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Behar
Social Action originated in the Torah Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 May 2018

In Parshat Behar, we see that activism dates back to the days of the Torah. During the Shmita (Sabbatical) year we are taught to have compassion for those who have less as ideally all of the fields should be “hefker”, left open for others to take what they need.

According to the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, Guide for the Perplexed:

Some of the laws of Shmita imply sympathy with our fellow men and promote the well being of mankind; for in reference to these precepts it is stated in the Torah: “That the poor of your people may eat” (Shmot 23:11).

Rabbi Mordechai Gumpil agrees with the Rambam:

This law was given in order that we may show sympathy for our fellow men who have neither land nor vineyards, that they may be happy in the Shmita year as the wealthy are happy every year.

Kli Yakar points out that the Shmita year contains factors conducive to union and peace. For since no sowing or planting is allowed, the poor may eat freely and none may store produce and treat it as his own, this undoubtedly creates favorable conditions towards peace, because all strife originates from the attitude of “mine is mine” and people claiming their rights. But in the seventh year all are equal- this can indeed generate peace.

Nehama Leibowitz adds that Kli Yakar emphasized the importance of brotherhood, not just equality.

In Pirkei Avot 5:13 we learn:

There are four character types among people:

a.      One who says, ‘My property is mine and yours is yours,’ is an average character type. But some say that this is characteristic of Sdom.

b.     ‘Mine is yours and yours is mine,’ is an unlearned person.

c.      ‘Mine is yours and yours is yours,’ is scrupulously pious.

d.     ‘Yours is mine and mine is mine’ is wicked.

We learn from this mishna that the idea of ‘every man for himself’ is not a Jewish concept and the laws of Shmitta teach us the importance of social justice.

 
Lucky Sevens Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 May 2017

We see the importance of the number seven in Parshat Behar, Vayikra 25:8-10:

You shall count for yourself seven shmita (sabbatical) years, seven years, seven times and it shall be for you, the days (period) of the seven sabbatical years, forty-nine years. You shall make a proclamation with the shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month. On Yom Kippur shall this shofar-proclamation be made throughout all your land. You shall sanctify the year of the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be for you a Yovel, jubilee and each man shall return to his ancestral land and each man shall return to his family.

This sounds similar to Sefirat HaOmer, the countdown of the days between Pesach and Shavuot which we read about last week in Vayikra 23:15-16:

You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the day of rest (Pesach) from the day on which you will bring the omer wave-offering, seven complete weeks they shall be. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days and you shall bring a new meal offering to God.

In both cases we are counting seven groups of seven. During the Yovel year the shofar is blown just as it was blown at Mt. Sinai when B’nei Yisrael received the Torah.

This Tuesday evening, we will also be blowing the shofar as we do every year on Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating the Yovel, the jubilee year of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem. There will be many special observances and festivities in Jerusalem including a ceremony that will take place along the walls of the old city depicting the history of Jerusalem from Biblical times until today. In addition there will be many concerts and prayer services with live music throughout the city. Tourists from around the world will be flying in to Jerusalem to celebrate this historic jubilee year.

 

In Vayikra Raba 29 we learn that all the sevenths are favorites:

Of the days, the seventh is a favorite, as it is written (Breisheet 2:3) “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because in it He rested from all His work which God created and performed.”

Of all of the months the seventh is a favorite, as it is written (Vayikra 23:24) “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall you have a shabbaton, a memorial of blowing of horns, a holy gathering (Rosh HaShana).”

Of the years the seventh is a favorite as it is written (Shmot 23:11). “And six years you shall sow your land and gather in its fruits: But in the Seventh Year you shall let it rest and lie fallow that the poor of your people shall eat…”

Of the shmitot (sabbatical years) the seventh is favorite as it is written (Vayikra 25:10), “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year.”

As we enter Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, in the midst of our counting the 49 days of the omer and in anticipation of the 50th Yom Yerushalayim, may we be blessed with the opportunity to continue counting the days to more happy occasions for many more years.

 
The continuation of the Shmita (Sabbatical) year Print E-mail
Friday, 20 May 2016

Parshat Behar opens with the laws of Shmita which are only effect in the Land of Israel. Every seventh year, the land takes an agricultural break and the produce which is grown on the land is treated as holy.

 

Those living in Israel are very careful during the Shmita year to make sure that they know where and how their produce was grown to ensure that the laws of Shmita are observed.

 

Although the Shmita year technically ended this past Rosh Hashana, more than half a year ago, the laws of Shmita still apply to some of the fruits that are grown in Israel well into the eighth year.

 

The laws of Shmita go into effect later in the seventh year for fruits as we follow “chanata”, the point when the first fruit emerges (Rosh HaShana 14a). Rashi explains that when the first fruit emerges, the sap rises in the tree and it is only on account of this sap that the tree continues to survive. Therefore, the time when the fruit first emerges is the most crucial stage in the fruit’s growth and that stage determines the year to which the fruit is assigned. Therefore, during the first few months of the seventh year there is no Shmita sanctity (Kdushat Shviit) for fruits (only for vegetables). Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon explains that the time when the Shmita produce begins to reach maturity depends on the type of fruit: some fruits reach chanata around the time of Tu B’Shvat (January) and reach the market several months later (ex: almonds, loquats and apples) and therefore they are considered Shmita fruit from the middle of the seventh year until the middle of the eighth year. There are other fruits where almost a year passes between chanata and harvesting (such as citrus fruit) and therefore these will be Shmita fruit only in the eighth year.

 

Some examples of fruits which still retain Shmita sanctity for about another month (May/June) are cherries, figs, lychee, mango, pears, apples and avocado.

 

Other fruits such as clementines, dates, guava, kiwi, olives, persimmons, quince and star fruit will retain their Shmita sanctity into September while grapefruits, oranges and pamelos will retain their sanctity through November.

 

Although the Shmita year has been over since September, Israelis still have Shmita in the back of their minds when they shop for fruits or if they have a fruit tree growing in their back yard.

 

Israelis who grow fruit trees halachically have to leave the trees as “hefker” (ownerless) during the time period that the trees have Shmita sanctity, meaning that they are obligated to welcome their friends and neighbors to pick fruit from the tree. In that way they are also welcome to pick what they need. If the owner does not declare the tree ownerless then he would not be permitted to eat from it.

Wine or grape juice that is produced from grapes that have Shmita sanctity must be treated with respect (the same way that all of the other Shmita produce must be respected) and therefore one may not spill out or waste it (until it spoils) even years after the Shmita year has been completed. Wines that have Shmita sanctity will clearly be labeled as “Otzar Beit Din” and should not be exported as sanctified Shmita produce is not permitted to leave Israel.

 

For those living in Israel, Shmita is not just an agricultural idea that is mentioned in the Torah. Shmita affects our lives before Rosh HaShana of the Shmita year when some of the laws of planting and preparing the land already go into effect and lasts through the end of November, over a year after the Shmita year ends and beyond if Shmita produce is made into olive oil or wine.

 
The Spirituality of the Shmita (Sabbatical) year goes beyond the food that we eat Print E-mail
Friday, 08 May 2015

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (1865-1935), First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael describes the spirituality of the Shmita year in his work Shabbat HaAretz (The Sabbath of the Land):

 

Life can only be perfected through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday life. The individual recovers from the influence of the mundane at frequent intervals, every Shabbat day…What the Shabbat achieves regarding the individual, the Shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole. The nation (in which the Divine spirit dwells prominent and eternal) has special need of expressing from time to time the revelation of its own Divine light at the fullest brightness, not suppressed by the cares and toil of the passions and rivalries of everyday life, so that the totality of the soul’s purity may be revealed within it.

 

And if that callousness which is bound to be present in the life of the community causes the deterioration of the moral standard of life and the constant conflict between the ideal heeding of the appeal to practice loving kindness, truthfulness, compassion and pity on the one hand and the raging oppression, coercion and pressure of the quest for material gain inevitable in daily life, on the other, cause the distancing of the Divine light…

 

The periodical suspension of the normal social routines raises this nation- when morally settled- spiritually and morally and crowns it with perfection. This is achieved through the Divine content that is rooted in the nation and which stands high above any social system and order and which raises and perfects social order.

 

This past week in Israel we witnessed two episodes that prove that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to reach the spiritual ideal that Rav Kook is describing. The first was a series of violent rallies where Ethiopian Israelis claimed that their community is not being treated fairly. The second was that Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel was sentenced to a minimum of eight months in prison for bribery.

 

On the other hand, the Divine light clearly shone last week when Israeli safety crews traveled to Nepal to rescue all of the stranded Israelis, bringing them home safely, including Or Asaraf’s friends who helped find his body, bringing him to Israel for a proper burial. Teams of doctors, nurses and medics set up makeshift hospitals to help anyone in need of medical attention. This was a true Kidush HaShem, sanctification of God’s name.

 

As our new government is being set up during this Shmita year, we hope and pray that our leaders will practice loving kindness, truthfulness and compassion and serve as role models for the entire Jewish people.

 
Israel is Gearing up for the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year! Print E-mail
Friday, 09 May 2014

Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25) commands us to observe the Shmita year. We are commanded to let the Land of Israel rest every seventh year. It is a year where all of the produce that is grown is technically “up for grabs” and everyone is considered equal.

 

This coming year, 5775 (beginning with Rosh HaShana) will be a Shmita year.

 

Over the past few Shmita cycles, the Shmita year has unfortunately been divisive for many Israelis. Israelis have different options of how to observe the Shmita year, some will only eat produce grown by non Jews or produce that is imported from abroad. Others will only eat produce of the Land of Israel in order to support the Jewish farmers and because the fruits take on a special sense of holiness. Others will eat produce that is grown on Israeli land that was “sold” to non Jews for the year in a manner similar to the way that we sell our chametz.  Because of these different options, many people do not feel comfortable eating in friends homes. This causes a lot of tension and often makes people resent the Shmita year.

 

However, there is a whole other aspect of the Shmita year that seems to be overlooked, the idea that during the Shmita year all may eat freely (Vayikra 25:6-7) “The produce of the land’s Shabbat year shall be for yourselves for food, for you, your servant and your maidservant for your hired hand and your resident sojourner who reside with you. Also for your domesticated animals and for the wild beasts that are in your land shall all of its produce be for food.”

 

If we look at the aspect of the Shmita year which teaches that during the Shmita year all should be looked upon as equals, we can learn a very valuable lesson. Instead of focusing on where people shop for their fruits and vegetables (which is a very personal decision) we can work on helping Israelis maintain equality during that year and beyond.

 

According to the Sfat Emet, the purpose of the Shmita year is to bring about unity and therefore the wealthy as well as the poor have the same obligations during that year.

 

An organization has been formed in Israel called Shmita Yisraelit which seeks to focus on the social justice aspects of the Shmita year. Efforts are being made to focus on ecology, sustainability, commitments for set volunteer opportunities within the community as well as helping people pay off their debt (another aspect of the Shmita year). Considering that only 2% of Israelis are involved in agriculture as well as the fact that it really isn’t nice to impose our views on where to shop for our produce on the others it make sense to focus on the community service aspects of the Shmita year which can make the year meaningful and inclusive as opposed to dreaded and exclusive.

 

Looking forward to a meaningful Shmita year in Yerushalyim!


 
When Eating is a Mitzvah! Print E-mail
Friday, 11 May 2012

In Parshat Behar, we learn about the Shmita (Sabbatical) year. We are told that when the Jewish people arrive in the Land of Israel they are to work the land for six years and to let the land lay fallow in the seventh.

 

In Vayikra 25:6 it says “The Sabbath produce of the Land shall be yours to eat, for you, your slave and for your maidservant; and for your laborer and for your resident who dwell with you.”

 

In Ramban’s (Nachmanides) addendum to Rambam’s (Maimonides) list of the 613 Mitzvot, Ramban counts eating the fruit of the Shmita year as a mitzvat aseh (positive commandment) even though Ramban does not. Ramban says that it is a mitzvah to eat these fruits and one who sells them transgresses.

 

Living in Israel, we see firsthand how difficult the laws of Shmita are to keep and how careful we need to be when shopping for our fruits and vegetables. However, when we finally have the chance to sit down and eat a fruit grown during the Shmita year there is a feeling of holiness that one can only achieve while living in the Land of Israel. Not only are our fruits and vegetables fresh, they are also holy. They are so holy that we can’t waste any part of them and the peels and seeds need to be thrown out in a different manner. The whole Shmita year we are enveloped in the awareness of the holiness of the Land of Israel.

 

What a great honor it is to live in the Land where we can simply fulfill a mitzvah by simply eating a piece of fruit!

 

 
Give Me a Break! Print E-mail
Friday, 13 May 2011

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Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25:2) begins with an in depth explanation of the laws of Shmita (the Sabbatical year).

 

The laws of Shmita were already introduced in Shmot 23:10-11, Parshat Mishpatim: “Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its produce. And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left; so shall you do to your vineyard and to your olive grove.”

 

The following pasuk, Shmot 23:12 speaks about the observance of Shabbat: “Six days shall you accomplish your activities, and on the seventh day you shall desist, so that your ox and donkey may be content and your maidservant’s son and the sojourner may be refreshed.” 

 

Shmita and Shabbat are juxtaposed as they both represent man’s testimony that God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh.

 

In Israel there are no long weekends, we don’t even have weekends! The only day that we have off is Shabbat! This past week we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut so we had an extra day off which was a real treat!

 

It is great to have Shabbat each week but when you work very hard week in and week out, sometimes you need more than just one day.

 

Both Shabbat and Shmita teach us that there is more to life than work and that we must take a break from our work just as God did when He created the world.

 

While on Shabbat we are forbidden to work, during the Shmita year we may not work the land, yet we are permitted to work in another field (no pun intended).

 

Many Israeli farmers take off the Shmita year to teach agriculture in the schools, study Torah or pursue other interests.

 

We can learn from the laws of Shmita and Shabbat that there is more to life than work and that when we take a break we will come back more refreshed as well as better workers.

 

Just as we should not be slaves to the land, we should have the courage to not be slaves to our jobs.

 
 
The Torah and the Land of Israel: Two Gifts to Be Appreciated Every Single Day Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2009

 

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Parshat Behar begins with the words: “And God spoke to Moshe in Har (Mt.) Sinai saying: Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them: ‘When you come to the Land which I give you (haaretz asher ani noten lachem), then shall the Land keep a Shabbat to God’.”

 

According to Rabbi Y. Eiger, acquiring the Land of Israel can only be done through a difficult struggle and through war in order to show us that it is only because of God’s mercy that we were able to keep the Land of Israel as it says “ani noten lachem”, to show that without God’s obvious and hidden miracles we would not be in the Land of Israel today. The end of the pasuk talks about Shmita, letting the land lay fallow during the seventh year, the biggest testimony to our belief in God.

 

When Rabbi Nachman of Breslov came to Israel, he said that now he understands why the Torah says “haaretz asher ani noten lachem” in the present tense, every day that we are in Israel we feel that God is once again bestowing the gift of the Land of Israel upon us, giving us a constant sense of renewal.

 

Korban Oni points out that every day we recite the words “noten HaTorah”, “God gives us the Torah”, in the present tense, because we must work hard to study Torah with the feeling that God is giving us the Torah anew every single day. The words “haaretz asher ani noten lachem” are also recited in the present tense (as mentioned above) since God wants us to feel the holiness of the Land of Israel every single day and work hard to appreciate the gift that we have.

 

Often when a tourist comes to Israel they make the most of breathing in the holiness of the Land of Israel- praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) as much as they can as well as visiting many of the other holy sites. However, when a person lives in Israel they are often so wrapped up in their daily lives that they may not even have a moment to look around and appreciate the holiness of the Land.

According to the JTA, a new initiative will require all Israeli students to visit Jerusalem at least once during their school years. New data shows that about half of all of Israel's students do not visit Jerusalem even once during their elementary school and high school years. The Education Ministry-mandated trips to Jerusalem will include visits to the Western Wall, the Supreme Court, the Knesset, Ammunition Hill and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Not everyone is on the level of Rabbi Nachman who constantly felt the holiness of the Land. The rest of us have to consciously work for it.

  
 
Preventing Poverty Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 May 2008

Parshat Behar stresses the importance of preventing poverty.

“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him- convert or resident, so that he may live with you. Do not give him your money for interest and do not give him your food for increase…”-Vayikra Behar 25:35-36

If a fellow Jew begins to lose money but has not yet become poor, one must help him regain his prosperity before it is too late.

Rashi states that we should not allow him to decline socially and financially and fall altogether so that it will be difficult to restore him to his original position, but strengthen him from the time of his weakness. To what may this be compared? To a burden on a donkey: while it is still on the donkey one person may grab hold of it and hold up the load; but if it falls on the ground, five can not raise it up.

According to Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, it is harder for someone to emerge from bankruptcy than for him to be helped before his business fails. No matter how low a person may fall, their fellow Jews have the responsibility to help them. The same is true for the history of the Jewish people. Though Israel has suffered countless reversals in history, none of them is cause for despair. When the national destiny slides downward in one part of the world, Jews in more secure places must step forward to help. When all seems to be lost, it never is. Just as God built worlds, destroyed them and built anew (Breisheet Raba 3:9) so the Jewish nation has suffered appalling defeats, but always starts again and perseveres.

Each of us has a responsibility to help our fellow Jews.

The best way to reach out is to help create more jobs in Israel so that new olim and veteran Israelis alike will have the opportunity to earn an honest living in dignity.

 
Israel: The Ideal Place to Live Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 May 2007

In Parshat Behar, Vayikra 25:38 we read: “Ani HaShem Elokeichem asher hotzeiti etchem m’Eretz Mitzrayim latet lachem et Eretz C’naan lehiyot lachem l’Elokim”. “I am your God who brought you out from the Land of Egypt to give you the Land of C’naan to be a God for you”.

This pasuk sounds a lot like the first of the Ten Commandments (Shmot 20:2): “Anochi HaShem Elokecha asher hotzeiticha m’Eretz Mitzrayim mibeit avadim”. “I am your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of bondage.”

In Parshat Behar, God elaborates on the first commandment and gives the reason why He took the Jewish people out of Egypt, to inherit the Land of Israel and to be their God.

Rashi, basing himself on the Talmud in Masechet Ketubot 110b, derives from here the concept of the importance of living in the Land of Israel. The Land of C’naan will be given to the Jewish people as a reward for observing the mitzvoth. The pasuk ends with the words “to be a God for you” since God will be the God of those who live in Israel. However, one who departs from the Land of Israel and actively distances himself from it is considered as one who worships idols. Since a nation’s prestige is bound up with the size of its population, those who add their numbers to foreign lands are in a sense honoring foreign gods.

When King David had to flee (Shmuel I, 26:19) leaving the Land of Israel to go to Moav, he considered it as if someone was forcing him to serve idols  “…for they have driven me out this day from being joined to the inheritance of God saying, Go and serve other gods.”

The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim 5:9 (Laws of Kings) says that there are very few circumstances that would allow a Jew to leave the Land of Israel once they were already living there. The exceptions would be to study Torah, to get married, to escape idol worship or to do business. However, the Rambam stresses that these should all be temporary trips, what today many would call “shlichut”.

In the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Achronot” it was recently reported that 14,400 olim (new immigrants) are expected to arrive in Israel in 2007. The only problem is that 20,000 Israelis are expected to leave Israel and seek permanent residence somewhere else in the world.

Our mission is not just to spread the love of Israel throughout the world (which was successfully done last week at New York’s Salute to Israel Parade). Our mission must be to teach Israelis to appreciate the State of Israel and understand what a privilege it is to be able to live here.

 


 
The Message of the Shmitah Year Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 May 2006

At the beginning of Parshat Behar (Vayikra 25:2-7) we are commanded to observe the mitzvah of Shmitah (the Sabbatical year): "When you come to the land which I give to you, the land shall be at rest, a Shabbat for God. For six years you shall plant your field and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and you shall harvest its produce. But the seventh year shall be a Shabbat of rest for the land, a Shabbat for God, you shall not plant your field and you shall not prune your vineyard. Even the crops that grew on their own from the seeds of your previous harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your untended vines you shall not gather, it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. The produce of the land's Shabbat year shall be for yourselves, for food, for you, your servant and your maidservant, for your hired hand and resident sojourner who reside with you. Also for your domesticated animals and for the wild beasts that are in your land shall all of the produce be for food."

The Rambam, Maimonides clarifies the mitzvoth of Shmitah: It is a positive commandment to suspend work on the land and the cultivation of trees. It is a positive commandment to release all agricultural produce in the seventh year. Whoever encloses his vineyard, fences in his field or gathers in all his produce into his house in the seventh year violates a positive commandment. Rather, he should abandon it all and allow everyone unrestricted access. He is permitted to bring into his house small quantities, as is done in the case of abandoned produce.

Keli Yakar in Devarim 31:12 explains that the observance of the Shmitah year contains factors that are conducive to union and peace. The poor may eat freely and no produce may be stored. Nobody will have any rights to claim. All people will be equal.

The Akedat Yitzchak, Rabbi Isaac Arama points out that the Shmitah year causes us to realize that our mission on earth is not to be slaves to the soil but a much higher and nobler one.

Nechama Leibowitz adds that the Shmitah year should lift man out of his materialism.

The Shmitah year teaches that we should work enough to be able to support ourselves and the rest of our time should be used for spiritual pursuits, Torah study, observance of mitzvoth and performing acts of gemilut chasadim (loving kindness).

Many people who feel overworked take a sabbatical year off in order to bring peace and tranquility into their lives and to pursue endeavors that they usually don't have time for.

Let's not wait for the Shmita year. Rather, let's take the message of Shmita and incorporate peace, loving kindness and spirituality into every day of our lives.