The idea of every seven years taking a year off from our Shabbat observance seems quite intriguing. There would be no problems with Shabbat starting too early or ending too late; sports fans would not have to miss any games that take place on Shabbat; Mock Trial could try to only make the Nationals every seven years…. Although this idea may seem somewhat bizarre, the Mechilta (quoted in Rashi Shemot 23:12) actually makes this very suggestion, proposing that Shabbat need not be observed during the Shemitah year. Although the Mechilta rejects this possibility based on the juxtaposition of Shemitah and Shabbat, which suggests that both Shemitah and Shabbat can coincide, it is perplexing why the Mechilta even made this suggestion. The Sochaczever Rebbe, in his Parsha commentary Shem Mishmuel, suggests that Shabbat can only be understood by contrasting it with six days of work. Our perception of the world is through contrasts. We perceive dark as a contrast to light, and hot as a contrast to cold. On Shabbat, we cease the work that occupies us for the rest of the week, thus demonstrating the contrast between Shabbat and the weekdays. Since Shabbat can be experienced only through its contrast to days of work, the Mechilta suggests that during the Shemitah year, when no work to the field may be done, Shabbat cannot logically be observed.
Why then does the Mechilta reject this perfectly logical suggestion and instead expect us to observe Shabbat even during the Shemitah year?
We may answer that there is a second element to Shabbat that can be perceived even without a contrast to the rest of the week. There is a positive element of Shabbat containing both positive Mitzvot and an imperative to make Shabbat a day of rest. This second component of Shabbat can be appreciated even without the contrast to the rest of the week and the cessation from work. Therefore, the Mechilta concludes that Shabbat can be understood without this contrast and must be observed even during Shemitah.
These two elements of Shabbat are contained and contrasted in the two versions of the Aseret Hadibrot. In Parshat Yitro, the Mitzvah of Shabbat is presented as “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat LeKadesho,” “Remember the day of Shabbat to keep it holy.” The Torah continues by linking the Shabbat observance to God’s creation of the world. Parshat Vaetchanan states the mitzvah of Shabbat with two differences. It states, “Shamor Et Yom HaShabbat LeKadesho,” “Guard the day of Sabbath to keep it holy.” The first difference is that the imperative is to guard, not remember Shabbat. Subsequently, the Torah’s command differs again when it links Shabbat observance to the Exodus of Egypt, instead of the Creation.
These two differences contrast the two elements of Shabbat. The element of Shabbat understood through contrast, through abstaining from work, refers to Parshat Vaetchanan, where the observance of Shabbat is guarding it. We must make sure the holiness of Shabbat is untainted, which we accomplish by refraining from work. This constitutes the concept of observing the 39 Melachot, the forbidden forms of constructive activity that form the negative commandments of Shabbat. However, the positive element of Shabbat, that is represented by “Zachor” in Parshat Yitro, requires us to remember Shabbat in an active sense. We are commanded to make Kiddush, eat three meals, and to be proactive about our rest and spiritual experience of Shabbat. Proper observance of Shabbat cannot be achieved by sleeping from beginning to end. We must also perform the positive component of Shabbat to make it holy. The positive element of Shabbat does not need contrast to the rest of the week to be perceived, and ultimately obligated us to observe Shabbat even during the year of Shemitah.
What’s For Dinner?
by Gavriel Metzger
Parshat Behar discusses the many aspects of Shemitah and Yovel, detailing how Bnei Yisrael must abstain from working the land in the seventh and fiftieth years of the calendar cycles. This raises the obvious issue of what the nation will eat for sustenance during the Shemitah and Yovel years if they are unable to work the land. The Pasuk recognizes this issue, stating, “Ki Tomru Mah Nochal BaShanah HaSheviit,” “If you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?’”(25:20). The Torah responds that the sixth year’s crop will provide an overwhelming abundance in order to support the people during the seventh and eighth years.
While this promise does resolve the Pasuk’s issue, the Torah seems to be asking the wrong question in the first place. Why do we need this query about what will be eaten during the seventh year; why could the Torah not just have said that the bounty from the sixth year would supply for the seventh? The question could be derived from the answer! Moreover, why did the Torah omit the eighth year when asking what shall one eat after Shemitah?
To solve this dilemma, the Kli Yakar comments that Bnei Yisrael were not told until a few Pesukim later that the sixth year would be so abundant, and therefore asked about a source of food. Since the question was brought up, it was recorded before the answer. Sforno, on the other hand, infers from the Pesukim that the sixth year would be a qualitative surplus, not a quantitative one, in effect making the original point an extremely valid one: where was their next meal going to come from? These commentators, however, do not answer our second question regarding the eighth year.
Rav Moshe Feinstein offers a powerful answer that provides profound insight into the nature of Shemitah and those who observe it. Rav Feinstein states that the question in itself seems to indicate a lack of faith in Hashem. Hashem had just shared with us the Mitzvah of leaving the land fallow every seventh year, obviously with the knowledge that a food supply would be needed to sustain the nation during that timeframe. The Torah mentions only the concern for the seventh year, not the eighth, to show that any questioning of Hashem’s plan is unjustified and should not exist in the first place, because there is such an obvious answer. Only those with a lack of Emunah would challenge the mitzvah of Shemitah, which reflects the fact that those few do not understand the true meaning of Shemitah and Yovel. These Mitzvot teach us that it is not our hard work that produces provisions, but rather it is Hashem Who controls our entire lifestyle and very survival. It is inappropriate to challenge these Mitzvot, which demonstrate that our lives are in Hashem’s hands, with questions about how we will eat.
The Danger of Dishonesty
by Ben Katz
One of the Mitzvot found in Parshat Behar is the prohibition of “Ona’at Devarim,” the commandment to avoid any kind of hurtful language. This can run from everyday callousness to deceit that ends up costing money. For example, recommending a product one knows is faulty would fall under this prohibition. Even speech as harmless as asking about the price of clothing without the intent of buying could be Ona’at Devarim, as the storeowner might think he is losing a sale.
If something as seemingly insignificant as asking the price of a shirt could be considered a sin, the Torah must put extreme emphasis on honesty, which in fact it does. Theft is considered one of the worst sins in the Torah. It is so deleterious that it is what sealed the fate of the generation of the flood and restoring stolen property is what saved the people of Nienveh from destruction.
With this foundation, we can understand why Saro Shel Eisav wanted specifically to attack Yaakov. He is the forefather who represents honesty, while Avraham is Chesed and Yitzchak is Avodah. Saro Shel Eisav is apparently able to tolerate Chesed and Avodat Hashem as long as there is no honesty in the world. This is because a lack of Chesed and Avodah are results of poor morality, but dishonesty can actually cause immorality through perversion of the Mitzvot.
The Torah is Divine truth and is therefore inextricably linked to and based on the principles of truth. Separating truth from Torah will completely disintegrate its teachings. When Avodat Hashem is perverted as such, it turns into Avodat Kochavim UMazalot. When Chesed is perverted, it can turn into a tongue-in-cheek, superficial kind of kindness, the kind of generosity that seduces another into a false sense of security. Satan can be satisfied with dishonesty in the world because when there is dishonesty, all he needs do is wait patiently, letting this toxic attribute do his sinful work for him.
We can learn an important lesson from this passage of Ona’at Devarim. We must distance ourselves from dishonesty and recognize it as the horrible plague it is. In a world where a little bit of lying or “shmearing” is considered not only alright, but laudable, we need to fortify our own senses of what is right and wrong with a newfound appreciation of truth. We are the descendants of Yaakov, who embodies truth and the children of the One Who signifies absolute truth. Honesty must mark us as people, or we are doomed to lives dangerously close to transgression.
Money, Money, Money
by Kevin Beckoff
Throughout Parshat Behar, the commandment to support those who are impoverished appears numerous times. The Torah instructs that one who becomes impoverished should not be charged interest or overworked; rather, those who are fortunate are to strengthen him. But why must the Torah instruct us at all regarding how to deal with the poor? Should it not be obvious that common courtesies are to be extended to the poor?
The answer can be found in a story about the Chafetz Chaim and a particularly poor student of his. Every time the student visited his great teacher, he would complain about his hardship. He would then go on to say that if Hashem would only bless him with riches, he would surely donate generous amounts of his money to charity. In due course, the student was blessed with prosperity, and subsequently turned his attention from his learning to his wealth. When the Chafetz Chaim visited him, he described to his teacher how the tables had turned for the better and how he now lacked nothing. This prompted the Chafetz Chaim to inquire as to whether his student had given charity as promised, to which the student did not respond. The Chafetz Chaim, understanding what had happened, then explained to his student that man constantly runs after money in effort to attain more. A poor man thinks that if he were rich, he would be the master of his wealth, but if he actually does become rich, it is his money that becomes the master over him.
Many times, people think that if they only had the funds that rich people do, they would use it wisely, but they fail to realize that money overtakes people and has the ability to turn them into misers. As such, it is quite necessary for the Torah to emphasize our obligation to support anyone who becomes impoverished.
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