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Rabbi's Corner

Behar – Rabbi Lerner – May 19, 2019

What is the Connection of Shemitta to Har Sinai?

25:1: And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai saying. A very famous commentary by Rashi: What does this parsha of Shemitta have to do with Har Sinai? This reference teaches that not only the broad outlines, but all of the details of the Mitzvohs were given at Sinai; all mitzvahs have their origin from Sinai (from Toras Kohanim – Midrashic Halachic interpretation). The Torah wants to emphasize that everything came from Har Sinai – all the specifics of the mitzvahs are divine.

Rashbam: once the Mishkan was built, the mitzvohs were given from there instead of Moshe having to ascend to Har Sinai; it was the fulfillment of the Pasuk You will build a Mishkan for me and I will dwell among you. Moshe no longer had to climb the mountain – he just had to go into the Kodesh Hakadashim in the Mishkan whenever he needed to contact Hashem – the Voice would emanate from between the two Keruvim. We see this from the first pasuk of Vayikrah, where it says in 1:1: He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moed, saying. So why does this pasuk now say it was from Har Sinai when this whole Sefer emanated from the Mishkan? When it says at Har Sinai, it means before the building of the Mishkan. So while this whole Sefer would appear to be in the correct sequential order, the laws of Shemitta and Yovel were actually transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai before the remainder of the Sefer of Vayikrah was communicated to him. There apparently is some need to have the laws of Shemitta stand out.

Rav Yonatan Grossman: When we look ahead to Bechukosai, it deals with brachos and kelalos – blessings and curses. It is the first of the two major Tochachos in Chumash. After first describing the wonderful things that Hashem will do for us if we obey the mitzvohs, the Parsha describes what happens if we stray from the path; but it is not just simple punishments. 26:18: And if despite this you do not heed Me, then I shall punish you further, seven ways for your sins. 26:21: And if you behave casually with Me and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you – seven ways, like your sins. 26:24: And then I, too will behave toward you with casualness; and I will strike you, even I, seven ways for your sins. This repeats again in 26:28. There is a repetitive emphasis of punishments revolving around the number 7. Why does the Torah emphatically connect the curses to the number 7? This point directs us to the commandments in parshas Behar, which immediately precede the blessings and the curses. The mitzvahs in Behar – Shemitta and Yovel – are also arranged in multiples of seven. Shemitta is 7 years, Yovel 7 times 7. As Rabbi Grossman says, “In light of this fact, we may suggest that the blessings and curses in Parshas Bechukosai, which immediately follow these laws, are in fact referring specifically to the observance of Shemitta and Yovel. If the Jewish nation refrains from agricultural pursuits during the Shemitta year, then they will merit the blessings; if not, then the curses will ensue. Therefore, the Tochachah (reproof, i.e. the section of the curses) emphasizes the number seven over and over.” The foundation is set in Behar, with Bechukosai then building on that number. There is a clear connection between Shemitta and Yovel, and the failure to accept the lesson of God’s ownership of the land. We are just tenants on the land, and must allow it to lie fallow on the seventh year, according to the will of G-d; if we fail to do this, we are essentially denying the existence of G-d. Hashem will punish us by forcing us to acknowledge that G-d owns the land, first by the cessation of produce and bringing famine, and then exile from the land – that will then force us to admit that we don’t own the land.

Rav Grossman: “According to this reading, the blessings and curses do not address the general issue of Torah observance, but rather the specific mitzvos of Shemitta and Yovel.” Other proof to this idea: 26:33-5: I will scatter you among the nations and will unsheathe the sword to pursue you. Your land will be desolate and your cities in ruins. The land shall be appeased for its sabbaths while it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; the land shall rest and have appeasement for its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it shall be at rest, according to the rest that it did not enjoy while you dwelt in it. The land will ultimately get its rest after the Jews are exiled, as no conqueror or resident nation will be able to succeed in growing anything in the land – for nearly 2000 years no one was able to do this until the Jewish immigrants returned. Eretz Yisrael responds to those who are living in it; it will miraculously grow again when G-d-fearing Jews will live there. But if we don’t realize that G-d is always focusing on this particular land, and we don’t treat it properly, this punishment will be a direct quid pro quo – if we try to plant when we are not supposed to, showing contempt for G-d’s laws, then He will rest the land by forcing us out. 43: And the land will be bereft of them; and it will be appeased for its sabbaticals having: become desolate of them; they must gain appeasement for their iniquity; because they were revolted by My ordinances and because their spirit rejected My decrees.

Rav Grossman: All of the Sefer Vayikrah was transmitted to the Jews from the Ohel Moed, as stated at the beginning of Vayikrah. From the first pasuk of Behar it is clear that this particular parsha deals with a series of things that were transmitted to Moshe while the people were still encamped at Har Sinai. What is the extent of these mitzvohs that were given earlier? The final pasuk of the blessings and curses provide the answer to this question: 26:46: These are the decrees, laws and observances which God concluded between Himself and Bnai Yisrael at Har Sinai, by Moshe's hand. What we have is a complete unit that was transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai, and for whatever reason was recorded at the conclusion of the book of Vayikrah. This unit includes the Shemitta and Yovel as well as the blessings and the curses, which are here recorded as the direct consequence of Israel's observance or non-observance of these laws. So, after we had already made tremendous progress, with G-d living among us in the Ohel Moed – why a throw back to Har Sinai again? Why does the Torah depart from the chronological sequence, and suddenly introduce at the end of Sefer Vayikrah commandments and a covenant which had been communicated to the Jewish people much earlier?

There is a famous notion that the Torah will often not be in chronologic order. Ibn Ezra: That is what is happening here – these two parshios actually happened before the rest of the Chumash of Vayikrah, before the details of the korbanos. But what is the point of doing that? The reason for its mention here is to connect the various conditions for dwelling in Eretz Yisrael. Just as it was stated concerning the forbidden sexual unions that their non-observance would lead to the land spewing the people out, so too was it stated concerning the observance of the Shemitta. Earlier, the major lessons in Achrei Mos and Kedoshim are Gilui Arayos – those parshios detail the warnings and the punishments for failing to adhere to the warnings. As opposed to the cardinal sins of murder and idolatry, when it comes to Gilui Arayos the punishment is exile: 18:24-25: Do not become contaminated with any of these; for through these the nations that I expel before you became contaminated. The Land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the Land vomited out its inhabitants. All land can miraculously create food from dirt in all the world; but Eretz Yisrael is different – it has a soul; the spiritual soul of Eretz Yisrael cannot tolerate Gilui Arayos; it cannot stomach that type of behavior and will kick them out. The survival of Bnai Yisrael in the land depends on not violating Gilui Arayos, but here we see there is another sin with a similar punishment – caring for the land and allowing it to rest properly as commanded. It is not enough to ascend to Yerushalayim three times a year; we must respect the land, allow it to rest, and it will then respond appropriately; if we ignore it, then we will be vomited out. Gilui Arayos can force us out; but maintaining our presence on the land depends on following the owner’s rules. The word Shemitta means release – the year is in need of rest, and this year we also release people of debts; we acknowledge that G-d is in control of the land and all commerce and riches.

Rav Grossman: Sefer Vayikrah earlier details the concept of Kedusha of time (Yom Kippur) and people (Kohanim) in the context of the holy place, the Mishkan. The later part of the Sefer broadens the concept of Kedusha. The Kohanim are at a higher level, , but all of the Jewish people are holy; we are the chosen people to be holy, as is emphasized with the command of Kedoshim Tihiyu. We have read all about the Avodah of Yom Kippur, but the rest of the people are invested in the Kedushah of time as well – we were given the power to sanctify time by Hashem. Our calendar is the lunar calendar because that is the basis for our control of time – this is what separates Judaism from all other religions – we sanctify time; how we do that affects our whole lives. And now, at the conclusion of this Sefer, G-d wants to remind us that even though there is great Kedushas HaMakom in the Bais Hamikdash, there is Kedusha throughout the land, as manifested by these laws of Shemitta and Yovel. As Rav Grossman closes, “There may be a specific place where God causes His presence to be manifest, but by the same token "the whole earth is Mine." Through these laws, every tiller of the land must realize that the entire world belongs to G-d and that by His will alone it is given to man to work it and to derive sustenance. When the nation as a whole desists from working the land every seventh year, it indicates God's ownership of the whole earth, and not only the place of the Temple where His presence is manifest. The mitzvos of Shemitta and Yovel, together with the blessings and curses that relate to them, are recorded here even though they were transmitted at Har Sinai. This is in order to emphasize the above point at the conclusion of the book which deals more than any other with service of God in His Temple. The commandments are placed upon the Jew wherever he may be; he desists from working the earth because "the whole earth is Mine."

Thu, May 23 2019 18 Iyyar 5779