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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall count for yourself seven cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times; the years of the seven cycles of sabbatical years shall be for you forty-nine years. (25:8)

Time is our most precious commodity. Regrettably, we do not always appreciate its value until it is too late. The Dubno Maggid applies the above pasuk as a basis for a parable which conveys a profound message. One day, a poor man who went from town to town and village to village begging, decided to tally up his hard-earned pennies. After he spent hours upon hours counting, his pennies amounted to an impressive number. Indeed, he considered himself a rich man. He had amassed hundreds of thousands of pennies. It began to go to his head, he was a rich man!

One of his close friends noted his foolhardiness and said, "You are making a great mistake! Your entire life, your coin of exchange was the penny. You begged for pennies, and you received nothing but pennies. You do not realize, unfortunately, that when you attempt to exchange your vast amount of pennies for gold coins, you will find that you have accumulated a meager sum of gold. It takes thousands of pennies to total one gold coin. Indeed, by the gold standard you have accumulated very little."

A similar thought applies to our outlook on life. We think that we have a long time to live - when we divide the average human being's lifespan into days, hours, and even minutes. When we think in terms of Shemittos and Yovlos, Sabbatical and Jubilee year segments, however, how much do we really have? The Torah instructs us to count Shemittos and Yovlos, seven times seven years. Suddenly, fifty years is no longer a long time. It becomes a single unit - one that passes quickly. Quite conceivably, if our perspective on time changes, it would simultaneously transform our perspective on life.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)

How often do we see someone who is "down and out," and we are distressed that we have not come to his aid before the situation deteriorated irreversibly? The Torah admonishes us to extend a helping hand to the Jew who begins to lose money, who is slowly falling into the abyss of poverty. Slow his decline and help him to regain his prosperity. It is much more difficult to rescue someone from bankruptcy than to help him before his fortune completely reverses. What is the reason that we wait? If it is so much better to help before the tragedy is complete, why do we not "get our act together" a little bit earlier?

We rationalize. We figure that when our friend "really" needs us, when he is completely destitute, then our aid will be most appreciated. Just because he has lost his job, or his business is faltering we do not need to run to his house with our checkbook.

The Torah does not seem to agree with this rationale. It is a greater act of chesed, kindness, to prevent poverty than to help an individual who is already poor. When we help someone before he has fallen, we maintain his dignity, something which is more vital than balancing his checking account. In many circumstances, helping a Jew to preserve his dignity is like saving his life, which is unquestionably more important than serving his material needs.

If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him. (25:35)

We are commanded to be charitable, to think of our poor brother in need. It is not easy. I have worked hard to amass whatever material possessions I have. Now I am told to share a portion of my hard- earned savings with someone else - who has not worked for it! How do we demonstrate the fallacy of this idea? Horav Avraham zl, m'Kelisk, cited by Otzar Meshalim, gives the following analogy.

Two men are about to leave for a long trip. Each one has a small fortune to take with him. Obviously, traveler's checks were not an option. What do they do? One decides to take a few dollars with him and sends the balance by mail. Concerned about the cost of shipping, the other person decides to take the money with him, hidden in his clothes. Along the way, they are attacked by a gang of robbers who demand to see their money. The man who took nothing with him has nothing to lose. His friend, who was concerned about the rising postage rates, becomes a victim and loses everything.

Life is not much different. Some of us feel the need to horde every penny. Those individuals quickly squelch the thought of sharing any portion of their hard-earned money with the less fortunate. They regrettably fall prey to the robbers, the thieves - who symbolize the yetzer hora, evil inclination, and the vicissitudes of life and their own deficient character traits. They demand money for reasons which they justify, and for whims and fancies which they do not even bother justifying. Before long, there is nothing left to take along for the trip through life. When he arrives at the final destination on the day that he meets the Creator, he has nothing to show. He is bereft of his savings!

His contemporary, who wisely sent his money away, sharing it with others, arrives in the world of Truth with his many-earned merits, products of the charity which he gave. This should serve as a powerful incentive to share one's material possessions with others. Regrettably, as in so many areas, many of us wait for the moment when we have to use hindsight to realize our errors. By then, however, it is too late.

While we might have implied that tzedakah, charity, is an obligation of the well-to-do, it is unequivocally not so. Tzedakah is for everyone; even the poor should share with those less fortunate than they are. I recently read about an individual who was traveling through a predominantly observant section of Brooklyn before Rosh Hashanah and observed a moving sight. On the corner of a busy intersection stood an elderly woman - begging. "Tzedakah, tzedakah! Helft mir, help me! Please! Tayereh Yidden, dear Jews, help me!" she called out. One by one, almost everyone who passed by dropped some change and even a bill or two, into the purse that she held with both hands. Even little children, taught by their parents the significance of the mitzvah of tzedakah, were sure to throw in their nickels and pennies. Indeed, parents should teach their children from the earliest age the overriding importance of sharing with others.

Suddenly, a change occurred in the lady's facial expression. With a look that seemed to indicate, "I have had enough!" she leaned against the wall, took out some crackers from her jacket and began to munch on them. The moment she moved away from her coveted spot, another woman materialized as if from nowhere and began to do her own thing, calling out, "Tzedakah, tzedakah!" Not realizing that she was infringing on the previous woman's "turf," she approached the woman and asked her for tzedakah - which she promptly received! Although she was herself a beggar, she was acutely aware that tzedakah is for everyone - to give.

Questions & Answers

1) Which melachos, forms of labor, pertaining to the land are Biblically prohibited during Shemittah?

2) How much time must elapse before one may redeem his inheritance plot from its buyer?

3) Upon selling a field in Eretz Yisrael, what should be taken into account before setting the price?

4) Upon whom is the mitzvah of counting the years of Yovel incumbent?


1) The Torah delineates four types of agricultural labor which we are prohibited or which are prohibited to be performed during Shemittah: planting, pruning, harvesting the field, and harvesting the vineyard. Plowing, although not specifically prohibited by a negative commandment, is restricted by a positive commandment.

2) One may not redeem his inheritance plot from the buyer for at least two years after the sale. The exception to this rule is a field purchased from a Kohen or a Levi, which is immediately redeemable by its original owner. Also, a field not suitable for producing crops may be immediately redeemed. (Arachin 14b)

3) One should take into account the number of years remaining until Yovel.

4) The mitzvah of counting the years leading up to Yovel is placed upon the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim. They would count the year of the Yovel, the year of the Shemittah, and the Shemittah year of the Yovel. Hence, 37 years would be counted as, "Today is 37 years, which is two years of the Shemittah year, which is five Shemittah years and two years. (Toras Kohanim).


And a sword will not cross your land. (26:6)

The blessing of peace will be so preeminent that armies will not even cross through Eretz Yisrael on their way to do battle with other nations. Peace will reign throughout the land with no semblance of war in any shape or form. The pasuk also intimates that our enemies will have no power over us. Even if they want to do us harm, they will be ineffective. A beautiful and poignant demonstration of our enemies' inherent weakness, unless he is given power by the Almighty, may be seen by the following story.

Rav Yeshayah Feuer, zl, was an erudite and pious Jew who spent most of his long life in the service of Klal Yisrael. His ability and unrelenting efforts for reaching out to the alienated and searching Jew were legendary. Prior to World War II, he served as a rav in America, after which he moved to Eretz Yisrael. He seemingly had a strange habit - he would make a point of whitening his teeth in public, calling attention to his teeth. Interestingly, as his children would note, they were all false teeth! He sustained a miracle vis-?-vis his teeth, and he felt that they had thereby become a cheftza d'kedushah, sacred object. The story they told was incredible. It was in the midst of World War II, and Rav Feuer was in Europe. While he was walking down the street one day, he was challenged by an accursed Nazi, who asked him why he looked so well, calm and relaxed. Rav Feuer drew himself up to his full stature and responded emphatically, "I am going to the synagogue to pray."

The Nazi needed to hear no more. He seethed with anger at the Jew's sheer "audacity." He pulled out his pistol and shoved the barrel into Rav Feuer's mouth. Rav Feuer, fearing the worst, began to recite Viduy, confessional, which one says prior to leaving this world. The Nazi beast pressed down on the trigger and squeezed. Lo and behold, nothing happened! Again and again, the Nazi squeezed the trigger and nothing happened! The Nazi saw that regardless of his efforts, the gun just did not shoot. The Jew still stood there - unscathed! This was too much for the evil beast to tolerate. He proceeded to jerk the barrel of the gun around in Rav Feuer's mouth, breaking a number of teeth.

We now understand why the replacement teeth meant so much to Rav Feuer. They were a testimonial to the remarkable miracle that had occurred to him. They reminded him daily, that if not for the will of Hashem, he would be dead. What a wonderful and meaningful way to show one's gratitude to Hashem. Perhaps, if we were to look around, we would also discover objects or places which we could associate in some way with miracles revolving around our own well-being.

And I shall give peace in the land and you shall lie down without fear…and no sword shall cross your land. (26:6)

The assurance that the sword of war will not cross our borders is sufficient reason to rest peacefully at night. The mere fact that we have nothing to worry about should put our minds at ease. Why, then, does the Torah find it necessary to add to the blessing of no sword throughout the land, the additional blessing that we will sleep without fear? This question becomes more pressing with Chazal's statement in the Talmud Taanis 22:b that no sword, not even the sword of other warring nations, will cross our borders.

In his sefer Be'er Moshe, the Ozrover Rebbe, zl, explains that the Torah is alluding to another "ein macharid," without fear. The Torah refers to the imaginary sword, the imaginary demon that one conjures up in his mind. This is the sword that pursues a person even after the shutters have been drawn and the windows and doors have been locked. This sword festers behind closed doors, penetrates the most sophisticated security system. This is the sword of envy, the blade of jealousy towards one another. Its genesis is a person's dissatisfaction with his lot in life, it manifests itself with the individual's constant backward glance at his neighbor's success. Envy consumes a person like a sword. It cuts away at a person. He cannot rest peacefully, as his days and nights are filled with anxiety and fear, the result of his imagination.

The Torah bestows another blessing on the committed Jew, the Jew who transcends the blandishments this world has to offer, to devote himself to a life filled with Torah and mitzvos. He is guaranteed to "lie down without fear." This blessing is not redundant. It is a separate blessing that regardless of one's circumstance - even if he is wealthy - he will sleep peacefully. He will not fear losing what he has amassed, nor will he experience the anxiety resulting from a deep-rooted envy of others who have as much as he does.

Fear has both physical and emotional components. Truthfully, I am not sure which is worse: reality or the product of an overactive imagination. The Torah protects us from both.

You will flee with no one pursuing you. (26:17)

The Gaon M'Vilna questions this curse. One can understand the seriousness of needing to run from enemies. What is negative about running from no one? Would this not be considered a blessing? In response to this query, the Gaon cites a pasuk in Koheles 3:15, Elokim yevakesh es ha'nirdaf, "G-d always seeks the pursued." Simply, this means that Hashem protects the oppressed. We derive herein that the mere fact that one is pursued is reason enough for him to be the beneficiary of Hashem's favor. Hashem comes to the aid of the "underdog." The curse is that since no one will be pursuing us, we will run from no one. As a result, we will have no reason to hope for aid, because no one is actually pursuing us. Indeed, with this idea in mind, we must find a silver lining in the cloud of oppression. When we struggle against oppression, we need Hashem on our side.

Alternatively, we suggest that one who runs from imaginary demons, who is insecure and thinks that everyone is after him, everyone is out to "get him," is really a cursed person. When the enemy is real, we might be able to develop a strategy for dealing with him. An illusory enemy, which is nothing more than a figment of an overactive, insecure imagination, is impossible to vanquish. One must come to terms with the source of his problem, which is a major hurdle in its own right.

Questions & Answers

1) Which two sins played a major role in catalyzing Klal Yisrael's exile from Eretz Yisrael?

2) To which Bais HaMikdash do the warnings and prophecies of the Tochechah, Rebuke, refer?

3) How many Shemittah years were not properly observed during the period of the first Bais HaMikdash?

4) Who is more adversely affected as they get older: men or women?


1) Avodah Zarah, idolatry, and non-observance of the Shemittah, Sabbatical years, are the primary reasons for our exile. (Shabbos 33a)

2) According to the Ramban, our parsha refers to the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash. Citing the pasuk in 26:33 which describes Klal Yisrael's being scattered among the nations, a curse that was fulfilled after the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash, Abarbanel disagrees.

3) The Jews spent 70 years in the Babylonian exile, corresponding to the 70 Shemittos they ignored during the first Beis Hamikdash.

4) In the laws of Arachin, pledges made to the Sanctuary based on certain fixed amounts prescribed by the Torah, we note that after the age of sixty, a man's value depreciates at a much quicker rate than that of a woman's. The Talmud in Arachin 19a explains that an "old man" in the house is a burden, in contrast to an "old woman," who is a treasure.

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