Back to this week's Parsha| Previous Issues

by Daneal Weiner

May the hesorerus of this d’var Torah mehapech the Din a bring refua and yeshua to all cholei Yisrael.

I exited the airport and made it as far as the shared-taxi stand when I heard a woman and a driver shouting at each other about how long it would be before they left and I said to myself, “It’s good to be back in Israel!” Then as soon as I got settled in the news of the day was a thesis paper written by Tel-Aviv U. student comparing the Chareidim to Nazi’s and I said to my self, “Now I really know I’m back in Israel.” You will be glad to know the student received a failing grade. The teacher said it was all plagiarized from the Shinui Party’s campaign propaganda. Ba-dum bum! Thank you, thank you. Ahhh, eet eez goot to be back in zee muderlandt!

And speaking of zee muderlandt, in zis veeks

Parshas B'har

we hear what Hashem told Commandant Moshe back at Mt. Sinai regarding the laws of Shmittah, the 7th year after the land is settled (and every 7th year thereafter) the land is to left fallow. Two world famous questions, why bring up Mt. Sinai again and why attach it to the mitsvah of Shmittah? Rashi explains that the mitsvah of Shmittah was chosen because it is not repeated in the book of D'varim. If it were one might think that all the details excluding those mentioned later were given at Sinai and Hashem waited filled in the blanks. Since Shmittah is not mentioned in D'varim, all the laws from Sinai means ALL the laws! And just as all the details of this mitsvah were explained to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, so too were all the details of all the mitsvos explained to Moshe at Mt. Sinai.

Another question is raised on the opening of the parsha. Why does the Torah first talk about the 7th year and then go back and say to work the land for 6 years? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to say when we enter the land we have 6 years to plant and harvest and then talk about the 7th year as a time of rest? Rav Moshe Wolfson draws upon the Ma’ore Ainayim for an answer.

The Ma'ore Ainayim explains that the Shmittah is the focus, the end point, so the Torah goes straight to it. Then to know what the means to that end is it teaches for 6 years we work the land. We should not lose sight during the 6 years of labor that it is not our land, it is Hashem's and it is not our labor that produced the results, it is Hashem's will which produces the results. The 7th year, like the 7th day, testifies the world belongs to Hashem. The idea is magnified in Hashem’s promise that what we harvest in the 6th year will satisfy us till the next time we harvest.

The Chasam Sofer uses this promise for his answer to our opening question of why the mitsva of Shmittah was chosen to open Parshas B’har. Not only does this mistva testify to Hashem’s dominion of the world, it also testifies to the Divine authorship of the Torah. While Israeli universities are the only universities in the civilized world who still deem Bible Criticism credible and maintain it as a course of study, anyone who reads the opening of B’har would realize the impossibility of the Torah being authored by flesh and blood. What person(s) would promise that one year of harvest would sustain for three years?!? And that’s if the people are believers! The Torah goes on to say if the nation doubts and asks, “From what will we eat” Hashem will command His blessing and the 6th year’s harvest will be a bumper crop! 3 years worth of food in one year! If man wrote the Torah it would have been a best seller for 6 years and that would have been it. Other religions can only promise heavenly rewards because anything earthly will be used against them.

On a deeper level the Ma’ore Ainayim explains back in Parshas Vayakhel that the 39 melachos- creative acts used to build the Mishkan- Sanctuary where the 39 melachos Hashem used to create the world. Just as the culmination of the world came on Shabbos, so too did the culmination of the building of the Mishkan come at its dedication. And what we learn in the other direction is that just as every melacha in the building of the Mishkan was obviously geared towards and integral to the establishment, existence and operation of the Mishkan, so too was every aspect of creation geared towards and integral to Shabbos.

Halacha tells us we are not supposed to discuss work on Shabbos. Even more than this, one should leave work on Friday with the attitude that they have just successfully completed a lengthy project and there is nothing to do, nothing to even think about till next week when a new project comes their way. In light of the Ma’ore Ainayim how can it be any other way? If all Shabbos is is a gap in the workweek then what connection does the week have to Shabbos? What value does that create for Shabbos other than being an interference with the family income, r’l? Creation and the Mishkan and Shmittah are coming to teach us that Shabbos is the culmination of the workweek. Every effort put into the world from Sunday through Friday is only to sanctify Shabbos day. That’s why the sanctity and beauty of Shabbos is compared to a great light. Only someone who prepares him/herself for it can enjoy it. For anyone else the brightness is blinding. Shabbos and Shmittah emphasize by their contrast to the ‘way of the world’ that we really only need to focus on our service of Hashem and everything around us is His doing and in His hands.

Even with Shabbos being the culmination of what was before it, it still is a window of what is to follow. Before Pesach is Shabbos Hagadol. Before Yom Kippur is Shabbos Shuva. We bless the arrival of the new month the Shabbos before. This coming week will be Lag B’Omer- the 33rd day in the counting of the Omer. The Bnei Yisaschar writes that the simcha- joy of Lag B’Omer is spiritually and literally out of this world. That must be reflected, somehow, this Shabbos. Hold this thought.

The Gemorah Yevamos tells of the tragedy which befell the students of Rebbe Akivah. It says, “12,000 pairs were the students of Rebbe Akivah, from Givat until Antipras. They all died within the same period of time because they did not act with honor one to another.” A couple questions come to mind. How is it that the students of Rebbe Akivah were disrespectful to one another?

Let’s bear in mind who his students were and would have been. Tannaic Sages, every one! All the Torah in the world today is due to 5 surviving students of Rebbe Akivah’s! There could have been 24,005! What would the face of the world be like today had we merited 24,005 transmitters of Torah from Sinai!? And let’s further bear in mind who Rebbe Akivah was. He encapsulated all of Torah into the principle, “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Rebbe Akivah lived according to his other famous axiom, “Do not unto others as you would not have done to yourself.” His Tannaic students did not show honor one to another?! How can it be? Let’s make the question even stronger.

Honor is something the Torah always pays close attention to. Halacha can be going in a certain direction and as soon as an issue of honor arises it takes a turn. Carrying is forbidden in a public domain on Shabbos, for example. Yet if someone dies, lo alainu, on Shabbos outdoors there are circumstances by which the body can be moved. On a much grander scale, when Hashem told Moshe to go to Egypt to save the Jewish people Moshe did not want to accept the role because he had an older brother who was already a prophet and a leader. Incredible! You would think saving the Jewish people is the reason to pull out all stops and bend all rules and yet Moshe knew that if the Exodus was to begin by stepping on the toes of his older brother it would be doomed to fail before it would start! To such an extent we should be concerned for the honor of another! Only after Hashem tells Moshe his brother Aaron is heading out to meet him and he is “rejoicing in his heart” does Moshe accept the role. And we know that in the absence of honor, baseless hatred candestroy our Holy Temple and send us back into exile. The students of Rebbe Akivah knew all this. How could they not honor one another?

Two other of Rav Wolfson’s questions is why was it necessary for the Gemorah to record Rebbe Akivah’s students were located from Givat to Antipras? And lastly, outside of the Gemorah, it is handed down that his students stopped dying on Lag B’Omer. What is the significance of that?

Even only 100 years back the pious and righteous Jews were figures beyond our imagination. Certain Chasidic Jews would walk into a blacksmith and ask for a chalah only to receive a pound of humiliation. Exactly what they wanted! They were trying to uproot from within themselves any feelings of haughtiness and a good dose of humiliation was just the remedy.

From Pirkei Avos- Ethics of the Fathers we learn that a desire for honor can remove a person from the world. A Chassidic sect of Polish Jews took it upon themselves to remove even the slightest such inclination from within by treating each other disrespectfully. Other spiritual leaders of the generation opposed their method. 1800 years after the destruction of the Holy Temple it was well remembered why it was destroyed. But like a doctor who sometimes administers a poison in the form of an antidote, their spiritual leader knew he was dealing with a deadly trait and kept a very careful watch on his Chassidim. In the end they succeeded and defeated their evil inclinations for honor.

The Arizal writes that Zimri ben Salu, the Shimonite Prince who took the Midianite princess Cozbi bas Tsur, he was reincarnated into Rebbe Akivah. She, Cozbi, was reincarnated into the wife of Turnusrufus who afterwards married Rebbe Akivah. The 24,000 Shimonites who died in the plague mentioned in the last line of Parshas Balak were reincarnated into the 24,000 students of Rebbe Akivah.

After Bilaam failed to curse Israel he gave Balak some advise. He knew Hashem hated promiscuity and suggested Balak send out his womenfolk to seduce the men of Israel and along the way get them to bow to their idols. Moshe called together a Sanhedrin- High Court who judged and sentenced the idolaters to death. The Gemorah Sanhedrin fills in parts the Torah leaves out. Members of Shimon came to Prince Zimri and said, “We are being sentenced to death and you just sit their in silence?!” This complaint started events which led Zimri to take Cozbi. Pinchas removed the tip of his spear, making it look like a plain walking stick, and acted as if he were also interested in the immorality. Once past the Shimonite guards Pinchas re-assembled his spear and killed Zimri and Cozbi. The Shimonites then wanted to kill Pinchas for him having killed their Prince. The Zohar says that at that moment the souls of Nadav and Avihu, the two deceased sons of Aaron, entered Pinchas and a plague broke out amongst the Shimonites killing the 24,000 of them.

At least a dozen questions leap off the page. That will be your homework. What we’re interested in is this thread of arrogance in the attitude and action of the Shimonites. As people who had witnessed the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai the Gemorah is informing us they had not properly controlled nor contained their desire for honor. Being judged to death for their sins and having their Prince killed really ruffled their honorable feathers.

Correlating to the tribe of Shimon is the month of Av. If Einstein had the opportunity to attend a good cheder he would have learned much earlier in life that space, time and soul are all relative. Av was the time of the burning of the 2nd Holy Temple because of the lack of honor amongst Israel, a shortcoming prominent to the Tribe of Shimon. Since they did not succeed in overcoming their bad trait, they would have to do it next time around.

Holy writings say that if a person feels an unusual propensity towards a particular mitsva and yet finds many obstacles in the way of performing that mitsva, chances are very good that that mitsva is key to the atonement and fulfillment of their soul. Rebbe Akivah’s students, the reincarnations of the Shimonites, were great enough and sensitive enough to feel they needed to work on the their poor character trait of a desire for honor. The Rambam would later write that the way to uproot a bad trait is to go to the opposite extreme of the trait. The remedy for too much honor is too little respect. But the Holy Temple had just been destroyed for baseless hatred! (Forgive me… but…) what the world needs now is love, sweet love…(owe, did that hurt!) Rebbe Akivah took it upon himself to exemplify “Love thy neighbor as thyself!” “Do not unto other as you would not have done unto yourself!” Rebbe Akivah’s students, however, wanted attack the core of the problem. Had they been in the vicinity of and under the direct supervision of their spiritual leader he could have kept a careful watch and controlled their dosage of disrespect. But the Gemorah told us his students were spread out form Givat to Antipras. Their plan backfired and they all poisoned themselves with the antidote of not showing honor one to another.

The Torah can be understood on 4 levels; pshot- context, remez- hints, drash- expounding, sode- secrets. Every soul of every Jew is rooted in one of the letters of the Torah. Therefore there are aspects of the soul which correlate to the 4 levels of Torah. The Chidushai Harim explains that behind the individuality of every Jew is lies a grace in the eyes of Hashem. Every Jew, no matter how wicked their actions may be, has a unique source of delight to Hashem. And if one stops, wonders, contemplates and determines what their unique source of pride is before Hashem, there is no question that they are wrong! What Hashem enjoys most from us only He knows. That would correlate to the level of Sode- secrets.

And it’s the topic of secrets which brings us to Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai (RSbY), one of 5 surviving students of Rebbe Akivah. RSbY was born on Lag B’Omer, died on Lag B’Omer, and, according to the Bnei Yisaschar, he wrote the Zohar on Lag B’Omer! The Zohar is the Jewish book of secrets, revealed to a degree, on Lag B’Omer. Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai’s revelation in Torah of what was hidden was likewise revealed in the souls which that Torah represents. On Lag B’Omer came the revelation and amplification of that secret grace Hashem sees in everyone and that stayed the plague which was killing the students of Rebbe Akivah.

The four letter of Hashem’s Name parallel the four fundamental elements, fire, water, wind and dirt. Dirt is the lowest of the four elements. There are four levels of sanctity expressed by our holidays. Rosh Chodesh is the lowest, then Chol Hamoed, then Yom Tov, then Shabbos. Shabbos carries the highest level of sanctity. In our parsha we read, “The land shall observe a Sabbath rest.” The greatest level of sanctity attaches itself to the lowest of the elements. This Shabbos which introduces Lag B’Omer is when we see the greatest sanctity reaching out to the lowest elements. And the way the Gemorah Shabbos tells it (on page 33- Lag!) for thirteen years RSbY and hid in a cave to avoid persecution. In order that his clothing should last as long as possible he undressed and buried himself in the dirt. Covered in dirt is how he delved into and unlocked all those secrets in Torah. Only to pray did he dust himself off and get dressed.

Although Shabbos itself requires 6 days of preparation to be able to bask in its glory, on Lag B’Omer everyone gets to enjoy. At that’s why every year we experience a tremendous phenomenon of so many Jews from so many walks of life all converging on Merone, the burial site of Rebbe Shimone bar Yochai. From the most devout, pious and righteous to the most uneducated, unobservant and unaffiliated. A universal day with universal attraction.

Although their intentions were noble the students of Rebbe Akivah had tainted that sanctity which should have been drawn out and praised. And so 24,000 of them died parallel the 24 chapters in the Gemorah Shabbos, of whose sanctity we speak. And drawing further from the Arizal we can uncover another reason Rashi had said Shmwas chosen for not having been repeated over in D’varim.

According to the Arizal, the book, Brieshis parallels the koteso shel yud- point of the letter yud of Hashem’s inscribed Name. The other four books then parallel the four letters themselves. D’varim would correspond to the last letter, the hey. This letter parallels the element dirt. Now we can say the reason Shmittah wasn’t mentioned again in D’varim is because those mitsvos were mentioned again there for the purpose of drawing their sanctity down through the ranks even to the lowest element. The mitsva of Shmittah however, intrinsically has that ability and therefore didn’t need an attachment through the book of D’varim.

In B’har we also read about the mitsva of Yovel, the 50th year, which we can not keep unless all of the people of Israel are on the land of Israel. Some souls of Israel are from the letters of the Torah which spell Hashem’s Name and some are from the letters of Cozbi bas Tsur. But missing a single letter from either name the entire Torah is posul- invalid. This week, on our way to Lag B’Omer we read of the Shmittah and the Yovel to remember that there is sanctity in every single member of Israel and that we wouldn’t be a Torah nation if even one of us were missing. It’s a sanctity which carries a special and unique favor in the eyes of Hashem which can not be duplicated or filled by any other Jew. It’s a time for us to see the favor of one another, to act with honor to one another. And with that may we soon merit the coming of the mashiach who has that very ability of judging everyone favorably. May we soon merit the building of the 3rd Holy Temple where we will all gather as a unified Torah nation, may it be speedily in our day.

Have an bright and honorable Shabbat Shalom.

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael
Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or
on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel

Back to this week's Parsha| Previous Issues