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Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai saying…when you make a sale to your fellow…do not aggrieve one another. (25:1,14)
Of these two pesukim, one introduces the institution of Shemittah and Yovel; the second institutes the laws of social justice and righteousness in Jewish life. Chazal infer that the two are connected. They cite the pasuk in Mishlei 28:22, "The selfish man piles up wealth and does not (even) realize that want will be his lot." Chazal say that this is a reference to Kayin who killed his brother, Hevel, because he wanted the world all for himself. He did not realize that his terrible act of violence would ultimately cause him only anguish, ending his earthly existence as a refugee fleeing from place to place. Kayin murdered his brother after Hashem rejected his offering. Chazal attribute the rejection to Kayin's negative attitude . He brought his offering from that which was "left over" from his food. Hevel, however, brought the first fruits, the finest and best. Hashem responded to Hevel's korban. Kayin could not tolerate the underlying concept and spirit of Bikurim, the law that instructs us to bring the first fruits to Hashem.
Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, investigates some aspects of the Bikurim rite in an effort to shed light on this significant institution and its lesson to us. Klal Yisrael was obliged to bring Bikurim only after the entire land had been conquered and apportioned. They were told to fulfill this mitzvah, since they were granted Eretz Yisrael as a result of this mitzvah. Furthermore, when they brought the first fruits to the Bais Hamikdash, they presented them to the Kohen accompanied by a prayer of Vidui, confession. The farmer would exclaim, "Today I have acknowledged that I have entered the land." His ancestors that preceded him had been there for centuries, yet, he was acknowledging the gift of the land - today. This confession was designed to express the feeling of gratitude to Hashem for His constant beneficence.
Chazal express a similar idea regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, who became wealthy from the "pesoles," shavings, of the Luchos. Hashem told him, "I gave the wealth of Egypt to the Jews - who did not participate in the mitzvah of caring for the remains of Yosef. You, Moshe, should not remain poor because you were too preoccupied to gather the wealth of Egypt. You will receive the shavings of the Luchos, so that you will also become rich." Klal Yisrael was involved in a mitzvah: gathering Egypt's wealth. They were obligated to another mitzvah, although perhaps one not as financially rewarding: taking care of Yosef Hatzadik's remains. Moshe Rabbeinu took care of that mitzvah. He did not, however, lose out on the riches. Hashem provided for him, just as He provides for all those who have the courage and conviction to trust in Him.
There are priorities in Jewish life. We do not scorn material gain, but it surely should not be our first priority. Fulfilling mitzvos does not require us to renounce material wealth - only not to make it our priority. Hashem showed Klal Yisrael that Moshe, who busied himself with another mitzvah, one that did not bring him material gain, would also one day have riches beyond their wildest dreams. Hashem takes care of His own.
In this spirit, the institution of Bikurim requires us to bring from the first fruits. After we demonstrate our conviction that the first and the best belong to Hashem, we gain the right to establish our dominion over that which is left over. This was Kayin's error. He offered Hashem from his leftover fruits. He demonstrated his contempt for the spirit of true worship of Hashem. The best he took for himself; the rest he left for Hashem.
Consistent with this thesis, we cite Chazal who say that the downfall of the Jewish state was due to "their failure from the first to recite the blessing over the Torah" "Shelo beirchu ba'Torah techillah." Horav S.R.Hirsch, zl, notes that Chazal do not trace the source of our national destruction to the fact that the Jewish people did not study Torah, or that they manifest a lack of erudition. Even at a time when the Torah was alive and well, studied and considered a precious possession by Klal Yisrael, the downfall of the Jewish state was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of Hashem. This was because they did not praise Hashem "first and foremost" for possessing the Torah. To the people, the Torah was not their most precious possession. It was not the central source and goal for all of their aspirations. It was not their priority. They placed their interests elsewhere, engaged their primary energies into other achievements. This attitude would sooner or later lead to a total estrangement from the Torah. Torah is either first or it is, regrettably, last.
This attitude was evinced by Klal Yisrael when they concerned themselves with taking Egypt's gold and silver rather than Yosef's remains. When they would have time "left over," they planned to address this mitzvah. First, they would take care of themselves. Hashem showed them, as He has demonstrated throughout the millennia, that making Torah and mitzvos one's priority -- without regard for material gain -- is not a reason for concern. In fact, this is the only way a Jew should conduct his life. Moshe Rabbeinu did not "lose out" because he was preoccupied with Yosef's remains. Neither will those who realize and act on Hashem's priorities.
This is the message of the two introductory pesukim of our parsha. One of the primary purposes of Shemittah and Yovel is to foster the spirit which the Bikurim institution is to imbue in the Jewish People. Shemittah and Yovel remind us that the land belongs to Hashem, We use it as a gift, as long as we follow its Owner's directive. Immediately following the laws of Shemittah, we are instructed in the precepts that will help to develop our social structure under the banner of love, kindness, integrity and righteousness. These chapters have an internal relationship with one another. As long as Klal Yisrael remains dedicated to the notion that everything it thinks it owns really belongs to the Almighty -- and that He is the sole source of their material possessions, then, and only then, will they remain receptive to the laws of social justice and fellowship. Kayin taught us this lesson. He considered himself the sole owner of the land, selfishly and greedily leaving the leftovers for Hashem. This egotism grew, his greed took hold of his better senses, until the point that the unthinkable act of murder was no longer unthinkable. This should give us something to deliberate.
If you will say what will we eat in the seventh year…I will ordain my blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years. (25:19,20)
Observance of Shemittah requires an enormous amount of conviction. Chazal consider those farmers who observe Shemittah to be on a very high spiritual plane. Inevitably, some individuals will wonder, "What will we eat?" To them Hashem responds, "Wait, and you will see an increase in your yield." Veritably, one who has true faith does not question, "What will we eat?" He accepts Hashem's command and trusts in His "ability" to sustain him. Accordingly, asking "What will we eat?" is a shortcoming. Nachlas Tzvi cites the Noam Elimelech who interprets the pasuk in the following manner: "If you will say, 'What will we eat?', one who is wholehearted in his trust in Hashem does not question. He believes that whatever he needs will be provided for him. The Torah addresses the one whose faith is not so absolute, one who has questions. He who will ask, 'What will we eat?' will compel Me to ordain My blessings, so that the fields will increase their yield." Regarding the one who will not question, he will not want; he will continue to be sustained, not noticing any change whatsoever. The ones who question but, nonetheless, observe, will receive a special dispensation. The ones who do not question, who place their complete trust in Hashem, will not want. The ones who do not observe because of their questions will one day learn the meaning of "wanting."
In his inimitable manner, Nachlas Tzvi cites a story in support of this idea. Once a chasid of Rav Mendel M'Kotzk, zl, came before the rebbe, imploring him to intercede with the Almighty on his behalf. His daughters had reached marriageable age, and he had no funds with which to marry them off. Immediately, the Kotzker Rebbe took a piece of paper and wrote a letter to a well-known philanthropist , Reb Moshe Chaim Rottenberg, requesting that he assist in marrying off the poor man's daughters.
The poor man could not thank the Rebbe enough. He borrowed money for the fare and traveled to the wealthy man's city to ask him for help. After much trial and travail he arrived in the city. Obtaining directions, he presented himself to Reb Moshe Chaim with the letter of appeal from the Kotzker. Reb Moshe Chaim read the letter with the greatest passion, manifesting a deep sense of reverence for the Rebbe's impassioned plea to help the poor man who stood before him. With incredible enthusiasm, he stood up from his chair and went over to his cabinet and took out two rusty copper coins, giving them to the poor man.
One cannot begin to imagine the immense depression and sense of dejection that immediately enveloped the poor man. He came here in the hope that his prayers would be answered, and he was leaving with these coins that were not even sufficient to cover his traveling expenses. How could this happen to him? What would he do now? As he was walking slowly down the street, broken-hearted and dispirited, he reminded himself of the Kotzker's lectures regarding bitachon, trust, in Hashem. After awhile, he came to realize that to trust in man is futile. One must place his entire trust in Hashem with the hope that he will be worthy of His favor. Indeed, he became ashamed of his behavior. Imagine, traveling this entire distance - for what? For a couple of rusty rubles? Where was his trust in Hashem?
Suddenly, he heard the sound of an approaching carriage. He turned around and saw that the wealthy man whose house he recently left, the "major benefactor" who was "supposed" to have helped him, was coming up behind him. He moved over to let the carriage pass, when it stopped right in front of him. The doors of the carriage swung open wide, and Reb Moshe Chaim leapt down. With a great big smile, he reached out to the poor man with a large bag filled with gold coins. He explained, "When you came to me earlier with the letter from the holy Kotzker, you indicated that you were placing your entire trust in the letter. Your bitachon in the Almighty vanished into thin air. You thought all of your problems were solved. You had the letter, I had the money - you were all set. What about Hashem? Did you forget about Him? I, therefore, sent you away with practically nothing, so that you would begin to think and realize that the only source of sustenance is Hashem. We are merely His agents. Now I am giving you the money to marry off your daughters, because you have realized from where this money really originates."
If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand falters in your proximity, you shall hold on to him - proselyte and resident - so that he can live with you. (25:35) We are enjoined to reach out to our brother who has fallen on hard times. One who listens to the impassioned pleas of his fellowman will surely be rewarded. Indeed, the Midrash cites the pasuk in Tehillim 41:2, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy; on the day of disaster Hashem will deliver him."
Is there a special relationship between this pasuk in Tehillim and the pasuk in the Torah, or is it cited merely for its supporting role? Furthermore, why is it necessary to include the words "u'mato yado imach," "And his hand falters in your proximity?" It could have stated simply, "If your brother becomes impoverished." Horav Yosef Konvitz, zl, son-in-law of the Ridvaz and one of the founders of the Agudas Harabonim, explains that in areas of tzedakah, charity, we Jews distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world. If one takes note, charity in the non-Jewish world is an endeavor which is performed only by the wealthy upper class. Philanthropy is something to be expected of those who have amassed enormous wealth or who are at least very comfortable financially. Rarely, do we find the lower and even middleclass working person involved in philanthropic endeavors. Tzedakah is for the rich.
Klal Yisrael is different. We give out of a sense of compassion - not style. One of Klal Yisrael's three basic characteristics is "rachamanim," compassionate. To have pity on others less fortunate than we are, or simply to show compassion for someone else who has come on hard times - even if we are not much better off than they are. Indeed, a Jew who does not have compassion is seriously deficient in a vital part of his Jewishness. When we contribute to charity, it is out of a sense of empathy and compassion. Consequently, the poor give just as well as the wealthy. They might not give as much - but they certainly give.
This is conveyed by the Torah's text, "If your brother will become impoverished in proximity to you," - even if you are also poverty stricken, nevertheless, you must reach out to your brother to sustain him. The mitzvah of tzedakah is a mitzvah that focuses upon a Jew's compassion - not necessarily his wallet. One should never say that he does not have enough for himself - let alone for someone else. It is our moral obligation to sustain our fellow Jew with whatever we can manage. Our own negative situation does not justify reneging on fulfilling this mitzvah.
This is also the underlying message of the pasuk in Tehillim cited by Chazal, "Praiseworthy is he who contemplates the needy, on the day of disaster Hashem will deliver him." This means that the one to praise is he who, despite the fact that he himself is confronted with disaster, still has the time and compassion to think about the plight of another Jew. He does not say, "I am just as poor as he" or "I have it worse than he." He reaches out to others regardless of his own sorry state of affairs. Such a person has truly earned Hashem's deliverance. The secret to personal redemption is not to be so internally focused that you are unable to think of others. Hashem will then reciprocate and think of you.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
1) Do the laws of Shemittah apply equally to the "after growth," which is the result of seeds falling down by themselves?
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