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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshios Behar Bechukosai

Parshas Behar

And in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath to be celebrated by the cessation of work for the land a sabbath unto G-d... and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year... a Yovel it is for you. (25:4,10)

Shabbos and Shemitah have a common denominator - they are both spiritual entities. Shabbos implies the unbreakable bond that thrives between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. This bond is manifest in a cessation from one's secular affairs, as an opportunity and mandate to devote his time to Torah study and spiritual reflection. The Torah emphasizes that the seventh year is a period of time, an entire year, which one is to dedicate as a "Shabbos l'Hashem." The individual is to infuse himself with spirituality during his refrain from agricultural labor. Yovel, which derives its name from the blowing of the shofar on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, is parallel to Shabbos and Shemitah in perspective. That tekiah, sounding of the shofar, is the clarion call of freedom for all Jewish slaves; the land reverts to its original owner, as it conveys the message to Klal Yisrael that we are here only temporarily. We do not take permanent ownership of the land, because it ultimately belongs to Hashem. Olam Hazeh, this world, serves as a medium for enabling us to attain spiritual ascendency in the Eternal World, Olam Habah. The shofar awakens us from our physical slumber, reminding us of our spiritual calling.

Thus, our parsha begins with the words, "When you come into the land that I give you." As long as Klal Yisrael sojourned in the wilderness, with no agricultural responsibilities and their sustenance provided directly by the Almighty, they were free to devote themselves to spiritual pursuit with no hindrance.

The Torah now assures Klal Yisrael that if they will observe the Shemitah/Yovel mitzvos, Hashem will sustain them as miraculously as He had in the desert.

Interestingly, the fiftieth year's sanctity was of a progressive nature. From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the slaves left their posts and remained in the homes of their master. They were not yet free to go, but they were not obligated to work. They remained in the home, eating and drinking joyously, as royalty. On Yom Kippur, the Bais Din would blow the shofar, and they became free to go. We might question the manner in which they were released. For ten days, from the beginning of the year until Yom Kippur, the slaves were no longer slaves; yet, they were not free to go home. Why?

Horav Avraham Kilav, Shlita, offers two reasons for this "progressive" manner of freeing the slaves. First, as mentioned above, during Yovel one comes to realize that he is not in charge of his own life. Hashem directs the world and everything in it belongs to Him. It is ours to use temporarily. The slave that heretofore was ours, is now free. He is like us. Indeed, we feed him as royalty. It is almost as if the slave becomes the master, and the master becomes the slave! In order to fulfill this mitzvah, the master has to swallow his pride and -- so to speak -- serve the slave.
These ten days of service to the slave imbue the master with a deeper understanding of his own role in the world, clarifying what it is that Hashem expects of him.

Second, the slave must "upgrade" his mindset. Until now he has been a member of an inferior class, subservient to a master, not really having the proper perception of how to serve Hashem. It is difficult for one who has been subservient to a human master to transfer his whole heart and mind into service to Hashem. This ten-day period "eases" him into this new role. He is able to grow emotionally as he develops a sense of self confidence in the home of his master; He is no longer a slave, but an equal. He has the freedom to be a full time servant to the Master of masters - Hashem.

For unto Me are the Bnei Yisrael servants, they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. (26:55)

At the conclusion of the laws dealing with personal freedom, the Torah states the reason that our freedom is not for sale: We were redeemed from Egypt by Hashem. We belong to Him - a fact that takes precedence over and precludes our belonging to anyone else. Every fiber of our being, every fraction of our strength and powers, belongs to the Almighty. The principle of a Jew's unalienable freedom is nurtured by Jewish law, to the point that not even the normal contract of a daily worker is considered binding. It can be revoked by the po'el, worker, at any time of the day. We must endeavor to understand what there is about our obligation to serve Hashem that overrides every other obligation. Is not the Jewish servant, eved Ivri, obliged to observe all Taryag, 613, mitzvos? How is he revoking the yoke of Heaven by being an eved?

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, initially suggests that it is not the actual servitude which takes away from his relationship with Hashem. Rather, the name "eved," slave, demeans him as a Jew and as a servant to the Almighty. This would be true if it applied only to a slave. We mentioned before, however, that a worker is permitted to break his contract because he has a "prior" commitment to Hashem. Apparently, our servitude to Hashem supersedes everything - even the average working man's contract.

Horav Solomon cites Horav Simcha Zissel, zl, M'Kelm, who explains that everyone is obligated in mitzvah performance - even an eved Ivri. There is something more to serving Hashem, however, than just an obligation to perform His mitzvos. An eved Hashem is one who has nothing else, no subservience to anyone but Hashem. His mind and heart are totally sublimated to serve the Almighty. Although he can observe mitzvos to a certain extent while he is in his master's possession, the eved Ivri cannot fulfill his total obligation to Hashem. He cannot give all of himself, all of the time, to Hashem, because of his responsibilities to his master. One who senses the depth and beauty of this relationship will feel the essence of true freedom. His "work" is given primary status while everything else is a distant second place.


1. From what is the name "Yovel" derived?
2. If one sells a field which is later redeemed by his son, to whom does the field return on Yovel: the father, or the son?
3. At what point during Yovel are the fields returned to their original owners?
4. What is the difference between a ger and a toshav?

ANSWERS: 1. The shofar, which is blown on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, is called "Yovel".
2. The father.
3. At the beginning of the fiftieth year.
4. A ger is one who has converted according to Jewish law through Bris Milah and immersion in a mikveh l'shem geirus. In contrast, a toshav is one who has accepted upon himself to observe the seven mitzvos pertaining to Bnei Noach.

Parshas Bechukosai

If you will follow my decrees. (26:3)

Chazal tell us that to "follow/walk" in Hashem's decrees is to engage in intensive Torah study, to toil and labor in Torah. Horav Gedalyah Shorr, zl, explains this in the following manner: The distinction between a man and an angel is found in the fact that the malach, angel, is an omeid, stands still, while man is a mehaleich, moves/walks. The Torah reveals to us that man "moves" through ameilus, by toiling in Torah. He goes higher and higher, from strength to strength by toiling in Torah.

Horav Shorr cites the Rogatshover Gaon, zl, who adds that this "halichah," form of movement, is actually the maase ha'kinyan, act of acquisition, through which one acquires his portion in Torah. He cites the Rambam in his Pirush Ha'Mishnah, who claims that walking around a field is considered a kinyan. Regarding the acquisition of land, one must make a chazakah, a distinct act of ownership, such as repairing or building on the property. Concerning a field belonging to two partners, however, walking is sufficient, since one is only delineating his portion of the field. The same concept applies to Torah, which was given to all of Klal Yisrael. The ameilus of one, exerting himself in Torah study, is the halichah, walking, which acquires for him his portion in the Torah.

If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments. (26:14)

Rashi explains that "not listening" to Hashem refers to an individual who studies Torah without ameilus, toil. One who does not labor in Torah, but rather takes a complacent, back-seat attitude, will eventually refrain from performing Hashem's mitzvos. Rashi adds that this is just the first step in a seven step chain-reaction of sin, in which one regresses from a lack of intensity in Torah study to the point that he denies the very existence of Hashem. This is a remarkable statement. To think that a lack of intensity, a weakening of one's resolve to toil in Torah study, leads to such a devastating end is amazing. Yet, it is unfortunately true.

Horav Gedalyah Shorr, zl, cites Sforno who predicts that one who does not "walk" in Hashem's statutes, who does not study Torah b'ameilus, will eventually fail to perform all the mitzvos; rather, he will become selective in his mitzvah performance. This will lead to his total rejection of mitzvos. This attitude prevailed in Europe during the Haskalah movement following the Emancipation. At first, people contended that one could be a good Jew even if he did not study all the time. One should supplement his intellectual development by studying secular pursuits, such as the arts and sciences. The next step was selective mitzvah observance. There were some mitzvos that should be observed, while others were labeled as archaic, not in vogue with progressive Judaism. The degeneration continued, as less observant Jews began to ridicule and deride those Jews who did observe Torah. The talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, became their next target of abuse. Shortly thereafter, their assimilation was completed as they apostatized themselves and intermarried with the gentiles.

This regression did not take long, beginning with a simple slowing down, a cooling off of their passion for Torah study. Children were not permitted to attend the "antiquated" yeshivos that taught only Torah. It was necessary that they be inculcated with the secular culture that was prevalent at the time. To be accepted in society, it was necessary to be like "them". The rest is history that has been coming back to haunt us generation after generation. People who refuse to learn from the past are relegated to relive it.

And you behave toward me with casualness. I will behave toward you with a fury of casualness. (26:27, 28)

As Jews, we believe in Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. This means that Hashem observes, is aware of and controls everything that occurs during our lives. Everything is totally inclusive to the point that Chazal teach us that "one does not stub his finger in this world unless it has been predecreed from Above." To paraphrase Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, there is no concept of coincidence in Jewish theology. It is sinful for one to think or say "it just happened." Things do not "just happen." They are preordained by the Almighty. This is the meaning of the pasuk. If one does not reflect on the various punishments that "seem" to happen, if he just continues with business as usual as if nothing had happened -- or whatever did happen has no bearing or message for him -- he will answer to Hashem.

Instances in our lives do occur which are clearly "coincidental," even though they affect us directly. These constitute our "coincidences," or rather Hashem's Providence, specifically over us. It is the little events, like Rus coming to Eretz Yisrael and -- as she was about to go collect grain in one field -- something "happened" that caused her to go to Boaz's field instead. The rest is history. It was not a coincidence that caused her to go to another field; it was the hand of Hashem. The Melech Ha'Moshiach will descend from this "change" in plans! To the eye of an innocent observer, there appears to be an everyday occurrence affecting a single person - Rus. To the one who believes in Divine Providence, it is clearly Hashem guiding the birth of Moshiach. Moreover, we see that what might seem to affect only one individual, in reality can affect and change a world!

They will stumble over one another. (26:37)

They will become so demoralized and fearful of the enemy that they will flee without seeing where they are going, stumbling over one another. Chazal add a new twist to the interpretation of this pasuk. They will stumble over each other's sins. Since all Jews are inherently responsible one for another, one Jew will be held liable for the transgression perpetrated by his fellow Jew. We are all components of a large unit called Klal Yisrael. We cannot ignore one another's shortcomings.

A visitor once came to the Volozhiner Yeshiva and noticed Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, delivering a shiur. As usual, the lecture was replete with brilliant themes and incredible logic. This person went over to Rav Chaim at the end of the shiur and said, "It is truly regrettable that you live in Volozhin. Your students will study regardless. Perhaps they might be missing one more pshat, exposition, on the Rambam - nu; it is not really such a terrible thing. If you would live in Paris or in Berlin, you would certainly be able to affect the spiritual lives of many Jews. Indeed, you might succeed in stemming the tide of assimilation. Rav Chaim looked at the visitor. In a strong, clear voice, he responded, "You are mistaken. In fact, my learning here in Volozhin prevents the Jews in Paris and Berlin from becoming meshumadim, apostates.

A similar story occurred concerning Rav Yisrael Salanter, zl when he heard that in a small town, far from his city of Kovno, home of his famous kollel, an individual Jew committed a blatant act of chillul Shabbos. He immediately convened his kollel fellows, which included some of the greatest Torah luminaries. He delivered a scathing lecture on the topic of Shabbos, its holiness and the gravity of its desecration. After the shiur one of the fellows questioned the reason for the reprovement. He responded that he had heard that Shabbos had been desecrated in a town far from them. "Rebbe, what does this have to do with us?" was the immediate retort. Rav Yisrael answered, "If your shemiras Shabbos would be more meticulous, if your observance of the holiness of Shabbos was stronger, there would not have occurred this instance of chillul Shabbos in that town. You must realize that you are responsible for all of Yahadus, Judaism. If someone in Paris becomes an apostate, it is because our spiritual level has waned somewhat. Every Jew has a direct influence upon all the Jews in the world - for the positive and the negative." These compelling words should serve for us, not only as a condemnation and demand, but also as a source of encouragement of our awesome responsibility to all of Klal Yisrael.


1.  a. What is the "erech" for a male between the ages of five and twenty years old?
b. What is the "erech" for a female between the ages of five and twenty years old?
2. What is the difference between being makdish an unblemished animal and a blemished one?
3. What is the difference between the original owner redeeming the animal he was makdish and someone else redeeming it?
4. What is added to the redemption price of an unclean animal that was consecrated to the Bedek Habayis?
5. What does pidyon Maaser Sheni have in common with pidyon hekdesh?

1. a. Twenty shekalim.
b. Ten shekalim.
2. An unblemished animal may not be redeemed, while a blemished one has pidyon.
3. Only the original owner must add a chomesh, fifth (25 percent) to the price.
4. One must add a chomesh to its value upon redeeming it.
5. If the original owner redeems either one, he must add a chomesh.

in honor of our dear parents
Joseph and Celia Saff
"May you share many more healthy and happy years together, enjoying nachas from your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren"


In Loving Memory of Our Daughter & Sister
Seliga Ahuva Schur Mandelbaum o"h


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