Parsha Behar/Bechukotai 5773: Shemittoh Thoughts, The Tochocha — Who Really Rules Eretz Yisrael and Our Kesher With the Land

by Moshe Burt

Rashi asks a critical question on the very first posukim of our Parsha Behar:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying: Speak to the B’nai Yisrael, and say to them: When you come to the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Shabbat to Hashem.” (Parsha Behar, Vayikra Perek 25, posukim 1 & 2)

Rashi asks why the laws of Shemittoh are singled out as having been given at Sinai. Were not all of the Mitzvot said at Sinai?” He answers that just as all of the Mitzvot; their general rules and their specifics were taught at Sinai, so too were the general rules and specifics regarding Shemittoh taught at Sinai. Rashi then reasons that the posuk comes to teach us that every utterance said to Moshe, they were all from Sinai. (Rashi on Parsha Behar, Vayikra Perek 25, posuk 1)

The Hatam Sofer reiterates and expands on Rashi’s explanation, asking;

“Why did the Torah list all of the specific rules of Shemittoh rather than doing so with any other commandment? The reason for doing this is because the laws of Shemittoh prove that the Torah was given in Shemayim (heaven). Had the Torah been of mortal origin, how could any human promise, ‘I will command My blessing during the sixth year and it will provide produce for three years’? — something which is beyond the realm of the natural, and a way to test whether Torah is genuine.” (Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Parsha Behar, page 331)

When contemplating this posuk, this author can’t help but recall the first introduction to observance some 24 years ago in East Windsor, NJ. As vivid as day, the recollection of Rav Motti Berger at an Aish HaTorah Shabbaton, giving his analogy on Shemittoh.

Rav Berger, in endeavoring to prove that Torah was real, genuine and from Shemayim, would ask how, if Torah was merely a nice document which a group of guys once got together in one guy’s basement to write as a set of guidelines for how men should properly live, how could mortal man make such a fantastic promise as Shemittoh? How could man promise that if we refrain from working the land in the seventh year, we would be provided for during the sixth year to sufficiently cover needs for the sixth, seventh and eighth years? People who were not previously knowledgeable in Shemittoh and who held that Torah was man-made were hard-pressed to disprove the fact that Torah was given to Moshe from Shemayim.

But it seems to this author that both Rashi’s and Hatam Sofer’s answers are not mutually exclusive. It would seem that not only is Shemittoh HaKadosh Borchu’s vehicle for proving that ALL of Torah was given over on Har Sinai, that it was “a way to test whether Torah is genuine” leaving future disbelievers; such as Israel’s political, academic, judicial elitists and intelligencia who would give the land or any part of it away as just ordinary real estate — hard-pressed to disprove the fact that Torah was given to Moshe from Shemayim. But because they can’t disprove the authenticity of Torah from Shemayim, they’ve therefore created a short-circuit disconnecting our historical truth from their contemporary “reality.”

It seems to this author that the mitzvah of Shemittoh, the Shabbat for the land, was given to in order to connect the Shabbos of B’nai Yisrael with the Shabbos year of the Land of Israel. In this way, it seems obvious to this author that Hashem has inextricably linked the two — the B’nai Yisrael and the Land of Israel — for all time. And in doing so, Hashem serves a reminder upon B’nai Yisrael that, He, our Creator is our ruler and that He is the sole and ultimate owner of Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” (pages 291-292) cites Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz regarding Hashem’s Rulership of the B’nai Yisrael and Ownership of Eretz Yisrael:

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz cites the Raavad (Introduction to Baalai Nefesh) that a fundamental principle behind the commandments is that: “they are to remind us constantly that we have a Creator who is our Ruler.” The Almighty gave us this earth, but after using the earth for some time a person can mistakenly think that the earth belongs to him, and can forget that the Almighty is the real owner. Therefore, in all that we do there are commandments that contain restrictions to show that the Creator is above us. …The Torah stresses… that the commandment to rest on the seventh year applies to the land which the Almighty gave us…. A commandment to refrain from work on the land in the seventh year [is] to help us internalized the awareness that He is the true boss of the earth.

This is also the lesson we learn from the weekly Shabbos… It shows a person that the Almighty is the One who gives him the power to work on the other days of the week…. a weekly reminder that we have a ruler who is our ultimate authority. (Daas Torah, Sefer Vayikra)

For us, the Land of Israel is a one-of-a-kind, exclusive, prime piece of real estate to be loved, embraced, possessed, tended and cared for. We see this precious, beautiful land, from Gush Katif to Chevron to the Banias, as a precious gift from G’d to his special bride, his unique people. We thank Hashem at every opportunity for giving us this glorious land and for the fact that we live here; in Jerusalem, in Chevron, in Tel Aviv, in Haifa, in Beersheva, in Tzfat, in Yehuda, the Shomron, the Golan and, not to mention — in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Hashem seems also to be conveying to us, to all perceptive enough and with sufficient emunah to hear, that there is but one place that Am Yehudi can call home and where a Jew can be complete — Eretz Yisrael, and that all else is temporary, transient.

And to reinforce that bond and connection, Parshat Bechukotai contrasts the brachot which the B’nai Yisrael will receive for cleaving to, sanctifying and elevating adherence to the laws of Torah with the klalot, the punishments which will befall the Jews if they stray away from Torah or rebel against Hashem’s dominion over the world.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah” (page 304) cites the Kotzker Rebbe regarding an individual’s and a nation’s elevation and sanctification of their holiness in Eretz Yisrael:

“A person who sanctifies his house…” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 27, posuk 14)

The Kotzker Rebbe commented (Sefer Amud Haemet) …. When a person is involved in spiritual matters, it is relatively easy for him to do so in a sanctified state. But true holiness is when a person sanctifies the seemingly mundane daily activities of running his house. When one behaves in an elevated manner in his own house, he is truly a holy person.

Rav Pliskin explains:

Torah ideals and principles are not only for when one is in a yeshiva or [shul] synagogue. Rather Torah principles and values apply in all areas of our lives.

Rav Pliskin goes on to speak in the context of proper behavior towards, and the opportunities to extend kindnesses to, one’s own family. But while Rav Pliskin contends that proper behavior and extension of kindness may be more difficult in the home than toward strangers, this author contends that it may either be equally difficult, or that it may be may be more difficult to act properly — uprightly, and to extend kindnesses toward one’s extended family — his fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael than toward his immediate family. This author would, therefore, conclude both from Rav Pliskin’s citing of the Kotzker Rebbe and, from our Parsha, that such elevation and sanctification extend beyond the home to every aspect of one’s day in interacting with his fellow Jews in the street, in business, etc. in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Meyer Fendel wrote in a Young Israel Parsha Sheet on Bechukotai in 1995 regarding a posuk from amidst the terrible tidings of the Tochocha (the reproof);

“I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.” (Parsha Bechukotai, Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 32)

He then brings a Rashi on the posuk:

“This is good tidings for Israel, that her enemies will not find happiness in the Land and she will remain … barren from her inhabitants.”

Rabbi Fendel then reasons that a question may be asked:

“How will Israel benefit if her enemies will… be unable to inhabit the land?”

He brings a Ramban which concurs with Rashi but which adds something more:

“This is also a great proof and promise, for in the whole inhabited world, one cannot find such a goodly land which was [once] inhabited and yet is as ruined as she is today, for since the time that we left her, she has not accepted any nation or people, and though they all try to settle her, their efforts are in vain.”

In essence, Rabbi Fendel expresses that the Ramban tells us that the Land ‘went into Galut’ along with the B’nai Yisrael and could not bear harvest to strangers on her soil:

“Herein lies the good tiding, in which … Chazal found a source of hope: the Land would never produce for strangers — but for Klal Yisrael returning home, she would. Eretz Yisrael lay dormant for 2,000 years, … simply because she was awaiting the return of her children.”

“… The Land was so barren and so desolate that one could not fail to see this as fulfillment of the Biblical “I will lay waste to the land.” (Another translation; Parsha Bechukotai, Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 32)

And yet Chazal saw the hope and foresaw the return of B’nai Yisrael to the land: “The Land will wait and remain desolate, as a sign both of the sins of Israel and it’s guaranteed return.” (Parsha Bechukotai, Rabbi Meyer Fendel, National Council of Young Israel Parsha sheet, 27 May, 1995)

Earlier in Parshat Bechukotai, the Tochochah, the admonishment, the reproof, is explicit as to the punishments that will befall B’nai Yisrael if they violate Hashem’s Torah:

“I (Hashem), will set my face against you and you will be smitten before your enemies. They that hate you will rule over you.” (Parsha Bechukotai, Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 17)

This commentary in Sefer L’lmode Ul’lamed (Parsha Bechukotai, page 126) adds another dimension to Rabbi Fendel’s Parsha HaShevua:

“The text implies that included among the enemies will be those from Yisrael, enemies from within. These enemies say our Rabbanim, are the most vicious of adversaries.” They are the most dangerous of all enemies. “They are traitors against their own kind who know where their fellow men are most vulnerable.”

They are Jews who seem to deny their roots and do not accept their Judaism. They put their “Emunah” in mortals — in the prowess of man, in themselves and their self-interests and self-enrichment, in the super-power of the time while seeking to destroy their fellow Jews, Jewish roots, laws, history and heritage.

It is tragic that often the worst enemy of the Jewish people, and those most dangerous to the Jews, are the Jews themselves.

As a result, the B’nai Yisrael is often deceived by it’s own evil rulers, and by disunity and sectorial rivalries, into feeling fatalistic, that all is hopeless, that there is no Divine being. And through sectorial divisiveness, apathy, self interest, self-concern and self-enrichment at the expense of our fellow Jews, we play right into the hands of the leftist elitists as well as the corrupt politco, academia, courts and media — all of those who seek to subvert Torah, our history and our traditions to suit their own ends and self-interests.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.