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Vol. 20 Issue #21 Parshas Behar

A Paradox to Behold; A Challenge
to Embrace

Rabbi Darren Blackstein

(YUHSB 79, YC 83, RIETS 86)
Our parashah begins by beautifully
describing the laws of shemittah and yoveil. In the
seventh year the field is left to rest and is not
worked. In the fiftieth year, perek 25 passuk 13
gives us the directive tashuvu ish el achuzato,
everyone must be returned to their ancestral
heritage. These laws have many practical
ramifications, as the parashah goes on to delineate.
Rashi quotes the famous question from the Torat
Kohanim that draws our attention to the
juxtaposition of Har Sinai and the laws of shemittah.
Why is it necessary to mention that these laws
were given at Har Sinai? We are to understand that
just as the general and specific rules of shemittah
were given at Har Sinai, so too all the mitsvot were
given at Har Sinai in their generalities and
specifications. The issue here, seems to be the
desire to equal the playing field for the Divine
origin of all mitsvot. Regardless of the location of
their presentation in the Chumash, we are to
understand that all the mitsvot emanated from Har
Sinai, with the same Divine Authority.
Many are familiar with the inspiring
explanation of the Sefat Emet, who connects the
Sinai experience with the concept of shemittah: just
as Hashems presence was so manifest at Har Sinai
as the cause of everything, so too, shemittah
reminds us that we are not the cause of the fields
growth and we are therefore told to back off and

Vol. 20 Issue #21

20 Iyar 5776

allow nature to take its course. Even nature itself

is merely a tool that Hashem wields, and does not
act on its own. This can ultimately draw us back to
look at parashat Bereishit and the consequence that
Hashem gives Adam for eating from the Tree of
the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In perek 3 passuk
19 Hashem tells Adam that by the sweat of your
face [he] will eat bread, till [he] return[s] to the
ground, because from there [he] was taken This
consequence is ever-present in our lives. We must
work in order to make a living, but when Shabbat
comes, like shemittah, we are told to yield in our
creative activity to the one true Creator, Hakadosh
Baruch Hu.
We are challenged to see that after all is
said and done by us, Hashem is the true cause that
runs everything. It is a test for us to keep in mind,
even though someone works diligently toward a
goal, that person cannot take full credit for the
accomplishment. The Torah tells us in Devarim,
perek 8 passuk 17 that we must avoid thinking that
one's might, kochi, has brought success. This also
suggests a paradox. Hashem told Adam to work.
Doesnt that imply that for the duration of the
work, man is somewhat of a causal agent? Isnt this
causal involvement on our part at the core of what
we call, 'acharayut', responsibility? Our work, or
the need for it, calls upon our responsibility in our
endeavors. In effect, Hashem seems to have given
mankind somewhat of a share as a determining
factor in the world.
We can illustrate this by comparing two
apparently similar questions in the Chumash, which
have two drastically different answers. In parashat

Vol. 20 Issue #21
Leikh Lekhah, in perek 15 passuk 8 Avraham asks
has meaning for us, especially at this time of year,
Hashem how he will know, in effect, that
when we are in the light of lag ba'omer. The
Hashems promise of inheritance will come true.
legendary lack of harmony between the students
Some look at Avrahams question as representing
of Rebbe Akiva has certainly trickled down to us
a lack of emunah, and thus in verse 13, Hashem tells
throughout the ages. Our parashah can motivate us
Avraham that he will know by the servitude that
to make a 'kal vechomeir': If Hakadosh Baruch Hu
the Jews will experience for four hundred years in
Himself can join in mankinds efforts and thereby
a strange land. Perhaps Hashem was upset with
strike a harmony with him, shouldnt we be able
Avraham because he was questioning the causal
to do the same with each other?
nature of Hashems involvement in the world, and
Gashmiyus as well as Ruchniyus
this represented, on Avrahams level, a slight
Maz Landsberg(16)
deficiency in emunah. Now let us take a look at a
question posed in our parashah. In perek 25 passuk
In the very first passuk of this weeks
20 the Torah anticipates our questions regarding
parashah, we are told that Hashem spoke to Moshe
what we will eat in the seventh year, as we have to
at Har Sinai regarding the mitsvah of shemittah.
leave the field to rest. Hashem responds, saying
Rashi famously comments on why we are told this
that the sixth year will be so plentiful, that we
redundant piece of information; dont we already
wont have to worry about year seven. Doesnt
know that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai?
this question represent the same type of doubt that
Rather, says Rashi, we are being reminded that the
Avraham had? Perhaps this apparent lack of faith
entire Torah was given to Moshe at Har Sinai, just
should have been met with a reprimanding
like shemittah was given then. On this point, there
approach just as was the case by Avraham? In order
is a question raised by numerous contemporary
to resolve this, Id like to suggest that the question
scholars: of all the mitsvot to use in order to teach
in our parashah is coming from a different mindset
us this very lesson, why specifically shemittah?
than the one of Avraham. Avraham seemed to have
I believe this can be answered by means of
questioned or requested evidence for the entire
both a paradox and a contradiction, both of which
process that Hashem said was about to unfold.
will lead us to the same conclusion. The gemara in
That was met with tough consequences. However,
Pesachim (68b) quotes a machalokes between Rabbi
by our parashah, the question about year seven was
Elazar and Rabbi Yehoshua about how we should
based upon a firm commitment to working the
act on a yom tov Rabbi Elazar says we should
first six years! If you work arduously for six years,
either be totally devoted to davening and learning,
aware that Hashem is part of even those efforts,
or to eating and drinking, but Rabbi Yehoshua says
then you can ask about year seven, when you dont
we should divide up our time for both the spiritual
expect a miracle! Yes, Hashem is undoubtedly
and the physical. Though the Rambam (Hilchos Yom
providing, but under normal circumstances, that
Tov 6:19) paskens like Rabbi Yehoshua for all
doesnt exempt us from our 'heshtadlut', our work.
holidays, Rabbi Elazar already agreed with Rabbi
To this attitude, Hashem responds favorably and
Yehoshua in three instances where physical
tells us not to worry. In fact, the work that we do
indulgence is a requirement for the particular yom
in year six will have supernatural results. Quite
tov. Though Shabbas and Purim have their
naturally, it is far beyond humanity to understand
requirements derived from their respective
how Hashem is embedded, as a cause, in our
pesukim, Shavuos is strange not only in that its
actions. This is one of many paradoxes that we
must be mekabeil, embrace as ovdei Hashem. This
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Vol. 20 Issue #21
based on reasoning, but also for the actual reason
as the paradigm that all mitsvos came from Har
Sinai. While there are many aspects of Judaism
We are told that physical indulgence is
that revolve around food and drink, only shemittah
needed on Shavuos because it is the day on which
teaches us that physicality is just as much a part of
the Torah was given. However, of all the holidays
Torah as spirituality. When introducing the
which we would devote entirely to learning, we
mitsvah of shemittah, the Torah states,

would think that Shavuos would be the top choice,

six years you shall work your
for the exact reason that its the day of the giving
land(Leviticus 25:3), emphasizing the gashmiyus
of the Torah. Why then are we told exactly the
of agricultural life to the point of commanding that
opposite? Why is Shavuos one of the three times
one must engage in physical matters. The true
that specifically require an emphasis on
lesson of shemittah, in the end, is that as much as
physicality? The fact that Shavuos needs an
gashmiyus must be an integral part of our avodas
expression of physicality is precisely to show that
Hashem, there must also be time set aside to focus
lo nitenah Torah lemalachim the Torah wasnt
on the ruchniyus side as well. With Shavuos arriving
given to angels. If so, then there is no greater way
in just over two weeks, may we all take this lesson
to celebrate the giving of the Torah to humans
to heart, and enjoy the upcoming yom tov that will
except by displaying just how human we really are.
be filled not only with all-night learning and an
Angels dont need to eat, drink, or sleep; we must
uplifted davening, but with appropriate eating and
do these actions on Shavuos just to show that we
an uplifted davening, but with appropriate eating
are not angels.
and drinkingand maybe an extra piece of
Another gemara (Ketubot 104a) relates that
Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, before his death, raised his
hands towards shamayim and exclaimed, " "
Shemitta and Har Sinai: A Lesson in

David Tanner (18)
Master of the
universe! It is revealed before You that I engaged
There is a common idiom which was
in Torah with all ten fingers, and I did not take
transformed from the first Rashi in parashas Behar,
even a little fingers worth of personal benefit.
to the catch phrase meaning 'what relevance does
Seemingly, Rabbeinu Hakadosh was a truly
A have to B?' - mah inyan shemittah eitzel Har Sinai?
spiritual man. However, the gemara in Avoda Zara
What relevance do the laws of shemittah, the
11a describes the lavish delicacies which never
Torahs command to leave the land of Israel fallow
ceased to be found on Rebbes table, even those
every seventh year, specifically have to do with
which were out-of-season. Rav Tzadok of Lublin
Har Snai that merited them being introduced with
resolves this contradiction by differentiating
the unusual phrase Hashem spoke to Moshe on
between Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and the Roman
Har Sinai saying rather than the standard
emperor Antoninus, who is mentioned alongside
introduction Hashem spoke to Moshe saying?
Rebbe regarding their great wealth. While
Rashi answers that the unfamiliar phrasing
Antoninus used his wealth solely for physical
is teaching us about all laws of the Torah; just as all
indulgence, Rabbeinu Hakadosh utilized the
of the details of shemittah listed here were specified
opportunities given to him for the service of
at Sinai, so too all mitsvos of the Torah, even those
appearing in sefer Devarim, were told over in full
Now we might be able to achieve a greater
detail at Sinai. This answer doesnt really establish
insight into why the Torah chose to use shemittah
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Vol. 20 Issue #21
a connection between shemittah and Har Sinai
taking ribbis is similar to shemittah, because like
other than a functional one. We still dont
working during shemittah (and unlike, for
understand why shemittah was specifically picked.
example, stealing or using
The Chasam Sofer explains the connection
a weighted scale) it is
between shemittah and Har Sinai in a fundamental
normally done in business,
way. Shemittah is one of few open nissim that are
and not considered morally
promised in the Torah. Refrain from working the
wrong. Yet God tells us
land one seventh of the time, and God will insure
that even if something
that you have enough food. This neis testifies to the
doesnt seem wrong, and
fact that the Torah is divine, for no being could
we feel that its necessary
make such a miraculous promise other than
for our livelihood, we must
Hashem Himself. This is the connection to Mount
not benefit by doing it if it
Sinai; one who keeps shemittah demonstrates his
is assur. In both shemittah
belief in the God who gave us the Torah at Sinai.
The Komeitz Haminchah of Maharal
Hashem promises that we
Charif, quoted in Meeinah Shel Torah, brings a
will not lose out as a result
similar, but even deeper connection between Har
of following the Torahs
Sinai and shemittah. An important principle in
mandates. The One who
Judaism is that Hashem hears the cries of the
controls all wealth directs
common people, as vayishma Hashem es
its flow, regardless of what
koleinu(Deuteronomy 26:7) by Mitzrayim. He
appears to be logical and
does not forsake the simple 'poshute yidden' of His
nation, and hears their tefillos no matter how trivial
Perhaps this lesson of emunah from
the request seems in the grand scheme of things.
shemittah and ribbis explains the last two pesukim of
God values simplicity and modesty. The best
Behar. Seemingly out of place, the familiar
example of this is the midrashic explanation of why
command against idol worship and the exhortation
Hashem chose Har Sinai as the site for the most
to keep Shabbas end a parashah that deals with
important formative event in yiddishkeit, matan
aspects of monetary law. What is the connection?
Torah. In stark contrast to the other ostentatious
Maybe the lesson is that in order to properly serve
mountains which were fighting over which one
Hashem in the more explicit and familiar ways of
was more worthy of this great honor, Har Sinai
abstaining from avoda zara and observing Shabbas,
stood silently and modestly. The same idea is
we must first cultivate the reliance and trust in
shown with shemittah. Shemittah shows that
Hashem which is an innate result of keeping
Hashem cares about and gives mitsvos to be fulfilled
financial mitsvos such as ribbis. Its hard to cultivate
by the simple farmer, who isnt sure if hell have
a reliance on Hashems help; may we do so
enough to eat in the seventh year. Sinai and
properly in accordance with His directives.
shemittah share an emphasis on the value of tzenius
and focusing and relying on Hashem, rather than
ones own capabilities.
The value of relying on Hashem is a theme
in parashas Behar. The Torahs injunction against
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