Towards the end of the Tochachah, the extended rebuke that constitutes the majority of Parshat Bechukotai, the Torah traces Bnei Yisrael’s eventual exile to the neglect of the Shemitah and Yovel years. The Pasuk states, “Az Tirtzeh HaAretz Et Shabtoteha Kol Yemei Hashamah…Eit Asher Lo Shavtah BeShabtoteichem BeShivtechem Aleha,” “Then the land will be appeased for its Shabbat-years [i.e. Shemitah and Yovel] during all the days of desolation…that which it did not rest during the Shabbat-years when you dwelled upon it” (26:34-35). As the Gemara in Shabbat (33a) expresses, the Torah is clearly indicating that the abandonment of Shemitah and Yovel is a direct cause of exile from Eretz Yisrael.
The “appeasement” mentioned in this Pasuk is somewhat vague, and open to a fair amount of interpretation. Ibn Ezra believes that it is the land itself that is appeased in some sense, as the exile allows it “rest” to make up for its lost “Shabbatot.” Similarly, Kli Yakar comments on a very similar phrase several Pesukim later (26:43) that “the land…assert[s] a claim for the offense it took and for the disregard of its Shemitah years.” Rashi takes a slightly different approach, interpreting the Pasuk’s somewhat odd language to mean that the exile and resultant desolation will appease Hashem, Who will be angry about “its [i.e. the land’s] Shemitah years.” Although each Peirush has a slightly different slant, they all appear to agree that it is somehow the land itself that has been slighted. This seems to be placing the focus on the wrong thing; why would the Torah focus so much on the role of the land in this punishment, when it is Hashem against Whom Bnei Yisrael really sinned? Is their offense really against the land?
The commentary known as Chashavah LeTovah implicitly answers this question in his comments to the aforementioned Gemara. He wonders why the punishment of Galut is so appropriate for abandoning Shemitah in the first place. He points out that the primary purpose of Shemitah is to serve as a reminder that the land is not our own, that we are not the true masters of our property. We are merely servants of Hashem, working land that is effectively rented on condition of good behavior. As long as we continue to recognize this, we are granted continued presence on the land. If, however, we act as though we are the absolute masters of the land, which is the attitude expressed by neglecting the Shemitah and Yovel years, we forfeit our right to keep the land. Middah Keneged Middah (measure for measure), a total loss of mastery occurs in exile, where we are instead subjugated to the human rulers under whose hands we fall.
This explanation leads to one possible answer to our original question. A farmer who does not keep the laws of Shemitah and Yovel marginalizes the role of Hashem in his agricultural success, casting himself as the ultimate controller of his land. As a corrective punishment for this errant attitude, Hashem evicts the farmer from the land to demonstrate that the farmer is, in fact, subservient to the land. It is not, as the farmer would like to think, that he simply works his land and reaps a crop proportionately; rather, Hashem has decreed that he has certain responsibilities towards the land, and if he neglects them, the land will not remain subservient to him. Since he tries to ignore these responsibilities and to dominate the land, the land has a stake in expelling him, and becomes an active participant in Hashem’s rebuke of the farmer.
The message of this cause-and-effect relationship between Shemitah and exile is a powerful one. In our own time, much conflict has erupted in Eretz Yisrael over various political and religious issues. But regardless of one’s opinions on such matters, regardless of how much land Eretz Yisrael cedes, we must always keep in mind Who is really in command. If we treat ourselves as the ultimate masters of our land, this week’s Parsha indicates that none of it, ceded or otherwise, can remain our land for long.
Why Not the Local Steakhouse?
by Sam Reinstein
The end of Parshat Bechukotai (27:32-33) describes the law of Maaser Beheimah, the tithing of kosher animals – cattle, sheep and goats. Each year, the farmer is required to designate every tenth newborn animal as holy. The farmer would then bring these Maaser animals to Yerushalayim, where he and his family would eat them. The Eimurim, fatty portions, were burnt completely to Hashem, and the blood was sprinkled on the altar. The rest of each animal was for the consumption of the owner; none of it was given to the Kohanim. This raises an interesting question: if a Maaser animal was to be enjoyed solely by the owner, what was the purpose of requiring that it could be eaten only in Yerushalayim?
The Gemara in Bechorot (58a) specifies three dates on which Maaser Beheimah was to be brought to Yerushalayim: the last day of the month of Adar, the 35th day of the Omer, and the last day of the month of Elul (Erev Rosh Hashanah). The Torah in Parshat Mishpatim (Shemot 23:17) states that on three holidays – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – the farmers were required to appear in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 360) records that because the farmers were concerned with completing their harvests of wheat and barley, they would rush back to their farms after offering their sacrifices on the first day of each Yom Tov. He suggests that the three days for designating Maaser Beheimah were selected because they are each fifteen days before a Regel (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, respectively). Since they were obligated to eat the Maaser in Yerushalayim, the farmers had to spend more time there before the Regel. In Yerushalahim, the farmers were surrounded by Kohanim, Leviim, and members of the Sanhedrin, all of whom had the responsibility of teaching Torah to Bnei Yisrael. The requirement that Maaser be eaten in Yerushalayim caused the people to interact with these scholars and engage in Torah study as a result of their extended stays in Yerushalayim, despite their rush to return to their farms after Yom Tov.
Hashem instituted Maaser Beheimah, as well as the similar Maaser Sheni which requires the farmers to eat in Yerushalayim four out of seven years of each Shemitah cycle, to encourage the people to learn from their scholars and leaders. Just as He created opportunities for His people to learn, He wants us to create our own opportunities for Talmud Torah. Finding time for learning Torah is crucial and is something we must all strive to achieve.
The Arrow of Repentance
by Ari Leskowitz
Parshat Bechukotai states (26:40), “VeHitvadu Et Avonam Ve’et Avon Avotam BeMaalam Asher Maalu Vi,” “And they will confess their sin and the sin of their fathers, in their treachery that they committed against Me.” The Torah describes Bnei Yisrael as confessing for their sins, the primary step of Teshuvah. After confessing their sin, they must act on their feelings of regret and perform complete Teshuvah.
Let us briefly discuss this concept of Teshuvah. One Pasuk regarding Teshuvah that appears in Sefer Tehillim states that Teshuvah is like an arrow in the hands of hunters. How do these two ideas relate to each other?
One way to understand this is that the further an archer pulls the arrow back towards his heart, the more the arrow will accomplish. The more one pulls an arrow back, the stronger the shot will be. So, too, the closer one takes Teshuvah to his heart, the more successful it will be.
A second comparison is that the slightest mistake can throw an arrow off its target. If an archer is about to take his shot and somebody shouts to scare him, the shot might be thrown off only slightly at first, but as the arrow nears its target it will be completely off-course. Similarly, if one lets himself be slightly distracted from Teshuvah, even though at first it may not be a huge distraction, continuing to allow himself to be distracted will cause his Teshuvah to be thrown off-target.
One last similarity between these ideas is that when one lets go of the arrow, it will not come back. In an archery competition, if a championship shot is allowed to slip out of the archer’s hand before he is ready, the arrow will miss and the archer will lose. He now has no idea how long he will have to wait before he can retake that shot. Once again, this is similar to Teshuvah. If one mishandles an attempt for Teshuvah, he can have no idea how long it will take to prepare to reattempt that particular Teshuvah.
In the merit of our complete Teshuvah, may Mashiach come speedily in our days.
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