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by Daneal Weiner
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Shapirah.
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson.
Towards a yeshua and refua shelaima for Mayirah Yafah bas Tzenah Sarah.
If we start at the beginning of
will we ever get to
So let’s start at the end. The last section of Behar talks about the Jewish slave. First as the slave of a Jew and then as the slave of a non-Jew. It says in verse 25:47-48, “If the means of a gair- gentile dwelling amongst you is sufficient, and an impoverished Jew sells himself to this gentile or l’eiker mishpachat gair, then after he has been sold he shall have a redemption; one of his brothers shall redeem him.” What is l’eiker mishpachat gair?
The Gemorah says the first expression of gair is referring to a righteous gentile, one who observes the 7 Noahide laws. The second gair, however, is referring to an idolater. And eiker, continues the Gemorah, is the appellation of the slave himself. So l’eiker mishpachat gair means he sold himself to be the eiker for idolaters. Rashi adds that title further denotes the most menial of jobs. A wood chopper or water carrier.
Of all the times the Torah speaks idolators and warns against idolatry, and everything related, we never see this word eiker. What’s the new message behind it? Tosofos answers this question saying that in the end, idolaters and idolatry will be uprooted. Uproot, in Hebrew, is okeir. Okeir and eiker have the same three letter root. As an allusion to that time when all idolatry will be rid of from the world, the Torah uses eiker here. So now, why here? Answering that requires some background.
Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem and says, “Your people are all righteous; they will inherit the land forever.” This world isn’t forever since there is no land that can be inherited forever. But our physical world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The land of Israel down here parallels a spiritual ‘land’ up there. That spiritual ‘land’ exists forever. And it follows that if all Jews will inherit that spiritual land, then in our parallel, physical world all Jews must have an inheritance as well. It is from this verse in Isaiah that our Rabbis learn, “Every Jew has a share in the world to come.”
Synonymous with this concept of inheritance is the concept of Yovel. The Yovel year is the year when all land returns to its ancestral inheritors. Also any Jew who is sold into slavery goes free at that time. This is true of a Jewish slave sold to a Jew. When sold to a gentile, it a little different. The added embarrassment of being slave to a gentile calls for our immediate action to redeem the slave. The price of the redemption, however, includes compensation to the gentile for every year the slave would have worked until the Yovel year! So he’s redeemed early but the payment reflects the fact that the Yovel year is really the year of redemption and return. Yirmiah 17:8 says, “V’al Yuval yishlach shoreshav.”- along the brook you will send your roots. Yuval- brook, is the same word as Yovel because everything flows back to its roots.
Our Rabbis warn us that three particular sins will send a person into slavery. Most obvious is theft, when the Jew cannot pay for what he has stole. A Jew who harvests and sells his Shmittah produce and one who lends money on interest, they plan on getting rich but they are warned they will become very poor. They will find soon find themselves selling off their inheritance, and then their daughters, and then themselves. Hashem says (25:55) “To Me the Children of Israel are servants, they are My servants whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt.” It takes a certain type of behavior to be an eved Hashem- servant of Hashem. A person can remove themselves so far from that task that it is like they’ve uprooted themselves from their source. Again, in this parsha dealing with Yovel and slavery, we are talking about Jews so far from their service of Hashem they are l’eiker mishpachat gair. When their spiritual states has so greatly declined, so does their reflection in the physical world. They become the slaves to slaves. Worse, slaves to righteous gentiles. Worse yet, slaves to idolators. And the most menial of slaves to boot.
This is why in the laws of slavery, a Jewish master may force a gentile maidservant upon his Jewish, married slave. He has so far removed himself from his holy status that it’s as if the laws once incumbent upon him no longer pertain to him. The Hebrew for maidservant is shifcha. Shifcha is from the same root as sapachas which means ‘annex’ or ‘attach.’ The maidservant has left her nation and is attaching herself to the first born amongst the nations.
Another word with the same root as shifcha is mishpacha- family. The difference between mishpacha and shifcha is the letter mem. The numeric value of mem is 40. When we think of 40 we think of Mt. Sinai. 40 days and nights Moshe was on Mt. Sinai before bringing the Torah down to Israel. The difference between a mishpacha of Israel and a shifcha of the nations is the 40 days Israel experienced at Mt. Sinai. A similar transformation is the 40 se’ah of water that makes a kosher mikvah- ritual bath. A Jew enters impure and comes out pure. A prepared gentile enters in as goy and comes out a Jew. A mikvah is a mini Sinai-atic experience.
There are circumstances when the Jewish slave can go free in the shmittah year. Shmittah is a mini Yovel-atic experience. But the slave can say, “I love my master and I love my maidservant and I wont leave.” He loves being the slave of a slave!? He loves being mated with the shifcha? What connection does this person have with Hashem? The Torah says this poor Jew stays a slave forever. But are blessed Rabbis says forever does not mean forever. Forever means till the Yovel. In the Yovel even this Jew goes free. He is forced to go free. No matter how far he’s fallen, he can never fall that far.
Israel reached the 49th level of impurity in Egypt and if we were their one moment longer we would not have gotten out. Hashem made sure we got out. There is no such thing as a Jew falling so far s/he’s uprooted from his/her source. It looks like it since the Torah says ‘forever.’ It looks like it since the Torah, here says, “l’eiker mishpachat gair,” the Jew reached the lowest of the lows. Although by the other mentionings of idolatry we can say Hashem controlled His wrath, it’s here the Torah describes this point where Hashem’s patience seems to have run out, ch’v. Here it implies the Jew uprooted him yet at the very same time we learn such a thing is not possible. In the Yovel, the forever bound go free. All lands return to their original owners. All Jews have a share in the world to come. To Me the Children of Israel [are servants]- Li Bnei Yisrael [avadim]- the three first letters spell Yovel.
The Ba’al haturim writes that in parshas Behar are 19 mentions of redemption. These 19 mentions parallel the 19 blessing of the Shemonah Esrai. In our verses (25:47-48), “l’eiker mishpachat gair, then after he has been sold he shall have a redemption; one of his brothers shall redeem him,” the word redemption is mentioning number 12. This parallels the 12th blessing which asks Hashem to uproot evil from the world. The word redeem is number 13. This parallels the 13th blessing which is for the righteous. The salvation for the Jews connected to evil is to connect themselves to the righteous. That is what the verse means by “one of his brothers shall redeem him.” By attaching one’s self to a righteous individual they will soon find in themselves the willingness, the strength and the resources to once again become an eved Hashem.
The Lechvitcher Rebbe zt’l said we see this idea in Shemos. Pharaoh tells the taskmaster to no longer give the Jews straw but they shall gather it themselves. “Lo tosiphoon lasais”- contextually means ‘you will no longer give’ but literally tosiph means to add or to increase. Pharaoh was literally saying the previous supply of straw will no longer be added to. But, then again, that’s tosiph without an aleph and here there is one! The aleph gives the root the appearance of the word asaph- to gather. This extra letter is telling us the Pharaoh’s purpose in giving the Jews the extra work was so that they personally would not be able to gather, not be able to talk about their new redeemer. Pharaoh, a man whose name is evil itself [rah], he knows the power of making the right connections. The 12th and 13th blessings reminder us that we need to seek out those spiritually stronger than us and gather with them. Listen to them. Watch them. And the strong have a responsibility to reach out to and elevate their weaker brothers and sisters.
Another message by the juxtaposition of the two aforementioned blessing is in the definition of the righteous being relative to the wicked. Holy writings have spoken off the end of days when the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people will be belief in Hashem. The Ruzhiner Rebbe zt’l, said that believing in our day is like holding onto a straight wall. Others have written that a believer in the end of days can be compared to a the Ba’al Shem Tov in his day. In other words, you don’t think you merit considering yourself one of the strong? Take a look at the Jew next to you, with the bleached hair, nose ring, dreadlocks and business card that says, “Rabbi of Congregation Yah Mon Webejammon.” Say hello. Make a connection.
A last insight on the Ba’al Haturim’s count; the next verse, 25:49, says, “His uncle or the son of his uncle will redeem him” is redemption mentioning number 14, paralleling the 14th blessing, beseeching Hashem to return to dwell in Jerusalem and to restore the throne of David. “His Uncle”- Dodo, is written with only one vav. Two daleds and one vav are the letters that spell David.
We are on our way to the holiday of Shavuos, a real and literal mini Sinai-atic experience. It comes 50 days after the first day of Pesach, correlating to the Yovel which comes in the 50th year. Shavuos is also a time of freedom. Freedom from our basest inclinations. It is also a time of return and connection to our Source, to Hashem. And so on Shavuos we read the book of Ruth, about a gentile women who connected herself to the Jewish people. The Chidah writes that every convert is really a lost Jewish soul that is returning to his/her roots, to his/her ancestral inheritance. Accordingly, the story of Ruth begins in Beis Lechem, Yehudah- in Bethlehem in the portion of Yehudah. The three first letters of Beis Lechem Yehudah are the letters that spell Yovel.
The Arvei Nachal writes that every portion of Israel correlates to a mitsva in the Torah. It seems we can say that Beis Lechem correlates to the mitsva of Yovel. This also explains why Rachel was buried there. Because as her children were to be exiled out of Jerusalem, she wanted to be in a place were they could stop on the way and pray with her that they be freed from their bondage and returned to their ancestral heritage. Yermiah prophesies a conversation between Hashem and Rachel. “A voice is heard on high… Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for they are gone… Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears… there is hope for your future; na’um Hashem, v’shavu vanim lig’vulam. - the word of Hashem, and your children will return to their border.” The four first letters of Hashem [yud], v’shavu [vav], vanim [veis], lig’vulam [lamed] spells Yovel.
When Moshe and Israel encountered Mo’av on their way to the Land of Israel, they spared Mo’av because Ruth would descend from them. Ruth extracted herself from the wicked nation of Moav by connecting herself to the righteous Naomi. Once Ruth had taken the spark of sanctity out of Moav there was no reason left for Mo’av’s existence. When Naomi and Ruth return to Beis Lechem it says, “Vataihome kol ha’ir”- and the whole city was tumultuous. Vataihome- is the acronym for Umalchus harishah mahairah ti’akeir- the reign of the wicked may You speedily uproot. These are the words from the Shemonah Esrai’s 12th blessing, Sfardic text. Ruth returned to her roots and Mo’av were uprooted and lost.
In years when the eighth day of Pesach falls out on Shabbos, Israel, having ended the holiday, reads the weekly Shabbos reading while the diaspora reads a special Pesach reading. This puts the diaspora one week behind Israel. In such a year, it is only at Behar/Bechukosai that the diaspora catches up. Although it could have happened with Acharei Mos/Kedoshim or Tazria/Metsorah, our Rabbis saw to fix the calendar to rejoin all Israel at this time. Because these parshas are about Jews returning to their roots. About the Diaspora Jews coming back to join the Israeli brethren.
Every Jew correlates to a letter in the Torah. And the words and the verses are like mishpachos- families of Jews. Mishpacha, again, shares its root with sapachas, which means connected. Connected by the mem, the Torah experience. As we quickly approach the giving of the Torah, lets recognize that this year, between Pesach and Shavuos, almost all the parshas doubled up. Because, as we learned from Pharaoh, when Israel gathers together they create an insurmountable force. When the lowly connect to the righteous they find their redemption. All Israel camped at Mt. Sinai as a single soul with a single heart. We merited receiving the Torah. We became a free nation. There is no freedom in serving base desires. There is only freedom in serving Hashem. That’s why the parsha after Behar is Bechukosai.
Eem bechukosai teleichu v’es mitsvosai tishmeru v’asisem osam- If in My statutes you walk and My mitsvos you keep and fulfill them… I will provide peace in the land and you will lie down with no one to frighten you. I will cause the wild arab beasts to withdraw from the land. You will pursue your enemies and they will fall by the sword. 5 will pursue 100. 100 will pursue 10,000.
Rashi asks, 5:100 = 100:10,000??? Something’s wrong! No. That’s precisely right. Because you can’t compare when a few Jews keep the Torah to when the majority of Jews keep the Torah. Then every Jew becomes much stronger. The strong need not connect with the weak so the weak may become stronger. He needs connect so he himself may be come stronger. His potential is not reached until his potential is reached.
The message in Bechukosai is the same as Behar. When Jews get together we create an insurmountable force. Not when we get together for rallying. Not when we get together for lobbying. Not when we get together with the nations of the world. Only when we get together in serving Hashem.
May we soon merit salvation from our enemies and redemption from our exile.
News Flash! A life long talmid and chasid of Rav Wolfson’s just put out an English Sefer translating a number of his vorts, all proof read by Rav Wolfson himself. It’s called Wellsprings of Faith, from Feldheim Publishers.
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