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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Savo: The Master of all assets
THIS WEEK'S TORAH ATTITUDE IS SPONSORED IN LOVING MEMORY OF MIRIAM LEAH BAS TZWI ZEEV, WHOSE YAHRZEIT IS 21 ELUL.
At the time of the Temple every Jew who produces fruit (of the seven species) shall bring the very first produce and present it to one of the Kohanim in the Temple. As an expression of our gratitude we bring the very first of our produce every year to show our appreciation to the one who provided us with this land. Every time we make a blessing we state that G'd is the real owner and that it is He Who provides us with our needs. every seventh year we must give a complete rest to the land of Israel and refrain from planting and sowing, as well as any other agricultural work. The Master and the Owner of the land guarantees that no one will attack us when we follow His instructions and go to Jerusalem for the three Festivals. All assets that a person acquires also really belong to G'd. Nowadays when most people do not farm the land it is proper to tithe our income. Those of us who live in the Diaspora can also have a share in the laws of the Shemitah by completing a pruzbul document. In this way we show that we understand that the Master of the land is also the Master of all our assets.
In the beginning of this week's Parasha, it says (Devarim 26:1-11): "And it shall be when you come to the land that HASHEM your G'd gives you … And you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you shall bring from your land that HASHEM your G'd gives you … And you shall come to the Kohein … and you shall say to him … 'I have come to the land that G'd promised to our forefathers to give us.' … And you raise your voice and you say … 'An Aramean wanted to destroy my forefather and he descended to Egypt … and G'd took us out of Egypt … and He brought us to this place and He gave us this land … and now, behold, I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me G'd.' … And you shall rejoice for all the good HASHEM your G'd has given you …" The Torah here instructs that at the time of the Temple every Jew who produces fruit (of the seven species) shall bring the very first produce and present it to one of the Kohanim in the Temple.
Land given by G'd
If we analyze the above verses we find that it is mentioned six times that this land was given to us by G'd. This is what the Jewish farmer expresses when he comes to the Temple with his first fruit offering. He first relates briefly how the Jewish people suffered in Egypt and how G'd redeemed us, and brought us to the Promised Land that He gave us as an inheritance. As an expression of our gratitude we bring the very first of our produce every year to show our appreciation to the One Who provided us with this land.
Who owns the land?
The Talmud (Berachot 35a) quotes two verses from Tehillim that seem to contradict each other. In the first verse (Tehillim 24:1) it says: "To G'd [belongs] the land and its fullness." But in the second verse (Tehillim 116:16) it says: "The Heaven [belongs] to G'd and the land He gave to mankind." Asks the Talmud, so who does the land really belong to? Does it belong to G'd or did He give it to man? The Talmud answers that the land is eternally possessed by G'd. However, G'd gave permission to the Jewish people to enjoy what the land produces. The Talmud continues to explain that we are only permitted to enjoy the land's blessings if we make a blessing before we eat something. So the first verse refers to the actual ownership of the land, whereas the second verse refers to the benefit of the land that was given to us provided that we make the appropriate blessing. Obviously, G'd does not need our blessings. On the contrary, G'd is the source of all blessings in the world. However, G'd wants us constantly to remember that we are only sojourners in the land. Every time we make a blessing we state that G'd is the real owner and that it is He Who provides us with our needs.
In this way we have daily reminders of the very same concept that we would experience if we would bring the first fruit of our produce to the Temple.
Shemitah and Yovel
There is a third instance where this concept is evident. The year that is soon coming to an end has been a Shemitah year (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Greater than angels and Parashas Shemini/Parashas Parah: Only G'd could do this). In the beginning of Parashas Behar (Vayikra 25:1-7), the Torah instructs that every seventh year we must give a complete rest to the land of Israel and refrain from planting and sowing, as well as any other agricultural work. Whatever grows on its own shall be available for everyone to enjoy. The Real Owner of the land informs us how we should deal with the produce of His land. He allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labour of the portion of the land allotted to each of us for six years, but in the seventh year we must share it with everyone else. At the time of the Temple, this comes across even stronger in regards to the laws of the Yovel (Jubilee) year every fifty years. The Torah continues (in Parashas Behar) that after seven Shemitah years have passed, we have to observe a Yovel year. The commandments of Yovel only apply at the time of the Temple, when the majority of the Jewish people lives in the Land. In this year, any land previously sold will return to its original owner. In this way, every piece of land will come back to the families to who it was allotted when the land of Israel was first divided. The Torah clearly requires that any sale must take into consideration when the next Yovel will occur and the price must be adjusted accordingly. Says the Torah (Vayikra 25:23) "The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is Mine. For you are sojourners and residents with Me."
Master of the land
Rabbi Avigdor Miller points out that the fact that G'd is the owner of the land is also evident by the three Festivals, when every Jewish male is obligated to ascend to the Temple. As it says in Parashas Mishpatim, (Shemos 23:17) "Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Master, G'd." This is repeated later in Parashas Ki Sisa (Shemos 34:23). Rabbi Miller points out that these are the only two verses in the Torah where we refer to G'd as the "Master". The reason for this is that G'd here shows Himself as the Master and Owner of the land Who is ready to look after it and guarantee its security. The Land of Israel has always been surrounded by enemies who would only be waiting for an opportunity to attack. How can the Torah obligate all males to gather in Jerusalem? This will leave the land open and put everyone into danger. For who will guard the borders? However, the Torah continues in the next verse (Shemos 34:24) and says: "And no man will covet your land when you ascend to appear before HASHEM your G'd three times a year." The Master and the Owner of the land guarantees that no one will attack us when we follow His instructions and go to Jerusalem for the three Festivals. Similarly, the Torah says in connection with the laws of Shemitah and Yovel (Vayikra 25:18) "And you shall perform My decrees and observe My statutes, and do them … And you will dwell in the land in security."
Besides the agricultural laws that pertain to the Shemitah year, the Torah instructs us regarding an additional Shemitah commandment. In Parashas Re'eh (Devarim 15:1-2) it says, "At the end of seven years you shall make Shemitah. This is the matter of the Shemitah, every creditor shall remit his hand from what he has lent to his fellow." Till now we have only spoken about that the land is the possession of G'd, and as such that the produce is a Divine blessing. The Torah here teaches us that in fact all assets that a person acquires also really belong to G'd. As the Prophet Chagai says (2:8): "To me [belongs] the silver and to Me [belongs] the gold, says G'd." Any wealth that someone amasses is only made possible by G'd's blessings. This is what the Torah teaches us when it says (Devarim 8:18) "And you shall remember HASHEM your G'd, for it is He Who gives you strength to make wealth." We can now better understand that just like G'd gives us instructions how to deal with the land and its produce, it is only natural that He instructs us how to manage our assets as well.
Some of the commandments regarding the produce of the land deal with the various tithes and other separations we have to give. Nowadays most people do not farm the land and we do not have the opportunity to tithe our produce. However, it is proper to tithe our income, and use it to support the poor and needy.
As mentioned above, the Torah obligates us not only to share our produce with everybody else in the Shemitah year, but also to forgive our debtors any outstanding loans. This commandment only applies when the majority of the Jews live in the land of Israel. Already at the time of the Second Temple, the majority of the Jewish people did not live there and the laws of Shemitah were observed as a rabbinic decree rather than a Torah obligation. When Hillel the Elder saw how the affluent refrained from lending money close to the Shemitah year, he instituted the pruzbul. This is a document that the creditor can get signed by a Beth Din (Jewish court) that will allow him to collect his outstanding debts. These documents are still used nowadays and are available in most synagogues to facilitate that one may collect outstanding debts after the Shemitah year.
Pruzbul in the Diaspora
Unlike the agricultural laws of Shemitah, that only apply in the land of Israel, this law applies anywhere in the world. As this Shemitah year is coming to an end, we can only marvel at the thousands of farmers in the land of Israel who valiantly have shown their trust in the Master of the land by refraining from working their fields and orchards. It is a privilege for those of us who live in the Diaspora that we can also have a share in the laws of the Shemitah by completing a pruzbul document on the last day of the year. In this way we show that we understand that the Master of the land is also the Master of all our assets. In the merit of fulfilling these laws may the promise of the Torah for peace and security for its inhabitants be fulfilled. May Jews worldwide be blessed with the blessings of the Torah and have a peaceful and prosperous year. And may we all merit to see the fulfillment of G'd's promise to bring peace to the whole world with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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