:: Rav Eyal Raymond's Weekly Commentary ::
“And Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai.” (25:1)
“Why is the matter of Shmitah placed next to Mount Sinai? Weren’t all of the commandments said at Mount Sinai? Rather, just as the rules, details and nuances of Shmitah came from Sinai, similarly, the rules and details of all of them [the commandments] were said at Sinai.” (Rashi)
This seems to be difficult to understand. Why did the verse specifically quote the commandment Shmitah as an example and not another commandment like Shabbat, tefilin or others?
Rather, in the following verse it says, “Speak to the Jewish people and tell them … and the land should rest a resting for Hashem.” From the expression of the verse “a resting for Hashem,” Rabbi Yitzchak of Berditchev pointed out something fascinating. It may occur to a person that the reason that he should keep the Shmitah is because the land needs to rest so that it can continue to produce properly. Or, it is so that the owner of the field can rest after toiling with hard labor for six years. Therefore, the holy Torah comes and says that the reason is “a resting for Hashem.” We do not work during this year only because Hashem commanded us!
This principle is essentially the basis of the well known words of the sages (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Kedoshim 5426), “Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said, ‘A person should not say, “I do not want to eat the meat of a pig. I do not want to wear forbidden mixtures [of wool and linen]. I do not want to do immorality.” Rather, [he should say,] “I do want this, but what can I do? My Father in Heaven put a decree upon me [preventing me from engaging in these behaviors].”’”
According to this, it is well understood why we learn about the whole Torah from the commandment of Shmitah. Through it, the Torah teaches us the important principle that one must fulfill the commandments because they are the commands of Hashem and not because they are logically understood by man.
The Chatam Sofer answered that Shmitah is a commandment that everyone can easily understand that it was given at Sinai and that it was not simply invented by a wise man. After all, who can promise that those who will rest on the seventh year will receive three years worth of grain on the sixth year? Therefore, specifically, from this commandment it is fitting to learn that all the other commandments were said at Sinai.
Another answer is given according to the well known incident that is brought down in the Talmud (Shabbat 31A) about a gentile who came before Shamai and Hillel. He asked that they convert him to Judaism on condition that they teach him the whole Torah while he stood on one foot. Shamai chased him away, but the Hillel accepted him and said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend.” This means that the commandment of “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” is equal to the entire Torah, as Rabbi Akiva taught us that “This is a great rule of the Torah.”
The explanation of this is the following. The commentators on the Torah already addressed the question of why the giving of the Torah took place forty days after they left Egypt and not before then. They answered that the Torah has commandments that are uniquely allocated to priests and commandments that are uniquely allocated to Levites, etc. We find that there is no possibility for a Jew to fulfill all the commandments of the Torah himself. However, by a Jew loving his friend, every commandment that his friend does in considered as if he also did it. Through this, we can fulfill the entire Torah.
Before the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were not yet united. However, at the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish nation reached a level of “And the Jewish people camped [this word is written in singular form] there opposite the mountain.” Rashi explained, “Like one man with one heart.” Therefore, they were then able to receive the Torah.
This is the explanation of the incident of Hillel. The gentile asked how he can have a part in all of the commandments of the Torah. Regarding this, Hillel answered him that this can only be through the fulfillment of the commandment, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself.”
According to this, it is understood how the commandment of the seventh year is unique. This commandment demonstrates love for another more than the commandments. This is because the owner of the field knows that it is forbidden for him to plant and harvest his field. The natural way to react would be for him to be careful and save more. However, it is the opposite. Specifically, on this year, he makes his field ownerless to whoever is interested [to take from the produce]. This deed exemplifies the love for another and after he masters well the love for another, it is possible for him to accept the entire Torah.
Besides the famous answer of Rashi regarding the question “Why is the matter of Shmitah placed next to Mount Sinai?” it is possible to say another answer based on the words of the Ba”ch.
There is a well known incident that is brought in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 99:1) about an argument between the mountains regarding which of them will merit having the Torah given on them. Each mountain mentioned its advantage – Mount Tavor was high, Mount Carmel was beautiful, etc. There was also Mount Sinai that did not get involved in the argument because it thought that the Torah would certainly not be given upon it since it was so low. However, Hashem said, “Why do you prance, you mountains with majestic peaks? This one [Mount Sinai] is the mountain that Hashem desired to dwell upon” (Psalms 68:17). On the contrary, the Torah will be given, specifically, on a low mountain!
From here, the Ba”ch learned a great principle. Sometimes, it may seem to a person that something is a disadvantage for him. However, Hashem intends it for the good. Mount Sinai was distressed that it was created low, but, ultimately, Hashem decided to give the Torah upon it, specifically because it was low!
Another example is our matriarch Rachel. Laban promised to marry her off to Jacob, however, due to her mercy for her sister Leah and in order for her not to be shamed, she gave her the signs [that she had made up in advance with Jacob to show that it was indeed her]. This was despite the fact that she would have to sacrifice herself and marry Esau. However, Rachel did not take this into account and she gave Leah the opportunity to marry Jacob.
After some time when Rachel was still childless it says, “And Hashem remembered Rachel” (Genesis 30:2). Rashi explained, “He remembered that she gave over the signs to her sister.”
Let us contemplate this. If Rachel would not have given over the signs to her sister, neither she nor Leah would merit bringing the twelve tribes into the world. This is because she would be childless and Leah would be married to Esau. However, since Rachel gave in and gave her the signs, both of them merited having the twelve tribes from whom the entire Jewish nation came!
We have an example of what seemed like a loss at first, but, ultimately, it became clear that it was an unlimited gain!
The concept of the commandment of Shmitah is similar. Sometimes, a person thinks that if he will make his field ownerless, he will have a loss, since his entire sustenance comes from his field and he will not have what to eat, etc. However, Hashem says, “And I will command My blessing upon you on the sixth year and it will yield sufficient produce for the three years” (25:21). On the contrary, you will only gain from fulfilling the commandment of Shmitah and you will merit having a double and triple blessing upon your produce!
“And the land will rest a Sabbath rest for Hashem.” (25:2)
The commentators wrote that the principle reason for the commandment of Shmitah is to strengthen and implant the belief and trust of Hashem in us. This is because everything that a person has is from Hashem. When he will rest from working the fields, the person will have to come to the conclusion that his efforts and toil are not what cause produce to grow. He will then place his burden upon Hashem and his eyes will always be lifted toward Him so that He should give him what he needs.
We find that when a person is instilled with belief and trust in Hashem, he will no longer fell a need to be deeply occupied with his business and sustenance. He will not have to set aside all of his time for this. Rather, he will be able to engage in Torah study calmly and with peace of mind due to the belief and trust that the Master of the World will take care of his sustenance and support.
This is what it is referring to when it says, “And Hashem spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai.” How will one be able to engage in Torah study and the commandment that were given at Mount Sinai? This will be through “And the land will rest” when he will implant belief and trust of the Creator of the World in his soul.
People walk around with their backs hunched over and with as many worries as [there are seeds in] a pomegranate. They think about what will be with the support of the people in their households. The reason for their worry is that they think that times have become harder and that the sources of sustenance have become blocked up.
How silly they are!
This matter is similar to the following parable about a very mighty and powerful Cesar. He ruled over many great and wealthy countries that had been bestowed with an abundance of produce and other precious treasures from which all of the residents would support themselves. They would even have excess to sell to other countries.
Once, it happened that some corrupt people conspired to rebel against the royalty. The matter was revealed when there was still time to spare and this was made known to the Cesar. The Cesar commanded that the conspirers be imprisoned and given a sentence fitting those who rebel against the royalty.
Before the judgment, the Cesar went out to stroll in the palace’s large garden. The Cesar saw that there was an amazingly beautiful bird on one of the trees in the garden that was pleasantly singing in a very lovely voice. The Cesar took great pleasure from the sound of the bird’s song and he commanded his servants to trap the beautiful bird and put it in a cage to be placed in one of the rooms of his palace. This way, he could see it all the time and always hear its pleasant songs. As the servants caught the bird and locked in the cage, one of them sighed.
The other servants of the Cesar asked him, “Please tell us why you are sighing so much.”
He replied and said, “I am sighing because I feel pity for this poor beautiful bird that will end up dying from hunger in the Cesar’s palace.”
The Cesar’s servants were astonished when they heard his words. Can it be that the bird will die of hunger? Can it be that the king is incapable of supporting it?
“Didn’t you hear?” the other one said, “It was revealed that a group of people conspired to rebel against the king and harm him. At such a time, who will worry for the needs of small bird and sustain it with food and water?”
“You are just a big fool,” the other servants scorned him. “A few ignorant people conspired and imagined that they would be able to rebel against such a mighty and strong Cesar who rules over many large countries that are blessed with all that is good. Can it be that because of that there will not be a handful of seeds that are enough to sustain a little bird?”
All of those people who are torn with worry and whose frightening race for sustenance is darkening their faces like the bottom of a [burnt] pot should take this matter to heart. These people should understand this. A small group of corrupted senseless heretics are trying to remove their hearts from the way of Hashem by claiming that He does not have the power, as if it were, to support all of those who live in the world. Can it be that a few fools will be able to make us lack that handful of seeds that we need for our sustenance?! (Mishlei HaChafetz Chaim)
“And on the seventh year it will be a complete rest for the land.” (25:4)
“This is what the verse is referring to when it says, ‘The angels of Hashem should bless Him, the strong ones who fulfill His word - to listen to the voice of His word.’ Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha says, ‘This is referring to those who observe the seventh year [of Shmitah]. Why are they called “strong ones?” It is common for a person to fulfill a commandment for one day, for one Shabbat or for one month. However, can he do so for the whole year? This person [who fulfills the commandment of Shmitah] sees his field and trees ownerless, the fences broken and his fruits eaten. He conquers his evil inclination and does not speak. Our rabbis taught, “Who is strong? One who conquers his evil inclination.” Can there be a greater warrior than a person like this one?’”
(Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Vayikra, Chapter 1)
One must contemplate the following. How is the commandment of Shmitah unique that by fulfilling it during the period of a whole year a person merits being called a strong person? After all, there are many commandments that are fulfilled the whole year, such as doing kindness. There are people who do great acts of kindness all year long. Why don’t they also merit having the title “strong one?”
Rather, the sages say, a person can be capable of fulfilling commandments for long periods of time. He may even spend great deals of money on their fulfillment. However, this only hold true when they are active deeds [as opposed to passive]. However, during the year of Shmitah, the commandment is to sit and refrain from action. One must not engage in working the earth until the end of the year. This is a very hard thing for a person for a person to do!
“And if your brother becomes impoverished … and you shall hold onto him.” (25:35)
The sages said, “Acts of kindness are greater than charity, as it says, ‘Plant charity for yourselves and harvest according to kindness.’ It is doubtful whether or not a person will eat if he plants. If a person harvests, then he will certainly eat” (Sukkah 49B).
The explanation of their words is as follows. In general, when people give charity, they give a lot the first time and the second time it is a little bit less. As time goes on, their contributions lessen.
However, the reality of doing acts of kindness is the opposite. If a person comes to ask for a loan, at first, people are suspicious of him and they do not lend him a great deal. After he repaid his debt on time, the trust grows and people lend him more the second time. They then add more for him each time.
This is why “acts of kindness are greater.” Every time they become greater, which is the opposite of what usually happens regarding the matter of charity.
“I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt … and if your brother becomes impoverished and he is sold to you, you shall not work him with backbreaking labor.” (25:38-39)
It is necessary to understand why the Torah mentioned the exodus from Egypt before the command not to work a Jewish slave with “backbreaking labor,” meaning, work that is disgraceful.
The sages who were masters of ethics learned an important principle from here. A person is unable to understand and fathom the bitterness of another person unless he himself feels that same bitterness. Therefore, the Torah mentioned the exodus from Egypt so that the master will remember that he was also a slave who suffered in Egypt. Through this, he will feel for the Jewish slave and he will treat him properly.
This is like a parable to a king who had an only son, who would ultimately inherit the kingdom. The king gave his son over to a wise man who was an expert in all of the areas of wisdom. He taught him many subjects and, specifically, everything that was applicable to strategies of rulership. He then brought him before his father. The king tested his son and found him to be saturated with wisdom and he was very happy with him. He commanded that one hundred thousand zehuvim should be bestowed upon the wise man. He crowned him as a symbol of respect and elevated position
Then the wise man said, “I still have one thing that I must teach him, but it will only take one hour. So, send him to my house and I will teach him.”
The king answered, “That is fine.”
The king’s son arrived at the wise man’s home. He grabbed him and slammed the door. He fastened his legs tightly and gave him fifty lashings with a stick until blood was flowing like a stream of water. The son screamed and cried out, but there was no one to save him.
The wise man put the king’s son into a wagon and sent him to the palace. When the king saw his son groaning and moaning with blood flowing from his legs and when he heard his son say that this was the doing of the wise man, his anger burned like fire. He commanded that the wise man be hanged on a tree. However, before this, he instructed that he wise man be brought before him so that he can hear what brought him to do this deed. He said to him, “I have already decreed that you should be hanged and if there was a harsher death than this one, I would have decreed it upon you. Tell me please, what was this foolishness that came to your mind that caused you to do evil to my son and to strike him for no reason until he began to bleed? You lost the tremendous reward and great honor that you were about to receive through your own doing.”
The wise man answered him and said, “My master the King, I am faithful in my work and I do not do it with deception. Therefore, today I completed the work that I accepted upon myself to do. Now, I will answer your question. However, before this, I will ask you the following. How did you intend to designate your son – as a person who has knowledge in theory or a person who has knowledge in practice?”
The king said, “What are you asking? Isn’t he going to inherit the kingdom and most certainly ascend to the position of the royal throne? The reason that I gave him to you is for you to teach him the [practical] strategies of rulership!”
The wise man said, “Indeed, that is what I did. I taught him as you requested, you tested him and found him to be complete in his knowledge.
However, there was still one thing lacking for him. A king establishes [order in] the land with laws and any person who transgresses them and is negligent is brought before him to give his sentence. Sometimes it will happen that a person who stole one hundred shekels will be brought before him and he will enunciate the decision that he should be whipped one hundred times. Why? It is due to his great pampering, since a wasp had never bit him and he does not know how much a wound hurts. In truth, if the accused will be whipped three hundred times, he will die and his body will be broken into pieces after five hundred times.
However, the king’s word can not be retracted and they will kill the poor man with an unnatural death because he stole one hundred shekels.
How much injustice will be done in his judgment! Therefore, I struck your son with as many lashes as he could handle so that he will know and feel the pain that they cause, including how much pain there is for ten and for fifty. Then he will know how to decree the proper punishment for each transgression.”
The king was happy with his words and he even added more gifts to the many gifts that he was giving! (Ben Ish Chai)
“If… My laws.” (26:3)
This seems to be hard to understand. In this Torah portion there is only mention of materialistic promises. What about the spiritual promises?
Rather, the sages explain that word “if” [in Hebrew it is spelled aleph mem] hints to all of the redemptions of the Jewish nation. The first redemption, “if” [in Hebrew, “eem”] is an acronym for Aaron and Moses. During the times of Purim, “if” is an acronym for Esther and Mordechai. In the ultimate redemption, “if” is an acronym for Elijah [the prophet] and the Messiah.
This matter is also hinted to in the verse in Psalms (95:7), “Today, if you listen to His voice.” “If” is an acronym for Elijah and the Messiah who will redeem us speedily.
“If you follow My laws.” (26:3)
“Could it be referring to the fulfillment of the commandments? [No.] This is because the verse, ‘And you shall keep My commandments’ is already referring to the fulfillment of the commandments. So, how does one fulfill, ‘If you follow My commandments?’ It can be done by toiling in Torah study.” (Rashi)
Hashem demands from the one who studies Torah that he should toil in it. Through this, he will merit the blessings that are mentioned in the Torah portion, as the sage said in the Ethics of the Fathers (6:4), “… and in the Torah you should toil. If you do this, you are fortunate and it is good for you.” The one who toils in Torah is fortunate and merits to all that is good.
In the tractate of Derech Eretz (7:10) it is brought, “Rabbi Akiva said, ‘I began to serve Torah scholars as a result of the following incident. One time, as I was walking, I found an abandoned human corpse. There is a commandment in the Torah that requires is to be taken care of. I took tended to it and brought it to the cemetery and buried it. When I came before Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Yehoshua, they said, “For each step that you took, you are considered a murderer.”’”
This means to say that [it was as if] Rabbi Akiva had murdered himself, since he could have been studying Torah at that time.
From here we must learn about the great severity that is involved with the sin of wasting time from Torah study, as well as how great it is to toil in its study.
A Jew must toil, specifically, in Torah and not in other things. This is even referring to other areas of wisdom, as it says in the Song of Songs (6:8-9), “There are sixty kingships… but my dove and complete one is the only one.” The sages explained that “there are sixty” is referring to other categories of wisdom, but the wisdom of Torah “is the only one.”
King Solomon had a complete understanding in all of the areas of wisdom and his knowledge was greater than that of all of his predecessors who boasted greatness in other wisdoms. There were other great men of the Jewish nation who became famous and acquired other wisdoms and sciences, such as Maimonides among others. There are those who want to base themselves on these great men and educate their children with Torah and other wisdoms equally. Experience has proven that most of them have only been left with displeasure and disappointment. Their children have distanced themselves from the path of their fathers and, anyway, have not acquired any greatness in Torah study as Maimonides did and others like him.
Therefore, the only thing that we can resort to is what the wisest of all men [King Solomon] stated, “Shepard your sheep near the dwellings of the shepards” (Song of Songs 1:8). Follow the way of education that has been paved for every generation. It consists of toiling in the study of Torah and fulfilling the commandments. Do not look for other crooked paths.
However, one may ask, “Why? What is the difference? Why did Maimonides succeed and not stumble?” This can be answered by the following parable from the collection of Rabbi Yosef Mashash.
As customary, on one Friday, the people of the city went to the fish store to buy fish in honor of Shabbat. To their disappointment, they were told that this week no fish were caught in the fishing net or by the fishing rod. The fish seller told this to the rabbi, the leader of the community, the judge and to the wealthy man of the city. They all stood at the entrance of the shop to see if perhaps a fisherman would come and bring his loot. After all, it would not be possible to go through Shabbat without any fish! As they were still standing there, a Jew who was a simpleton entered the store and asked, “Is there any fish?”
“There certainly is,” he answered him. He removed an enormous fish from behind the counter and sold it to him.
Immediately, the bystanders crowded around him and cursed him bitterly. They poured disgraces upon him and said, “Disgusting man! Fool! Why did you only sell fish to the lowly simpleton and not favor the rabbi, judge, wealthy man or community leader?” They even lifted their hands to hit him and he absorbed everything in silence, since he could not find an excuse for the injustice that he did.
A week went by and, again, the people of the city stood by his store. This time, since he had plenty of fish, he satisfied everyone’s desires, including that of the rabbi, the judge, the wealthy man and the community leader as well. That simpleton also arrived and merited getting a large fish. All of those present did not say a word about it.
That simpleton was very surprised. “Why are you all quiet? Last week, when he sold me a fish, you all attacked him and he almost lost his eyes and teeth. Why aren’t you condemning him now like you did last week?”
They said to him, “Fool, is it possible that you can not understand this? Last week, he only had one large fish and it would be proper for him to honor the rabbi with it. We were angry and infuriated because he rejected everyone and chose you. However, now that he has plenty of fish and is fulfilling everyone’s wishes, why should we care if he fulfills your wish as well?”
The comparison is as follows. Indeed, it is possible to serve Hashem through all of the other wisdoms. Through the sciences of nature it is possible to fulfill the verse, “Lift your eyes towards the Heavens and see Who created these.” Also, through the study of medicine we can see the hand of Hashem, His supervision and rebuke and that the soul of every living being and the breath of every person is in His hands. Also, one can see the wonders of the “Healer of all people Who does miracles,” aside from the great kindness that is involved in healing the sick. Similarly, Hashem created everything for His honor, as it says, “all that Hashem does is for His own sake.” However, the high, superior and infinite wisdom of Torah sanctifies, purifies, uplifts and spiritually cleanses the one who studies it. It brings him closer to his Creator to the extent that “Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish people are one.”
Therefore, the abilities of the great men of the Jewish nation, who are [strong] like the cedar trees of Lebanon with baffling amounts of wisdom can not be understood by our minds at all. Their ability to absorb information is powerful like thunder, their memory is immaculate like a cemented cistern [that did not lose a drop of what they learned] and they are able to acquire the knowledge of all of the sciences. They serve Hashem with all of this [and, as the fish seller should have done,] they primarily give a good portion of it to the “rabbi and the judge,” referring to the wisdom of Torah that they know in its entirety in the merit of their great toil in its study.
However, in our destitution and with the limitations of our knowledge, we only have one “fish” that understandably should be given to the “rabbi” [Torah study].
From here, it can be easily understood that we must set ourselves aside for the study of Torah! (Nachalat Avot)
There was an incident that took place with a young married man who came before the Chafetz Chaim and complained to him about his misfortune, “Rabbi, for years I have been studying and toiling in Torah and I have not merited understanding even one page of the Talmud completely and appropriately. What will be my end?
The Chafetz Chaim answered him, “Were we commanded to be learned scholars and geniuses? We were only commanded to toil in Torah study and to fulfill the commandment of “And you shall contemplate it by day and by night” (Joshua 1:8). Therefore, we should toil, even if we will not become wise men and geniuses.”
“If you go in [the ways of] My laws.” (26:3)
An amazing incident is mentioned in the Talmud (Niddah 36B). There was a disagreement about a certain law between Rav and the other sages. Rav had a student named Shila bar Avina. It was decided that the law would follow the opinion of the other sages and not Rav, since he was the only one [who thought that way]. Despite this, Rabbi Shila followed the law of his teacher.
After some time, Rav became sick and was about to die. Before his death, he called his student Rabbi Asi and said that after he studied more, he understood that the other sages were correct in their words and that the law, indeed, was to be decided like their opinion. As a result, he said, “Go, to my student Shila bar Avina and tell him to retract [his opinion as well]. If he does not concede to this, then convince him by drawing him with words of reason and proofs so that he will retract” (Rashi). Due to the great weakness that Rav was experiencing, Rabbi Asi did not hear his words so well. Instead of hearing the words “convince him,” meaning, to persuade with alternate proofs, he heard “excommunicate him.” [These two expressions sound similar in Aramaic]. When Rav finished speaking, he passed away.
After the seven days of mourning for Rav, Rabbi Asi came to Shila bar Avina and said, “You should know that Rav retracted his opinion about that law and requested that you also retract yours.”
However, Shila bar Avina refused and said to Rabbi Asi, “If Rav really had retracted his opinion, then he would have told me about this, since I am his student!”
Shila bar Avina did not listen to Rabbi Asi’s words and Rabbi Asi excommunicated him!
Shila said, “Aren’t you afraid of fire of my Torah wisdom, lest you get burned by my coals and die?”
Rabbi Asi became ill from overheating and then from chills. All of the attempts to heal him were not effective and he passed away.
In the meantime, Shila was sitting and studying Torah. Suddenly, he heard that they were announcing the funeral of Rabbi Asi. Shila went and told his wife, “Prepare burial shrouds for me. I want to die before Rabbi Asi will tell Rav [in Heaven] that I did not obey him.” This means to say that he also wanted to go onto his deathbed and return to his Creator together with Rabbi Asi and be judged with him in Heaven, since he, too, had just passed away.
Indeed, that is what happened. She prepared the death shrouds for him and Shila also died.
At the time of the funeral, both coffins were brought out together. In those times, there was a custom to place myrtle branches on top of the deceased. Suddenly, the people saw that the branches were jumping from one coffin to the other! Everyone understood from this that these two Torah scholars made peace between each other and then they buried them. This was the incident that took place.
The Or HaChaim asked how it can be possible that Shila laid down on his deathbed and died out of his own will if it says in the Ethic of the Fathers (4:22), “Against your will you are alive and against your will you die.”
He answered this based on what is stated in this Torah portion. “If in [the ways of] My laws - you go.” This means to say that if a person behaves in accordance with the laws of the Torah, he can also decide when and how to leave this world. Only one who does not toil in Torah study will die against his will.
“If you go in [the ways of] My laws ...the land will give forth its produce.” (26:3-4)
It is written in the book “Beit Yitzchak” that these two concepts are interdependent. The author proves his words with a parable. There was an incident that took place with an extremely wealthy man who was childless. He took an orphan and raised him like a son. He poured much goodness upon him and hired the best educators for him.
The lad grew up and decided that he wanted to go out into the great world to be independent and try his hand in business. The wealthy man set aside a great sum of money that would be at his disposal and he promised to send him more financial support as it would be appropriate. He even informed him that he will inherit all of his possessions.
“Please, no,” said the lad. “Why should we speak about the inheritance? There are many more good and happy years still prepared for you. We will be separated during that time and, as people say, ‘Far from the eye, far from the heart.’ Who knows if you will continue to love me during those days and years?”
The wealthy man said to him, “What you said makes sense, but there are two ways to answer this matter. One answer is that I hope that this disconnection will not be definite and that once in a while you will come and appear before me. The second answer is that if you receive gifts and presents from me every month, then you will know that my promise remains faithful to you, my love is strong and my possessions are being set aside for you!”
The comparison is as follows. Hashem will set aside tremendous eternal reward for us, which is described as “one moment of pleasure in the World to Come is greater than an entire lifetime in this world.”
However, in order for the son [us] to acquire the faith and trust in that future reward, He gives us gifts in this world, as it says, “If you go in [the ways of] My laws and keep My commandments and fulfill them, I will give your rains at their appropriate times and the land will give forth its produce and the trees of the field will give forth their fruits.”
This is what it means when it says that all of the sustenance of the Jewish people is a result of their faith, meaning, that it is in order to instill them with faith in the future reward.
This is also what is referred to when it says, "May you see all your needs in your life, and may your end result in life in the World to Come; your hope is for generations” (Brachot 17A). A person who fulfills the Torah and the commandments sees reward for his toil during his lifetime and he knows that the principle reward exists for him in the World to Come!
“And I will give your rains at their appropriate times.” (26:4)
What is the reason for saying “your rains?” Aren’t all of the rains ours?
It is told in the Midrash Rabbah (Parashat Noach) about Alexander the Great that, during one of his conquering expeditions, he arrived in a far away place called Kotza. He was present there during a judgment between two men who came before the king regarding some land that one bought from the other. While he was plowing it, a treasure was discovered.
The one who bought the land wanted to return the treasure to its owner, since he bought the land and not the treasure. However, the one who sold him the land refused to take back the treasure and claimed that he sold him the land and everything that is in it. Both of them feared that they were stealing, so they turned to the king to make a decision for them.
The king decided that the son of the seller should marry the daughter of the buyer and that they should be given the treasure.
Alexander the Great heard this and smiled. The king asked him, “Do you think that I did not rule properly? How would you have decided this judgment?”
Alexander the Great answered in a blink of an eye, “I would have taken the treasure for myself and sent these two people to an insane asylum!”
The king asked him, “Does rain fall in your land?”
He answered, “Yes.”
The king said to him, “You should know that the rain that falls for you does not fall as a result of your merit. Rather, it falls in the merit of the cattle, wild animals and birds. If you are capable of thinking that a person who is afraid of stealing is crazy, then you are not worthy of having the rain fall in your merit.”
This is what it means when it says, “If you go in [the ways of] My laws … I will give your rains.” Only if you behave in accordance with the laws of the Torah will the rains be “your rains,” meaning, in your merit and not in the merit of the cattle, wild animals and birds…
“And I will put peace in the world and a sword will not pass over your land.” (26:6)
There are those who think that the solution to the problems of security and the economy in our land is rooted in all kinds of federal and economic plans.
It is possible to compare these people to Bedouin nomads who lived their entire life in the desert and had never in their lives seen a civilized settlement. They were forced to draw the water that they needed for their sustenance from wells that were located a great distance from where they lived.
The day arrived when a few Bedouins visited a large city. To their wonder, the people of the city were not struggling to retrieve water from pits. Rather, every house had a faucet from which a great deal of sweet water would flow plentifully. The Bedouins greatly desired the wondrous “improvement” and they acquired a significant number of faucets to install in their tents.
After the installation, to their great disappointment, they realized that no water was coming out of them. Immediately, they summoned the handymen from the city to come quickly and find out what the difference was between their faucets and those of the city.
When the experts arrived, they burst out in laughter and said to the Bedouins, “Do you think that it is the faucet that produces the water? The faucet is only the end of a long pipe which is connected to a pump that draws water out of a well. You have not made any connections to the well. You only hung the faucet on the wall. Can it be that you thought that this way the water will come to your tents?!”
The holy Torah promises us security and an abundance of blessing only “If you go in [the ways of] My laws and keep My commandments and fulfill them.” As long as we think that there is a different solution to the problems of security, economy, car accidents, etc. we can be likened to those Bedouins who think that the faucet is what brings the water.
We must wake up and renew our connection with the Creator through His holy Torah. The other means of acquiring peace, tranquility, success and blossoming will not be effective if we do not fortify ourselves more in the fulfillment of the Torah and the commandments.
(Rabbi Meshulem Meshulmi)
“And a sword will not pass over your land.” (26:6)
There is a well known description brought down by the sages (Sanhedrin 94B) about the behavior of King Hezekiah when Sancheirev came to destroy the Holy Temple.
“‘And the yoke was broken by the oil’ – Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha said, ‘The yoke of Sancheirev was broken because of the oil of Hezekiah that would burn [and bring light] in the synagogues and study halls [so that the Jews would be able to study Torah at night]. What did he do? He stuck a sword at the entrance of a study hall and said, “Whoever does not engage in Torah study will be stabbed with this sword.” When it was investigated, not one ignoramus was found from the land portion of Dan until Be’er Sheba. From Gevet to Antipras they did not find one young boy or girl, man or woman who was not an expert in the laws of impurity and purity.’”
The question is asked: How could Hezekiah threaten the Jewish people with death for not studying the Torah? Indeed, there is an obligation to study Torah, but we do not find that one who does not study is deserving of death.
Rather, the sages say that Hezekiah did not mean to kill a person who did not study Torah. He only wanted to arouse them with sharp words so that they would study in a toiling manner. He noticed that Sancheirev had already conquered most of the world and the Land of Israel, so Hezekiah thought that through their engagement in Torah study, the Jewish people would be saved from the sword of Sancheirev. Thrusting the sword served as a hint that if one would not study, the Torah would not protect him!
We find something similar in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 35:6). “It is taught in the name of Rabbi Elazar, ‘The sword and the Torah were given from Heaven together [as opposing alternatives]. Hashem said to them, “If you observe what is written in this Torah, then you will be saved from the sword. If not, it will ultimately kill you.”’”
According to this, what is written in the verse can be well understood. “If you go in [the ways of] My laws and safeguard My commandments and fulfill them,” then “I will put peace in the land and a sword will not pass over your land.” This is because the Torah protects and saves one from the sword of death. (Lekach Tov)
“And if you will be disgusted by My laws … and not fulfill all of My commandments.” (26:15)
“Laws” [in Hebrew, “chukim”] are the commandments that do not have a reason [written about them in the Torah]. However, there are commandments that do have reason and logic behind them. If so, why does the verse state that a person who is disgusted with these laws does not fulfill “all of the commandments,” including those that do have reason and logic behind them?
Rather the Torah comes to teach us that even if a person only is disgusted with these laws [that do not have listed reasons], ultimately, he will not fulfill the entire Torah (Based on Hadrash V’Haiyun)
“And they will confess about their sin … and also I will act with them with casualness.” (26:40-41)
Why will Hashem act casually with them even after they confess their sins? The Chafetz Chaim asks this in his writings about the Torah. Rather, from here we learn that confession without repentance, regret and an acceptance upon oneself to change in the future does not have any value at all. “And they will confess about their sin” means that they only confess about the sacrilege that they committed towards Hashem. Their repentance is not effective, since there is not even a hint of accepting to change and better their deeds so that they will not act with casualness toward Hashem.
Rabbi S. Greeniman tells in the book “Maasei L’Melech” that, once, during the Selichot prayers in the yeshiva, the Chafetz Chaim suddenly quieted down the congregation and said, “How effective are the Selichot prayers and just telling Hashem that we sinned against Him? Isn’t everything known and revealed before Him anyway?!”
“The principle point is,” the Chafetz Chaim concluded and said, “to accept upon ourselves that we will not return to our foolishness [sins] again.” In this way, he aroused the congregation to repent.
“And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember.” (26:42)
In our prayers, we mention the covenant made to our forefathers in order to arouse the mercy of Hashem. However, does this remembrance indeed arouse forgiveness and pity? After all, this covenant of Hashem is mentioned in the Torah alongside great rebuke, G-d forbid, as it says, “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember. I will remember the land – and the land will be bereft from them,” G-d forbid!
In his explanations, the Beit Yosef provides another matter of puzzlement saying, “One must be meticulous. When it says, ‘And I will remember’ it implies doing goodness with them. However, here, it only talks about curses. Why, then, are these two concepts juxtaposed?”
He answered this with a parable that is explained in detail in the book of Rabbi Yosef Mashash. Once, there were two thieves who made a joint effort to perform a hidden robbery. They were caught as they were stealing. They were then imprisoned and brought to court.
The judge asked about one of them, “Who is he?”
Everyone present answered and said, “He is the son of a certain famous thief.”
One person said, “I also know his grandfather who was also a thief.”
The judge sentenced him to one year of imprisonment.
He turned to the second thief and asked, “And who is this one?”
They answered and said, “He is the son of a noble and refined Torah scholar who diligently studies and is completely enveloped in Torah.”
One person there said, “I also know his grandfather who was a well known rabbi.”
A third person said, “His great grandfather was one of the greatest men of his times!”
The judge decreed three years of imprisonment upon him.
The thief cried out bitterly and called out, “Why is my lot worse? After all, he and I joined together to be like one. We conspired together and snuck together [in order to steal]. We both stole and were caught together. Why was he sentenced to one year and I have to serve three times that punishment?!”
The judge answered him, “Don’t you understand? Your friend was raised in house of thieves and he originated from a lineage of sinners. He did not have from whom to learn about going on the straight path or whom to guide him about going on it and to rebuke him for his evil ways. If his parents would demand of him to mend his ways, he would reply, ‘Look at yourselves…’ Therefore, they had to seal their mouths and he deteriorated without reprieve. After all, what can he do to prevent himself from sinning? However, it is impossible to allow him to be exempt and have no punishment. Therefore, I decreed one year of imprisonment upon him. You, however, were raised in a home of Torah and good characteristics. You saw the behavior of your forefathers and their nobility. You heard their rebuke and their lessons. You were raised with the tradition of your grandfathers and their way of life and, despite this, you abandoned the straight path and turned onto crooked ones. You sin is double and threefold [worse than that of your colleague] and your punishment is also double and threefold!”
The comparison is, in the words of the Beit Yosef, that “when the son had a righteous and devout father, woe to him for his destruction and for his luck if he does not come out to be like his father! This is what it means when it says here that when Hashem brings evil upon them, He is remembering that their fathers were righteous and devout like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When they, however, are evil and Hashem is punishing them for this! Moses said the following, which is along these lines in the Torah portion of Haazinu, ‘Destructiveness does not effect Him, it is His children’s defect.’” These are his holy words.
Based on this, the question is strengthened. How can we mention the merit of our fathers when we request forgiveness if it may arouse stringency, anger and wrath: These were your fathers and this is how you are?!
The answer is simple. Let us return to the parable of the two thieves who were meted out judgment. One was sentenced for a year and the second one was sentenced for three years. They both fall at the legs of the judge and ask for mercy. Both of them express regret and promise to improve their ways, change their paths and become better without returning to corruption ever again.
The judge is just and he acts according to the truth. However, he knows that the punishment is not an end in itself. Rather it is a means to shake up the person so that he will return to what is good. There is one question that is presented before him: Is their regret genuine? Will it last? Will their decision persevere and will they not return to their corrupt ways?
Here, the calculations will be the opposite of what they were at first. The one who originated from the good home and a proper education and parents who would administer rebuke to him carries with him the tradition of the greatest people of the generations. There are high chances that he will return to the straight path and to his education and that he will cling again to the path of his parents. However, one who was raised in a hotbed of sin and in a home of offenders who cast off the law and rebuke, what are his chances of improving his ways, swimming against the flow and disconnecting himself from the sins of the society surrounding him?!
Now our request in our prayers can be understood. On its own, the covenant that was made with the forefathers may arouse wrath and stringency upon those who did not follow in their path and have distanced themselves from their heritage. However, we come to express regret and promise that we will return to the path of the forefathers. Hashem is the One who inspects the heart and sees the honesty of our resolutions and the genuineness of our promises. Then our tradition and lineage become a reason for sweetening our judgments, as well as mercy and pity as a result of our expression of regret. (Nachalat Avot)
“Also, even though there is this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not be disgusted with them and I will not reject them to destroy them and annul My covenant with them because I am Hashem their G-d.” (26:44)
The Maggid of Lublin explained this with a parable. There was a story about an exceptional tailor who did praiseworthy work. He was invited to the palace of the king to sew clothing for the king and all of his entourage. He and his family were given spacious living quarters in the courtyard of the palace and their meals were provided by the king’s kitchen. The fabric came from the royal treasury and all he had to do was to bring the tools of his trade and sit to do the work.
However, woe! Alas! The tailor became ill with a disease in his eyes and his vision was not intact. He would not be able to sew! They began to seek out doctors and cures, which cost exorbitant amounts. He needed to constantly visit doctors and obtain medications. Their money was flowing away.
His wife said, “There is no choice. We will have to sell your precious sewing machine so that we will be able to continue the treatment!”
The tailor trembled and called out, “No, anything but this! We can borrow money and go door to door collecting, but we can not sell the machine!”
She was taken aback and asked, “Why?”
The tailor explained, “Look. We are practically the guests of the king and we eat at his table. Because of this we do not have any other expenses besides for those of the expensive treatments. However, we were not invited to the palace as guests. We were brought here to carry out a task, namely, to sew the wardrobe of the king and his officers. However, I became ill and unable to work, but as long as I own the machine and I aspire to return to my work, they will wait for me patiently and continue to host us here in the king’s palace. However, at the moment that we sell the machine, I will no longer be considered a tailor and I will be asked to leave these dwelling quarters and return home. What will we eat then? How will we sustain ourselves?”
The woman understood and agreed with his words.
The comparison is the following. We are currently in exile and we are unable to serve Hashem as we did long ago [in the Holy Temple]. However, even though the holy service of Hashem [in the Temple] has ceased and we have descended ten levels, as long as we still cling firmly to our trade and the name of Hashem is called upon us, His kindness will not be retracted from us!
This is what it means when it says, “Also, even though there is this, when they are in the land of their enemies” and they ill in a spiritual sense, “I will not be disgusted with them … to destroy them” as long as “I am Hashem their G-d” when their tools and their trade are in their hands!