Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 22 No. 29

Parshas B’har

About the Sh’mitah

(Adapted from the Ramban)

Sh’mitah & Har Sinai

“And Hashem said to Moshe on Har Sinai …” (25:1).

Commenting on the connection between Sh’mitah and Har Sinai (bearing in mind that all the Mitzvos were said at Har Sinai), Rashi, elaborating on the Toras Kohanim, writes: ‘The fact that the Sh’mitah of land is not repeated at Arvos (the Plains of) Mo’av (in Seifer Devarim) teaches us that the basic laws of Sh’mitah, as well as the details, were all said at Sinai; and (at the same time) the Torah is coming to teach us here that so too, with regard to every Mitzvah that was taught to Moshe on Har Sinai, both the basics and the details were said there and repeated at Arvos Mo’av’.

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The Ramban rejects Rashi’s explanation however, based on a number of reasons: 1). There are many Mitzvos like Sh’mitah, whose details do not appear in Seifer Devarim and from which we could therefore learn the same thing . 2). From where does Rashi know that all the other Mitzvos are compared to Sh’mitah in this regard? 3). It would make more sense to say that those Mitzvos that are repeated at Arvos Mo’av are repeated in order to fill in the details that were not said at Sinai.

*

The author therefore explains that what the Toras Kohanim means is that on the one hand we find the basic concept of Sh’mitah mentioned in Mishpatim, where the Torah writes “ … and in the seventh (year), you shall leave it untended and un-harvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat” (23:11). Whereas the details, the Torah presents in the current Parshah (also at Har Sinai). And on the other hand, the Torah compares all the Mitzvos to that of the Sh’mitah, when it concludes the current Parshiyos with “These are the Mitzvos which G-d commanded Moshe regarding the B’nei Yisrael at Har Sinai.”

And as for the repetition of the Mitzvos at Arvos Mo’av, says the Ramban in conclusion, that was in order to convey the Torah to the new generation, who were not present when the Torah was given to their parents at Har Sinai.

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Four Sh’mitos in One Cycle

“Six years you shall sow your field and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its produce. And the seventh year shall be a year of complete rest for the land; your field you may not sow and your vineyard you may not prune” (25:3/4).

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It is common for the Torah to speak in this way, says the Ramban, as we find for example, in the Asares ha’Dibros “Six days you may do all your work … but on the seventh day is Shabbos …”.

*

He also cites a Yerushalmi in Kil’ayim, however, which learns from here that working on the land during the Sh’mitah is subject to the Asei of “Six years you may sow your field … ”, ‘but not in the seventh’. Thus someone who contravened the Dinim of Sh’mitah transgresses a Lo Sa’aseh (“Your field you shall not sow”) and an Asei.

*

And finally, the Ramban citing a Medrash, points to a miracle that someone who keeps the Sh’mitah will experience. The Torah is telling us here, says Rebbi Yishmael, that if we observe the Sh’mitah, we will have one Sh’mitah every seven years, since following the Sh’mitah, we will be able to plant our crops for six consecutive years without a break. But if we don’t, we will be forced to keep four Sh’mitos in every cycle, since, as farmers tend to do, we will have to leave the fields fallow every second year.

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Clearing Out the Sh’mitah Produce

“For your animals and for the beasts that are in your land shall all its produce be to eat” (25:7).

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If the wild beasts are permitted to eat, asks Rashi, then does it not go without saying that your animals are, too?

The reason that the Torah inserts the animals here, is to teach us that it is only as long as there are crops/fruit in the field for the beasts to eat that you may retain some of those crops in the house to feed your animals. But the moment nothing remains of any particular species in the field, one is obligated to ‘finish off’ what is left in the house of that species.

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The Ramban, commenting on the vague expression ‘finish off’ that Rashi uses, explains that what he means is, not that the species in question becomes forbidden to benefit from or to eat and that, like Chametz on Pesach, it must therefore be destroyed. What he means is that it must be cleared from the house and declared Hefker – and this is the ‘Biy’ur Shevi’vis’ to which Chazal often refer. As the Mishnah in Shevi’is (9:8) states regarding Sh’mitah produce after the time of Biy’ur – ‘The poor may eat according to Rebbi Yehudah, and according to Rebbi Yossi (whose opinion is Halachah) even the rich. The source of this ruling is the same Tosefta that he quotes in detail, and that we will cite in the following two Pearls.

Citing a Tosefta in Shevi’is (See next Pearl), the author elaborates on the ‘Biy’ur’ – After distributing the relevant fruit to one’s neighbours relatives and friends, one places what is left at the entrance of one’s house and declares ‘My brothers, Beis Yisrael, whoever needs fruit, come and help yourself!’ After which one is permitted to take it into one’s house and continue eating it until it is finished.

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The Otzar Beis-Din

Ibid.

The Tosefta, the end of which we referred to in the previous Pearl, describes the initial Takanah of Otzar Beis-Din, to which some communities adhere during the Sh’mitah-year. Initially, the emissaries of Beis-Din would go to the gates of the towns, where they would take all the fruit that each person entering the town brought with him, leaving him only with enough food for three meals. The rest of the food they would place in the town’s storehouse. As the time of Biy’ur of each fruit arrived, they would hire workers to pick it and process it (for preservation) in the orchards and vineyards, making cakes of dried figs out of the figs, oil out of the olives and wine out of the grapes, which they would also place in the storehouse. They would do the same with the crops of grain, though the author does not give any details of the processing that they did.

Subsequently, every Erev Shabbos, they would distribute them to each family, according to its size.

Once the time of Biy’ur arrives, Rebbi Yehudah and Rebbi Yossi argue over who may eat the fruit (as we explained above). Rebbi Shimon is of the opinion that the poor may continue to eat from the orchards and vineyards, whilst the rich receive their fruit from Otzar Beis-Din.

*

Note: 1. The fruit of Otzar Beis-Din is not subject to Biy’ur, since it has already been cleared out of the house once.

  1. The money that one pays for Otzar Beis-Din fruit nowadays, is not for the fruit – as Sh’mitah produce may not be bought or sold – but for the work involved in picking, storing and distributing, which is permitted.

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Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Ramban)

The Redemption of Houses and Fields

“If a man sells a residential house in a walled city, its redemption period shall be up to the end of the year of the sale …” (25:29).

Because it is difficult and embarrassing to sell one’s home (as opposed to a field), the Ramban explains, the Torah allows the seller to redeem it immediately for an entire year, should he obtain the means to do so. On the other hand, it permits him to redeem the field that he has sold from the end of two years, to give the purchaser a chance to derive substantial benefit from it, up until the Yovel – because it provides him with his livelihood.

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Two Pesukim later, the Torah states that “Houses in open cities, which are not surrounded by walls, are considered like fields and can be redeemed (immediately – Rashi), and go back in the Yovel”. The Ramban explains that this is because houses in open cities generally come together with fields, which are the source of one’s livelihood.

Consequently, they end up with the advantage of houses in walled cities, which can be redeemed immediately, and of fields, which can redeemed up to the Yovel.

*

Incidentally, in the event that the owner does not manage to redeem his field or his house in an open city, it goes back to him in the Yovel.

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Keeping Jew and non-Jew Alive

“If your brother becomes poor …you should support him …a convert and a Ger toshav (who keeps the seven No’ahide Mitzvos), and he shall live with you. Do not take from him interest … and your brother shall live with you” (25:35/36).

In discussing these two Pesukim, the Ramban refers to the two Mitzvos that they contain: 1). That of Piku’ach Nefesh – saving a life, which the Pasuk presents here as a Mitzvas Asei. 2). That of not taking interest, which the Gemara in Bava Metzi’a (71a), based on the singular form of “from him” (and not ‘from them’), confines to your brother the Jew, but not to the Ger Toshav, to whom “you shall support him” exclusively applies.

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A Matter of Precedence

Ibid.

See previous Pearl.

The Ramban also quotes the famous Gemara in Bava Metzi’a (62a) - in connection with Reuven and Shimon who are walking in the desert, where Reuven has sufficient water for one person (only) to survive. Commenting on the words “your brother shall live *with you*”, the Gemara extrapolates that one’s own life takes precedence over that of one’s friend.

However, this ruling only applies to cases such as the one discussed in the Gemara, where Reuven owns the water. He is not obligated to give his water to Shimon, nor must he share it with him, as ben Petura there maintains. In fact, if he does so, he will be guilty of taking his own life unnecessarily.

Should Reuven wish to offer his water to Shimon, then presumably, he is permitted to do so.

*

If Shimon steals Reuven’s water, he will be guilty of indirect murder.

In the event that the water is Hefker, then whoever gets to it first may drink it.

*

Neshech & Tarbis -

Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Do not give (lend) him your money for Neshech and do not give him your food for Tarbis” (25:36).

Rashi explains that the Gemara equates the two. Neither is there is a difference between Neshech and Tarbis nor between money and fruit. And the reason that the Pasuk presents Ribis in two seemingly diverse statements is in order to render the transgressor guilty of having transgressed two La’avin.

*

Commenting on the Torah’s change of expression, the Ramban explains that the former is referring to interes, which one pays on an annual basis. And because the debt grows bigger from year to year, it calls it “Neshech” (bite - as, like a snake-bite, it swells out of proportion). Tarbis, on the other hand, is a once-off payment that one pays together with the loan. This goes nicely with the Torah’s choice of examples, he points out, since the former kind of interest is generally charged on to a loan of money, whereas the latter is added to a loan of fruit.

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Vol. 22 No. 30

Parshas Bechukosai

Two Sets of Brachos

(Adapted from the Ramban)

“If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them, then I will provide your rain in its time, the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit …” (26:3/4).

*

In Beshalach (Sh’mos, 26: 25/26), the Torah presents a list of B’rachos that those who obey G-d’s commands will enjoy. Discussing the difference between the two sets of B’rachos, the Ramban explains what is unique about the B’rachos here.

The Pasuk there, he points out, talks of one’s food and drink being blessed, as a result of which one will enjoy perfect health, longevity and a high birth-rate – lives devoid of illness and bereavement. All of these are the reward that G-d promises to individual Tzadikim who go in his ways (which explains why the Pesukim in Beshalach are written in the singular). These are hidden miracles, as the author pointed out in Parshas Lech’L’cha, 17/1 – as there is no natural connection between doing good and being blessed with wealth and good health!

In contrast, the B’rochos mentioned in the current Parshah – rain, bounty, peace and children, are communal blessings that Yisrael will experience if the nation as a whole goes in His way. Hence they are written in the plural. And that is why, says the Ramban, the Torah refers a number of times to “the land” (“and the land will give its produce”, “you will live in safety in the land”, “And I will give peace in the land” … ).

And when the entire nation enjoys this supernatural way of life, day after day, year after year, the miracle is that much more pronounced.

In his final comment on the above matter, the author writes: ‘When the bulk of Yisrael reach perfection, their lives do not run along natural lines at all, not body-wise and not land-wise, not communally and not individually; since G-d blesses their food and their drink as well as removing all illnesses from their midst, to the point that they do not need to come on to the services of a doctor, or even to take precaution against falling ill – as the Pasuk writes in Beshalach (Sh’mos, 15:25/26) ‘And I will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove all illnesses from your midst … for I am Hashem your doctor!’.

And when this happens, he explains, the world, will understand that the blessing is a Divine one, and, as the Pasuk writes in Parshas ki Sovo (28:10) “ … the nations of the world will see that the Name of Hashem is attributed to you, and they will fear/revere you”.

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Visiting the Doctor

Elaborating on what we wrote a couple of paragraphs back, the Ramban, citing various sources, explains how in the era of the prophets - despite the Torah’s permission of doctors to heal - people did not go to the doctor for treatment of ailments, but prayed to G-d. Perhaps the best-known of the sources he quotes is that of Chizkiyahu ha’Melech (who hid the book of cures written by Adam ha’Rishon precisely because people were beginning to rely too much on it for a cure and too little on Hashem and), about whom the Pasuk specifically states that “he turned to Hashem in his illness and not to doctors”.

And it is only because the people opted to rely on doctors in place of turning to Him, that G-d let them have it their way and stopped healing them Himself, much in the same way as the Pasuk writes later in the Parshah (26: 21 & 24) “If you will go with Me by chance …then I will leave you to chance” (as some commentaries explain there).

* * *

Parshah Pearls

(Adapted from the Ramban)

The Enemy in Flight

“ … you will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword” (26:7).

*

The Ramban asks why, in the very next Pasuk, the Pasuk repeats “and your enemy will flee before you by the sword”?

The Ibn Ezra, he says, explains that, the enemy will fall, time after time, without being able to re-group and turn the tables against us.

The author himself explains that initially, the enemy, in utter confusion, will proceed to kill each other (like Rashi explains). Then, as the battle continues, Yisrael will begin to chase those that remained, miraculously, as they will be largely outnumbered. Yet they will succeed in cutting them down against all odds, because G-d will imbue them with the courage and the strength to finish the job.

*

Being Fruitful & Multiplying

“ … and I will make you fruitful and multiply you (vehirbeisi eschem)” (25:9).

*

Rashi translates “vehirbeisi eschem” as ‘and I will make you tall and upright’.

The Ramban however, defining the two blessings contained in the Pasuk, explains that every woman will have children – that there will be no barren woman among the people, and that they will have many children who will live out their lives in full – ensuring a constant growth in the numbers of K’lal Yisrael.

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What sort of B’rachah is That?

“I will place My Sanctuary among you and My Spirit will not reject (ve’Lo go’aloh) you” (26:11).

*

For an exact definition of the word “go’aloh”, see Rashi, who interprets the Pasuk literally.

But what sort of blessing is non-rejection, asks the Ramban, when dealing with people who keep the Torah to perfection? And the question is even more marked, when we consider that the Torah uses the same expression later (in Pasuk 44) with reference to a generation that breaks the covenant and that is guilty of the worst possible abominations, he adds – as the Torah writes there “I will not despise them and I will not reject them to destroy them”?

*

The Ramban therefore interprets the Pasuk with reference to return of Neshamos to this world after death, which is common practice regarding individuals who may have performed even one sin on which they failed to perform Teshuvah before they die (reincarnation). This is considered a terrible punishment, as the Soul dreads having to return to this world, which it loathes.

Hence the Torah informs us here that when Yisrael reaches the level described at the beginning of the Parshah, reincarnation will no longer be necessary. The Soul will be permitted immediate entry into Gan Eden and will not be rejected.

Now that’s a B’rachah!

* * *

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