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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you will come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for Hashem. (25:2)

Interestingly, we find that selling property to a gentile circumvents certain prohibitions. This seems to be the accepted halachic convention concerning chametz, unleavened products, prior to Pesach. While this process works for chametz, many poskim frown upon using this convention when selling a parcel of land to a gentile. Why? Does this reflect a double-standard? Horav Binyamin Mendelsohn, zl, Rav of Moshav Kommemiyut, explains that the Torah's goal is for the Jew to observe Shemittah. By selling the land, he is not fulfilling the intent of the Torah's will.

Concerning chametz, the Torah's will is that a Jew not transgress the prohibition of Lo yereai v'lo yimatzei, "Your chametz shall not be seen, nor shall it be found in your possession." Therefore, in order to fulfill the Torah's dictate, Chazal presented a way to remove the chametz from a Jew's possession by selling it to a gentile.

In contrast, the Torah wants the land to lie fallow, dormant; it should rest the entire year. Therefore, in order to avoid complying with the Torah's desire, we have come up with a device for removing the Jewish ownership from the land. The land, however, is still not resting. The Torah's will has not been fulfilled.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine; for you are sojourners and residents with Me. (25:23)

Shemittah and Yovel are two mitzvos whose compelling significance seem to elude us, because they do not occur on a constant basis. Furthermore, since their primary effect is in Eretz Yisrael, it is almost as if "out of sight, out of mind." Nonetheless, there are mitzvos which are primary in Jewish life, and we must view them as such. These mitzvos teach us the importance of bitachon; trust in Hashem, as more than a desperate plea when things are not going our way, but as an inextricable part of our lives. It is for the violation of these mitzvos that Klal Yisrael will be exiled from its land. Indeed, the seventy years of the Babylonian exile occurred in retribution for the seventy Shemittos that the nation failed to observe before and during the period of the first Bais Hamikdash.

Aside from the compelling trust that the Jew must demonstrate in preparation for and during the Shemittah and Yovel years, one of the unique commandments concerning the Yovel year is, in fact, most difficult. We refer to the unconditional freeing of all Jewish slaves, regardless whether they have served their full six-year service, or have undergone the process of re-enslavement by having their ear drilled with an anvil against the doorpost. In either case, the master must say "good by" and relinquish his ownership of the slave.

The freeing of the slaves is not only difficult, it is also quite traumatic, asserts the Sefer HaChinuch. The masters have become accustomed to the service of their slaves, so that letting them go affects them greatly. He maintains that this is the reason that on Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to "sound the Shofar throughout your land" (25:9). We are to sound the Shofar throughout the entire country, so that people will realize that the freeing of the slaves is not just happening to "them," but to everyone throughout the length and breadth of Eretz Yisrael. "You" are not the only one undergoing this "trauma;" everyone else is experiencing it, as well. The Sefer HaChinuch concludes that there is nothing that encourages and assures the hearts of human beings as much as an act all perform. This is consistent with the words of Shlomo HaMelech: Tzaar rabim nechamah, "The suffering of many is a consolation."

In the newest anthology by Rabbi Sholom Smith, Horav Avrohom Pam, zl, derives a compelling lesson from here. We are all aware that life is fraught with challenges. While each individual reacts to his personal challenge in his own unique manner, we all experience anxiety in one form or another. For some it is shidduchim, finding the suitable matrimonial match for either themselves or their child. Others suffer from infertility issues or shalom bayis challenges. Others experience illnesses, child-rearing issues, or financial strains. These challenges become magnified --almost unbearable--when a person thinks that he is suffering alone. If he would realize that others are in the same situation, that these similar problems plague others as well, he could put his own suffering into proper perspective.

It is hard to let go of a slave that has been almost a part of the family for quite some time. Such a strong bond is difficult to sever. When the master realizes, however, that he is not the only one who is giving up a part of his "family," it becomes an experience that is much easier to accept.

This is the idea behind modern-day support groups: Imo anochi b'tzarah, "I am with him in his pain." Our Sages were well aware of the therapeutic effect, but, like many other concepts, it seems to have been only recently "discovered" by contemporary psychologists.

Another unique requirement of the Yovel year is well worth noting: the return to their owners of all ancestral plots of land that have been sold since the previous Yovel. The pasuk tells us, "For you are sojourners and residents with Me." The pasuk is teaching us that what we think is ours really belongs to Hashem. Thus, a person should not become too attached to his physical acquisitions. Whereas he may enjoy them for years and years, he must realize that ultimately nothing is his. At the end of the pre-yovel period, it reverts back to its original ancestral owner.

The Rosh Yeshivah offers an analogy to explain this concept, thereby making it easier for one to part with what he now feels is his rightful possession. It is the story of a Jew living in a small village. He was a man of means, and, in order to provide for his young children's Torah education, he hired a melamed, Torah teacher, for a year's time. The melamed received the usual room and board in exchange for his services. Indeed, for that year, he was a part of the family. A few months went by and the homeowner decided to make some rather costly renovations to his house, which took a number of months to complete. After he concluded the project, the homeowner made a Chanukas Habayis, dedication for his newly renovated home, inviting everybody in town to celebrate and join in this festive occasion. No celebration is complete without a tour of the new addition, and this affair was no different. Everybody took part in this endeavor - even the melamed. He became so involved that he went around informing the guests: "Here we added a wall. There we enlarged the room. Our new kitchen is so much more spacious. What do you think of my study?"

Hearing the melamed refer to the house and its accoutrements in a personal, possessive manner, the homeowner became understandably upset: "You sound as if it is your house that was renovated. My friend, while we like you and you certainly have provided an invaluable function in this home, you are only here for a limited period - one year! After that, it is l'chaim! This is not a permanent arrangement."

The melamed was no fool. He realized that he had gotten carried away, but his master also seemed to have missed the point. He, therefore, turned to the homeowner and said, "My dear homeowner, you are also here in this world for a temporary stay."

Oh, how quickly we forget that this is not our permanent home. We talk about waiting for Moshiach as we purchase palatial homes with plans to sustain generations of occupants therein. No cost is too expensive when it involves providing for our creature comforts. We clearly do not indicate that we are here for a temporary "visit". We set up shop as if our tenure in this world is of a much more permanent nature. How "surprised" and even "indignant" we become when our ownership and tenure is threatened by the Rightful Owner - Hashem!

This is the pasuk's underlying message. Even if a person has owned a parcel of land for almost fifty years, he, nonetheless, must return it to its ancestral owner when Yovel occurs. Through this medium, he realizes his true task and focus in life: prepare for the future; make yourself ready for Olam Habah, the World to Come, by studying Torah and performing mitzvos. Those are the only permanent possessions that you can acquire in this temporary world. While one cannot function in this physical world without some degree of materialism, it should not become our primary goal in life. Some of us live as if there is no tomorrow, while others make plans for generations to come. There is a happy medium. It is called a Torah life. Nothing lasts forever, and we must prepare for the future. We just have to define and focus on that "future."

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

The laws concerning charity, and our obligation to see to it that no Jew is left in financial straits that are beyond his coping ability, follow closely after the laws concerning Shemittah and Yovel, Jubilee, year. Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, perceives an important lesson in this juxtaposition. Shemittah teaches us the concept of bitachon, trust in Hashem. Regardless of what our situation may seem to be, we have only to rely on Hashem as our provider and source of sustenance. Ultimately, it is all in His domain, and He will provide for our needs if He sees fit to do so.

While bitachon is a wonderful attribute and really the only way that a Jew can survive, it is a personal way of viewing life. It is not for me to encourage someone else to have bitachon. I must help him. Bitachon is the way I should live and I should address my need. It is not an excuse for not giving charity and helping out another Jew. One should have bitachon - not merely preach it to others.

We must empathize with our impoverished brother and be sensitive to his needs. Rav Shternbuch interprets this idea into the word imach, your proximity / with you. When a Jew is in dire straits, when he has fallen on hard times, the benefactor should view his suffering as having been caused by the benefactor's need to give him charity. I must give; therefore, these are people who must take. The poor are there so that those who are able to give will give. This is consistent with Chazal who say that, "Greater than what the benefactor does for the poor man, the poor man does for the benefactor." Indeed, if the poor man's financial predicament is the result of the benefactor's need and obligation to give, if he does not, in fact, give, he causes the poor man's poverty to be of no purpose. What a terrible waste!

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

Whenever we consider the idea of our impoverished brother, we think of money, i.e. our brother is down and out and in need of financial assistance. Many of us shy away from another form of impoverishment: our brother who is either depressed, broken-hearted, mentally impaired, or just simply suffering from an overload of problems, and he has snapped. At times, these problems are financial, but more often than not they are a conglomerate of many issues that have, over the years, become overwhelming and have taken their toll on his emotional resources. He now needs support, the type of support that cannot simply be provided with a check. He needs personal support, the kind that takes time, patience and sensitivity. Not everyone is capable of performing this type of chesed. For some, it is just not their "expertise" or it is beneath their dignity. Others, at least, have the common sense to accept that they lack the attributes necessary to perform this form of charity successfully. This leaves the select few who are competent, willing and able, but we need more.

A number of gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, would, despite their heavy academic schedules, take time out to reach out to the broken-hearted, the disturbed, the individuals who--for so many reasons and circumstances--had no one to whom to turn. Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, would encourage those who were down and out and befriend them. An elderly, childless man who was all alone in the world was treated kindly by many. He once commented, "Everyone speaks to me out of pity. Only one person truly enjoys speaking to me: Rav Moshe Aharon."

Rav Moshe Aharon was wont to cite the pasuk, "Your beginning shall be negligible, but your end shall be exceedingly exalted." Why is it necessary to have humble, inconsequential beginnings? Why does Hashem not allow someone to become exalted from the start? Apparently, when one's own beginnings are imperceptible, he can have much greater appreciation for the exalted world.

With this in mind, Rav Moshe Aharon treated everyone with genuine deference. He would genuflect to everyone--even the most simple of men--feeling a sense of humility, regardless of with whom he was speaking. The other person was always better and more exalted than he.

The Stern family had a very special "guest" at their table every Shabbos - a dejected, unbalanced woman who went so far, on several occasions, to demand that all of the children leave the table. Without a word, Rav Moshe Aharon motioned for the children to move to another table. Other times, she would insist that the children move from one side of the table to another, and Rav Moshe Aharon and his family complied with her irrational demands. When the Stern family moved to another apartment, Rav Moshe Aharon suddenly reminded himself after the Shabbos prayers that he had not told her of their new address. He immediately ran to her house, and she continued to be their "guest" for a number of years.

Rav Moshe Aharon would often cite the Talmud in Bava Basra 9B that one who gives a prutah, penny, to a poor man, receives six blessings, while one who cheers him up, receives eleven blessings. He explained that a beggar will not become rich from a penny. It will be more effective to change his current lifestyle. A few words of encouragement will enrich a person and lift him from a life of depression to a feeling of self-esteem. This is worth more than the money.

I was recently reading about Horav Eliyahu Moshe Shisgal, zl, a Rosh Yeshivah of note and rav of a large congregation on the Lower East Side. He was a brilliant talmid chacham, Torah scholar, one who impressed the venerable Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, and eventually became his son-in-law. His ability to transmit Torah to his disciples, with love and devotion to each and every one, was legendary. His outpouring of heart and soul during prayer was something to behold. Yet, the story that the writer sought to publicize was one which demonstrated Rav Shisgal's incredible compassion for another Jew who was mentally unstable. This reiterates my point that we seem to ignore people's feelings, probably because we do not know how to deal with them.

Rav Shisgal once met an individual who had earned the appellation, "Professor of the East Side." He was a deranged man who had earned this title by presenting himself as both a physician and a high-ranking military officer. He was harmless, and people would ignore him, especially the nurses at the hospital which he would enter upon occasion dressed in complete military uniform and bark orders to everyone. He was not dangerous, just weird and unbalanced. In those days, people were more compassionate and did not consider him to be a threat. As a result of a casual meeting, Rav Shisgal became the Professor's closest confidante, and the Professor had welcome access to the rosh yeshiva's home - whenever he saw fit to visit. Furthermore, he was treated with ultimate respect, as befitting a man of his "high rank and stature."

The story takes place during the beginning of the electronic revolution when transistor radios were a novelty, and certainly so to someone of the Professor's condition. He obtained a small transistor and went around with the sound on the highest decibel as he alternated from station to station. Understandably, this proved to be a considerable nuisance for anybody who had the "good fortune" of being within range of the cacophony of sound.

The situation was very challenging. On the one hand, how does one rid himself of the irritant without hurting the feelings of the irritator? Rav Shisgal approached the Professor and said, "I seem to be picking up military signals on the transistor." The Professor, falling for the ruse, agreed. "Yes, yes! This is an ultra-secret radio, and I am one of the select few who are privy to hear these classified messages."

"If so," commented Rav Shisgal, "I should not be listening to these secret signals."

"You are correct," agreed the Professor, as he quickly shut off the radio. I wonder how many of us would have reacted the way this gadol did.

My Shabbosos shall you observe and My sanctuary shall you revere. (26:2)

Shabbos is a basic tenet of our faith and a testament to our belief in the Almighty as the Creator and Ruler of the universe. Nonetheless, it seems to be repeated quite often. Rashi's interpretation that this pasuk is discussing a Jew that is sold as a slave to a gentile still does not solve the problem completely. Rashi says that a Jew sold to a gentile should not think that he may engage in the abominable behavior that has become a way of life for his master. He cites the prohibition of incest as an example of what the Jewish slave might hypothesize is permissible. Yet, the Torah does not mention incest. It mentions only idolatry. Therefore, we must ascertain that the Torah is addressing idolatry and the prohibition of Shabbos is under the heading of the prohibition of idolatry. Once again, why is it repeated and what is its connection to idolatry? Furthermore, why is reverence for the Sanctuary mentioned altogether at this point?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, suggests a powerful lesson to be derived from here. The Torah is concerned that a Jew living in the home of a gentile, especially if the gentile is his master, might begin to err and think that he may serve his G-d in the same manner that his master serves his deities. Their entire faith and worship are centered around their temples, whereas at home they are really not very bound to their faith. As a result, the temple, with its images and rituals, becomes the focus of their religious worship. Judaism's view of serving the Almighty totally contrasts with that of the heathen religions. While we certainly do revere the Sanctuary, it is not the edifice itself upon which our faith and service is centered, but rather upon the One Who commanded us concerning it. The Temple only provides opportunity for the service to be expressed.

Furthermore, our essential service to Hashem is performed at home and in the market place, where one eats, does business, and conducts his affairs. Hashem is an inextricable part of our lives. Reverence for the synagogue is not an explicit command. Indeed, even the command to revere the Bais Hamikdash followed many other mitzvos. It is important, but not the primary mitzvah. The mitzvah of Shabbos precedes that of the Sanctuary, because Shabbos is of paramount significance. Without its observance, one's life as a Jew is extremely lacking. We have survived without the Bais Hamikdash for almost two millennia, and we are still considered Jews, despite not having the resting place of the Shechinah in our midst.

The Temple's absence is quite painful, but a Temple without Torah or a synagogue without Torah is an implacable void. Torah without the Temple, however, still has meaning and viability. We, the Jewish nation, cannot exist without the Torah. Lamentably, we have had to endure without the Temple for almost two thousand years.

Ki lo yitosh Hashem amo, v'nachalaso lo yaazov.
For Hashem will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His heritage.

We are assured that Hashem will never leave us, nor will He forsake His inheritance - regardless of our shortcomings. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, views amo, His People, as being related to imo, with Him. In other words, those who are "with Him," who declare their allegiance to Him, will merit never to be deserted by Him. I guess the "others," who did not fit this category, have deserted Him. The ones who are imo possess an additional merit in being considered "His estate / heritage," because not only are they loyal to Him, but they perform deeds of service to Him and seek to provide Him with pleasure. This is similar to an estate which produces profit and brings pleasure to its owner. This is another reason for the Almighty to be devoted to our welfare.

Horav Moshe Almusnino, distinguishes between yitosh, cast off and yaazov, forsake. Yitosh refers to the Divine Providence which is "conscripted," meaning Hashem is sort of "bound" to maintain His Providence over us because of a commitment He made to the Avos, Patriarchs. It is a constrained form of a relationship. The pasuk teaches us that Hashem will maintain his relationship with us as a result of His promise to the Avos and His mercy on us. Second, there are those whom He will not forsake, a figure of speech which bespeaks a relationship of love, unconstrained and uncompelled. This applies to those unique members of the nation who warrant Hashem's Divine Providence due to their positive actions and meticulous observance.

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