Parents obviously have special feelings for their own children above their feelings for the children of others. But on a certain level the same applies to pets or animals that a farmer raises, even the produce that he grows. This is due to the toil and effort, he has invested in what he raised or produced. Similarly, an artist will have a special affection for his piece of art as he put a lot of effort into creating his painting or sculpture.
In general, the very first that a person produces has special value to the person and is most precious. It is well known that there is a special bond between a mother and her first born. In a similar way, any producer is especially fond of the first fruit of his labour. With this insight, the obligation to redeem or dedicate the first born or the first produce takes on a major significance. When a Jew takes his first born son to a Kohein to redeem him, he acknowledges that this first born son ideally should be dedicated to the service of G'd in appreciation of that G'd has blessed him with a child. In the same way, when he offers the first born animal and takes the first fruit of his produce to the Temple he expresses that he wants to bring this to G'd out of an awareness that everything he has produced is G'd's blessing. Therefore, it is only proper to bring the first of his produce to G'd and His servants, the Kohanim.
This idea is hinted at in the first verses of this week's portion as it says (Devarim 26:1-2): "And it shall be when you enter the land that HASHEM your G'd gives you … and you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that HASHEM your G'd gives you." Twice the Torah emphasizes that this land was "given to you" by G'd, as if to remind us who is the real owner of the earth. This is what King David expresses when he says (Tehillim 24:1): "To G'd belongs the earth and its fullness."
Shemitah and Yovel
This concept is apparent every seventh year known as the year of Shemitah, and even more so in the year after seven periods of Shemitah known as the year of Yovel. In the beginning of Parashas Behar (Vayikra 25:1-25) the Torah teaches that just like on a weekly basis there are six days of work followed by Shabbos as a day of rest, so there is a cycle of six years of work followed by a Shabbos year when all agricultural work is prohibited. At the conclusion of seven Shemitah cycles, there is the special year of Yovel. In this year as well, all agricultural work is prohibited. In addition, every Jewish slave shall be set free and, as a rule, every piece of land shall be returned to its original owner. The Torah goes into great detail to explain that a sale of land is really a lease that expires in the year of Yovel and should be valued accordingly. The Torah (ibid 25:23) concludes: "And the land shall not be sold for eternity. For the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and residents with Me."
The laws of the Shemitah years apply even nowadays, whereas the laws of Yovel will only apply again after the arrival of Mashiach. Thousands of farmers in kibbutzim and villages throughout the land of Israel are currently preparing for the upcoming Shemitah year. Guided by experts in Halacha and modern-day technology, they are getting ready to observe these laws. In addition, large funds are being established to ensure that every farmer has the necessary funds to go through this year without financial difficulties. Every new Shemitah year brings about miraculous situations that clearly show how the Biblical blessings promised to those who observe Shemitah abound. It is amazing to see how from one Shemitah year to the next more and more farmers are joining the ranks of those who observe these commandments to the minutest detail. Already at this time before the Shemitah, there are accounts of people who have undertaken for the first time to keep the Shemitah laws and suddenly experienced unusual success and growth of their produce in the sixth year.
For almost sixty years the village of Komemiyut has been in the forefront of Shemitah observance. Right from the establishment of the village, their distinguished rabbinic leader the late Rabbi Benyamin Mendelson was in close contact with the greatest sages of the generation, especially the Chazon Ish, who ruled on all practical questions concerning Shemitah observance. Rabbi Mendelson once wrote in a letter how in the fall of 1951 his village did not have any wheat to sow. The only wheat available on the market was from other farmers who had grown it during the previous year of Shemitah. After much effort, they managed to obtain some old wheat from a nearby Kibbutz that was left over from the sixth year. However, this wheat was infested and not at all suited for sowing. The farmers asked their beloved Rabbi what to do and he told them that with the lack of any other wheat available, they should put their trust in G'd and sow what they had. Not surprisingly, they became the laughing-stock of the whole area who warned them that they were about to have a large financial loss. However, that year there was a severe drought in the beginning of the winter. The wheat kernels in the fields that had been ploughed during Shemitah and sown immediately afterwards, rotted away in the dryness of the earth. But the community of Komemiyut who had done no work during Shemitah and had only started plowing after the holidays of the new year, they only managed to sow their wheat in the middle of the winter. Shortly after they completed to sow, it started raining and the rain continued for many days. Lo and behold, the infested wheat that they had sown succeeded and produced beyond anyone's expectations whereas all the neighbouring communities lost their entire wheat harvest that year.
This is just one of many stories how even nowadays G'd sends His blessings to the ones who keep the laws of Shemitah. G'd clearly shows Who is the real owner of the land and He is more than ready to reward those who follow His laws. It is our hope and prayer that in the merit of these valiant farmers, who put their trust and livelihood in the Hand of G'd, we shall experience the fulfillment of the blessing (ibid 25:18): "And you shall perform My decrees and you shall observe My ordinances … and you shall dwell in the land in security."
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network