SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 60 NUMBER 8
MAY 181, 2012
IYAR 26, 5772
PARSHAS BEHAR – BECHUKOSAI
Candle-lighting Time: 7:52 PM
Kishka and Kedusha, taught by Ita Leban, the final class of our pre-Shavuos series, this Monday night at 8pm.
Mazel Tov to our Sunday morning TJU Graduates on completing 3 years of weekly Torah study.
Mazel Tov also to the 2nd year of girls completing Eve Levy’s Bat Mitzvah Program this Sunday.
Ladies: Last spots for our FREE trips to Israel this summer. Apply now.
Land Can’t Talk
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
A friend of mine who is a talented Jewish folk singer wrote a song called, “Land Can’t Talk.” It’s a cute song about the struggle for possession of the Land of Israel. We say it’s ours, they say it’s theirs, and the land can’t tell us whose it really is. Of course, in the chorus, the lyrics go, “If it could, it would speak for me, but land can’t talk.” The ultimate ownership is not a matter of serious debate at all. But it might not be whose you think it is.
In fact, in Parshas Behar, the Land does get to say whose it really is.
The parsha contains many detailed laws of agriculture, property acquisition and land distribution, the most famous of which is the concept of the Shemitta or Sabbatical year. Every seventh year is a year of obligatory national cessation of planting, harvesting and other agricultural activities. It’s basically a year-long Shabbos afternoon for farmers. And that’s a lot of cholent.
Every fiftieth year we observe a Yovel or Jubilee year. Besides the elements of a Shemitta year which apply, in a Yovel year we are required to return any rural property that has been sold to non-tribal family members. It’s basically a big amnesty for property, which returns to its original owner or his descendants. You don’t even need a real estate agent for it.
In the midst of discussing these laws the Torah also mentions the prohibition of price-gouging and charging interest on loans to those in need. There’s even a concept of loan forgiveness every Shemitta year. Let’s face it, these are some pretty serious obligations that the Jewish People faced when they arrived in the Land of Israel from Egypt. The way they would treat one another in the business world and the holiness they would inculcate into their basic day-to-day labor were the hallmarks of society. Because if they weren’t, there would be problems.
With these laws comes a promise. If you follow these instructions, you shall dwell in the Land securely and confidently. If, on the other hand, you fail to do so, read ahead to the next parsha.
And then, as if to explain, G-d says, “Ki li ha’aretz” which means, “for the land is Mine.” This is not a free-for-all. You may not simply do as you please here, it’s My Land. There are rules and there are expectations. And if you don’t follow them, you’re out.
When you’re visiting the home of a friend, you don’t cut down his trees and light the carpet on fire. You might like to fool around, but not while the owner is standing there in his home with you. If you really want to do those things, try them at your house.
The same is true in the Land of Israel. It’s not their Land, it’s not our Land. It’s G-d’s Land. We’re his guests, and we have to follow his exact wishes. If not, we get thrown right out the proverbial front door.
In our long history, we’ve spent many centuries in and out of the Land of Israel. Sometimes we’ve dwelt there securely and confidently, and other times less so. For the past 60 years, we’ve flown our own flag, but it’s hardly been securely and confidently.
We just have to remember whose Land it really is, anyway. It’s His Land. And if we don’t live up to His expectations and criteria, we’ll be outside in the yard again before we know it.
Looking Over Our Shoulders
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
Parshas Bechukosai describes in great detail the punishments that await us if we opt to ignore the Torah. Even an elementary perusal of the verses will send a shiver down your spine. Nonetheless, at the very end, Hashem promises that He will not despise us in our various exiles or destroy us. Rather, He will recall the covenant of the ‘first ones’ that He took out of Egypt. Rashi cites the Midrash that this refers to the Tribes of Israel. Although others explain this as a reference to the Patriarchs, the simple understanding of the verse supports the interpretation of the Midrash. However, we need to understand why the covenant made with the Patriarchs is not mentioned here, and what covenant did Hashem make with the Tribes.
Ohr HaChaim explains that the generation that left Egypt displayed tremendous faith in Hashem. Although they were slaves in Egypt, they left for the unknown desert, something which required complete confidence that Hashem would fulfill the promise that He had made to the Patriarchs to rescue the nation from slavery and lead them to Israel. Thus, since the generation that left Egypt maintained their connection to their forefathers, their children and grandchildren for all generations would be protected from destruction while in exile.
Ibn Ezra understands this Midrash differently. He explains that this is a reference to our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The covenant at Sinai means that at the point where we received the Torah we truly became the nation of Hashem. Since we are Hashem’s people, it is necessary to protect us from becoming lost in exile. As we will explain, there is a significant difference in understanding this verse based upon the Ohr HaChaim or the Ibn Ezra.
If we follow the approach of the Ohr HaChaim, the Torah is essentially providing comfort for a nation beleaguered by the ravages of exile. We are still able to rely upon the merits of our forebears and can rest assured that Hashem will never desert us. This, of course, is a tremendous boost to our spirits when we wallow in exile, persistently attacked by the nations of the world, subject to scorn and disdain on a regular basis. However, this message of relief doesn’t leave us with a directive for future advancement.
The approach of the Ibn Ezra, however, is timely, motivating and stimulating. Firstly, the covenant that was established at the time of Sinai is ever-present and continuously significant. Since our cordon of safety against the deluge of exile is immersion in Torah, we must strengthen our ties to Torah and reestablish our dedication to study Torah whenever we can. Certainly now, with Shavuos around the corner, it is a very propitious time to prepare ourselves for the reenactment of our receiving the Torah.
Additionally, our commitment to study Torah must forge a new path of life for us. We must not be satisfied with just a meager amount of studying; rather we must give a significant amount, perhaps even the lion’s share, of our time to Torah study. The Talmud relates that one of the Sages used to say that if he didn’t have time to study during the day, he ‘owed’ that time of study, and would fulfill it that night. A day must not pass without studying our regular amount of Torah.
Lastly, we should realize that as we study more Torah and become more advanced in our studies, our lives will become reshaped and revitalized in a fashion that we cannot truly appreciate. Every day will have more meaning and direction, every facet of our lives will become more crystallized and focused upon our primary purpose, to elevate ourselves and become closer to Hashem through the ultimate tool which can facilitate that objective, intense and passionate involvement in Torah study.
Byte For Shabbos
Before the rebuke in Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah promises that if we toil in Torah, we will merit many blessings and G-d will reside among us. When we study Torah, it is of paramount importance to understand what we are studying. Nonetheless, the main reward we will receive is from the effort we exert to insure that we do indeed study.
Joke of the Week
Jewish male, 34, very successful, smart, independent, self-made.
Looking for girl whose father will hire me. POB 53
Israeli woman, 28, works behind falafel counter in pizza shop,
looking for Jewish man with sense of humus. POB 789
A Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
“For they are My servants, because I took them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:42). The Talmud (Bava Metzia 10a) expands the verse as follows: “They are My servants — and not servants to servants.” Based on this, Jewish law rules that a worker may not be forced to work and may always resign, even in the middle of a job. Even if he has already been paid and doesn’t have the money to pay back his employer, he may nevertheless resign, albeit with a debt to the employer (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 333:3). What about someone who contracted to perform a specific task, as opposed to a specific amount of time? Most authorities rule that he may not retract, since he has not given his time to the employer but rather a promise to fulfill a task, and hence forcing him to complete that task would not make him a “servant to servants” (ibid and commentaries). Some prohibit a worker from hiring himself for three years or more if he will be living on the property of his employer, because this would be similar to selling himself into slavery (Ramah, ibid. See Minchat Asher, Behar, 61).
Reprinted with permission from Parsha Partner, a publication of Partners in Torah. Please add us to your weekly Parsha reading list. www.partnersintorah.org/parshapartner