Parshat Behar - 5765
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, when you come to the land that I am giving to you, the land shall rest a Shabbat to Hashem" (xxv, 1-2).
In the Pesach Hagaddah we say, "Had you drawn us near to Mount Sinai but not given us the Torah it would have been enough for us." The question has often been raised – what purpose would it have served to be drawn near to Mount Sinai without the giving of the Torah?! Rav Kook explains (Midbar Shur 31): "Chazal stated (Avodah Zarah 22b) 'during the snake's relations with Chava he injected pollution into her…when Israel stood at Mount Sinai their pollution left them.' Thus the significance of Mount Sinai lies in the fact that by standing by it – due to the sanctity that Hashem placed on it – Israel was able to rise from the deterioration of Egypt, as well as from the deterioration of humanity as a whole, and return to its original state. About this it is stated, 'Had you drawn us near to Mount Sinai,' in other words through this we would have reached the same level we lost in exile, and this would also have been enough for us, to have had restored to us our loss."
In the story of Adam HaRishon's sin the Torah writes, "And they were both naked, man and his wife, yet they were not ashamed…"(ii, 25); "And the snake was craftier than all the animal of the field that Hashem Elokim had made" (iii, 1). Rashi's explanation is based on the Midrash Rabbah: "'Yet they were not ashamed' – for they were unfamiliar with the ways of modesty, to distinguish between good and evil; and even though he had the knowledge to provide them with names the evil inclination was not placed in him until he ate from the tree and then the evil inclination entered him and he knew the difference between good and evil." Rashi continues, following the Midrash: "'And the snake was craftier' – why is this here? The next verse should have been 'And He made for man and for his wife skin garments and clothed them' (iii, 21)! Rather, this teaches you for what reason the snake jumped on them – he saw them naked and involved in intercourse in front of all, and he lusted after her."
Adam HaRishon possessed a very deep understanding and was thus able to perceive the hidden Divine element in everything – and this became the name he called them (for its name expresses the essence of the item or creature). Conversely, the snake's thoughts are private and personal and thus hedonistic, and because he emphasizes himself in an inflated manner he builds up a barrier between himself and others that appears to him to be an objective one even though it exists only in his base imagination. This barrier prevents him from observing the Divine component in all existence – his viewpoint is external-material, filled with material jealousy.
When Adam and Chava sinned they were polluted by the snake's viewpoint, yet when Israel stood on Mount Sinai their pollution left them, for Hakadosh Baruch Hu sanctified a mountain, which is the revelation of the inner Divinity of the worldly-material sphere, and this is because the Torah, which antedated the world and which reveals the world's soul, is about to be revealed. Therefore Am Yisrael merited something of a return to the original pure viewpoint.
Following our approach, we can understand why the Torah began the chapter dealing with Shemitta by emphasizing Mount Sinai. The Torah demands from us "And the Shabbat produce of the land shall be food for you; for you and for your servant and for your maidservant and for your hired worker and for your settler, who live with you" (xxv, 6).
Rashi explains: "that you should not treat them like a master, but all should be equal in it, you, your hired worker and your settler." The Torah demands us to remove the barriers from the fields, which emphasize personal ownership, and live a collective life that emphasizes what we all have in common. In order to fulfill this mitzvah successfully we must connect to "Mount Sinai," to that place where the snake's pollution was removed from us.
The Torah continues by commanding us regarding the mitzvah of the Jubilee: "And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and announce liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it is a Jubilee and shall be so to you, and you shall return every man to his possession, and every man to his family should be returned" (xxv, 10).
At the Jubilee we are commanded to return to their original owners all those fields we had acquired legally and rightfully, and we are commanded to release the Hebrew slave we bought with our own money. Naturally the fulfillment of this mitzvah is extremely difficult for us and might arouse the feeling that the "government" has encroached upon my personal affairs, beyond its jurisdiction.
Yet when we connect to "Mount Sinai" we realize that this forms a profound justice, for it is only a life that connects everything to its Divine source that is truly worthy of the name. This is what the Torah means by "and announce liberty throughout the land," which Onkelos translates as "and you shall call freedom," this is true freedom; this is our independence, both as individuals and as a nation.
It is no coincidence that when Israel fails to observe Shemitta and the Jubilee they are exiled from the land, for in this kind of wretched state we connect to Eretz Yisrael in a material, acquisitive fashion, and this is unworthy of the sanctity of the land.
Nowadays Shemitta is observed only as Rabbinical commandment (according to most authorities) while the Jubilee is not observed at all, as we have yet to merit a life of true freedom. The more we merit to be elevated and to reflect from the lofty Divine viewpoint, the more we will merit the return of these wonderful commandments, and then our sovereignty over the land and our independence in it will be perfected, and we will merit to see clearly that "the State of Israel is the foundation of the throne of Hashem in the world," in the words of Rav Kook.
The Torah commands us: "And you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem your G-d" (xxv, 17). Rashi explains (based on Torat Kohanim): "The warning here refers to verbal wronging, that he should not anger his fellow, nor offer him unsuitable advice, so as to fit in with the advisor's own plans and gain. And should you say, 'who knows if I intended evil?' it therefore states 'but you shall fear your G-d' – He who knows thoughts shall know. Anything which is given over to the heart, that only the one who thinks it in his heart is aware of it, 'but you shall fear your G-d' is stated regarding it." Chazal in Bava Metzia (58b) add that one who says to his fellow "remember your previous actions" or "remember your ancestors' actions" or one who embarrasses his fellow in public or one who calls his fellow by a nickname, transgresses this commandment.
Verbal wronging is hidden and many times the other side does not lose anything, and therefore one might mistakenly think "nothing happened" or "what did I do?" This viewpoint constitutes a materialistic outlook on reality, according to which spiritual and soul-affecting damages are meaningless. Yet a true understanding shows that Adam HaRishon's knowledge is the real one, that the spiritual foundation of our lives is life itself, and therefore verbal wronging is extremely serious, as Chazal say in Bava Metzia (ibid): "Verbal wronging is worse than monetary wronging, for the latter is refundable, whereas the former is not."
Am Yisrael, whose pollution was removed on Sinai, has the potential of raising itself to such a full life, and therefore the Torah commands us regarding this mitzvah as part of the commandments of Shemitta and the Jubilee.
The mitzvah of Shemitta appears to embody an internal contradiction. On the one hand the Torah begins "Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce" (xxv, 3). The Torah demands from us the toil and effort of making a living. We may not sit at home with our feet up, pray for a livelihood and wait for Hakadosh Baruch Hu to send it us from heaven. On the other hand, "And in the seventh year…you may not sow your field, and you may not prune your vineyard" (4) – implying that man must entrust his wealth to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This is indeed what the Torah states further on: "And should you say: 'What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we may not sow, nor gather in our increase.' Then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years" (xxv, 20-21).
Yet this contradiction is merely an external one – in fact these two aspects compliment one another on a deeper level. Hakadosh Baruch Hu placed man in the world "to work it and guard it" – to develop the world and improve it, both materially and spiritually. Yet he must not err and say "my strength and the might of my hand have acquired for me this wealth," but rather must trust in Hashem, for "all this is from Hashem."
This apparent contradiction is in evidence every week of our lives, for "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a shabbat of solemn rest, a holy calling, you shall do no manner of work, it is a shabbat to Hashem in all your dwellings" (xxiii, 3). Throughout the week we are commanded to work and improve the world, and on the seventh to forget all our exertions and rest from all work.
This understanding is also made clear on Mount Sinai. We encounter the Mount (=the reality of the world), and this encounter does not happen through a miracle like those miracles that were performed for Israel in Egypt and at the splitting of the Red Sea. This is to teach us to be connected to the world and revealed existence. Yet a Divine sanctity rests on the Mount, leading to the removal of the snake's pollution, and therefore we are able to lead a material existence that demands exertion and effort, together with a spiritual existence that demands from us to rest and trust in Hashem.
The final pasuk in our parsha is "Guard My Shabbatot and fear My Mikdash; I am Hashem. According to our explanation, it is clear why the Torah sums up our parsha with the mitzvah of Shabbat, as well as why the Torah places Shabbat alongside the Mikdash. The Mikdash is a worldly place on which the Divine Presence rests; when a person makes a pilgrimage to the Mikdash he merits the uplifting and sanctifying of himself (similar to our standing at Mount Sinai). Through this he will be able to observe Shabbat, which accentuates the correct ratio between man's efforts and trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This forms a summary to the chapters of Shemitta and the Jubilee, one that finds expression throughout our lives' routine, rather than just once every seven or fifty years.
During these very days we are called upon to extend great efforts in order to keep every part of our holy and beloved land, and we must muster all our strength so as to prevent the tearing apart of the land. Alongside this we must deepen our trust in Hashem and His providence over the world. Through this we will merit the blessing of our handiwork, and we will merit seeing Israel dwelling in its land in peace and security, fulfilling the mitzvah of Shemitta properly and wholly, and on top of this we shall fulfill "and fear My Mikdash."
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