Parshat Behar 5778: Shabbos and Shemittah — Connecting Jews to Our Divinely Bequeathed Legacy to Eretz Yisrael

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshiyot HaShevua, Behar is being co-sponsored by Moshe and Esther Lindner and family Lilui Nishmas Elyakim ben Naftali z”l hy”d and an anonymous sponsor dedicated for all subscribers to this list — both sponsors are from Ramat Beit Shemesh. To the Lindner family and our anonymous sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Behar 5778: Shabbos and Shemittah — Connecting Jews to Our Divinely Bequeathed Legacy to Eretz Yisrael

by Moshe Burt

In each of the preceding three parshiyot, Hashem speaks to Moshe in order to issue an instruction, be it to Aaron and his surviving sons about who may enter the Kadosh Kedoshim and when, or to the entire B’nei Yisrael to “Be Holy” — to emulate the Holiness of Hashem, or again to Aaron and his sons Elazar and Ithamar and to all of the Kohanim for all time regarding distancing themselves from tumah (impurity).

But in Parshat Behar, Hashem’s Torah adds extra emphasis in our parsha’s opening posukim by taking us back in time to relate what Hashem spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai; namely the laws of the Shemittah year — the Sabbatical year of rest, of restraining from planting and harvesting of crops of Eretz Yisrael for market.

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

“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 Shemittah 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 Shemittah 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 Shemittah rather than doing so with any other commandment? The reason for doing this is because the laws of Shemittah 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)

Rav Shimson Rafael Hirsch, z”l, in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman), page 877 offers commentary on Shemittah and how it differs from Shabbos:

The prohibition of work on Shabbos relates not only to the primary categories of prohibited work…, but also to their derivatives.

The difference between Sheviyit [the seventh year] and Shabbos hinges on their meaning. Shabbos expresses homage to Hashem as the Creator and King of the Universe. Man subordinates himself — and all of the powers at his disposal to control the world — to Hashem. Hence, all exercise of creative power over matter is considered Melacha [work] which is prohibited on Shabbos…. Sheviyit, on the other hand, expresses homage to Hashem as the Master of the Land of Israel, and for this purpose it suffices to subordinate the land to Hashem’s Rule. A man of Israel remembers that his land belongs to Hashem, and that he is merely a stranger or sojourner…; he then neither works his land nor gathers in its produce to ensure his livelihood… Thus, the soil of the entire country is stamped as ownerless, and for the whole year [it] declares before all that [Am] Yisrael is not the master of its land.

But it seems to this author that both Rashi’s and Hatam Sofer’s answers regarding Shemittah are not mutually exclusive. It would seem that not only is Shemittah 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 Shemittah, the Shabbat for the land, was given to us 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.

Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his sefer, “Torah Gems” volume 2, on our Parshat Behar (page 331) goes further in citing a quote in the name of R’ Yitzchak Breuer:

It is not only the Jew who has a Shabbos, but Eretz Yisrael has its own Shabbos as well! …Just as the Hebrew slave works six years and is freed at the beginning of the seventh, the land works for the Jew for six years by Hashem’s Command and in the seventh year it is returned to Him. The land is merely lent to the Jew… The land is not only valued in terms of the benefit it brings to man, but has its own value, and throughout the Sabbatical year, when it rests, man must respect its independent value.

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 internalize 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)

But there seems more to Hashem’s equation of Shabbos and Shemittah, i.e. day of rest for the Jews and year of rest for Eretz Yisrael. For there is no Shemittah year among the lands of the nations, just as there is no Shabbos for the peoples of the nations. In connecting Shabbos and Shemittah, it seems absolutely apparent that Hashem is also conveying to us — the observant, Torah world and to all perceptive enough and with sufficient emunah to hear, that Hashem has Divinely and eternally connected, as one, the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael. There is but one place that Am Yehudi can call home and where a Jew can be complete; with its Divine links going back to Avraham Avinu’s destination on leaving his parental home and Am Yisrael’s destination upon going up from Egypt and emphatically spoken by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai in the opening posukim of our parsha — Eretz Yisrael. All else is but temporary, transient.

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 Hevron to the Banias, and to Har Hermon as a precious gift from Hashem 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.

But, to harken back to this author’s Pesach vort: Dayenu:

Today, it seems that not only is there the tendency not to aspire further, but to actually give up, back-slide, to not only relinquish that already achieved, but to possibly project hypocrisy in the eyes of the nations rather than the light of Hashem’s nation — all in the name of “world opinion.”

What is meant here?

We suffer yet today these pins and thorns of a bogus so-called “people”, “nation” — “Palestinians” because we did not fully drive out the inhabitants in the times of Tanach and, in our times, we did not truly acquire and possess the land — Yehuda and the Shomron which we conquered in the Six Day War. And we have not, in fifty-one years, acted to develop programs and financial packages to transfer these people, the Arabs — the so-called “Palestinians”, to other venues outside of Eretz Yisrael which could accommodate them. Instead, we put hundreds of billions in good money after bad to perpetuate the so-called “Oslo Agreements” and opted for Westernized “morality” and political correctness, where these nomads have attained status of “peoplehood,” “nationhood” in the eyes of the nations, i.e. “two-states.” This is what is meant by relinquishing that already achieved.

As a testament to the inextricable link between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, an item is periodically reported in the media regarding a link between Shemittah, the Gaza war of nearly four summers ago, and a nace which prevented a major attack from a Gaza terror tunnel which could have caused immense casualties. Written by Rabbi Binny Freedman, this report tells:

…A group of ultra-Orthodox residents from Bnei Brak came to a field near the Gaza strip to harvest wheat for Pesach. Every summer they search for wheat ripe enough to harvest in August — when the sun dries the wheat most intensely as part of the process in producing shmura matzah (matzo made from wheat specially guarded against moisture to prevent it from rising and becoming unleavened). The wheat is then stored till its use in baking matzos in the spring.

Since this is a Shemittah (sabbatical) year, they needed to harvest enough for two years’ worth of matzos. At Kibbutz Sufa, right next to the border with Gaza, they found a large field sown in mid-January (apparently a rare occurrence) with 2,000 acres of green wheat — was exactly what they needed.

With Operation Protective Edge’s air campaign under way, they could see the pillars of smoke over Gaza, and the Israeli air force hitting back against the Hamas missile launchers, but were nonetheless able to harvest the wheat and load it onto trucks for the cleaning and storage process in the plant located further north.

Two days later, in what is now a well-documented event, 13 terrorists, armed to the teeth, emerged from a tunnel which led from the Gaza strip and opened into the wheat fields of Kibbutz Sufa. The terrorists had been counting on emerging unnoticed amidst the tall wheat stalks all of which had just been cut down by the Bnei Brak Matzoh bakers. As such, they were immediately spotted by the Israeli army and were prevented from launching what would have been a horrendous terrorist attack intended to hit nearby homes all at once.

It is sad indeed that we suffer a secular, western [im]moral governance which embraces having an armed-to-the-teeth enemy entity on any piece of our land and at our collective doorstep, encarcerates Jews for defending themselves, tortures Jews based on false, trumped-up allegations, which endangers lives of chayalim through dangerous battle protocalls and much more. And it is equally sad that there are some amongst the observant, Torah world who would separate from their fellow observant Jews, would coerce and disparage those of their brethren not exactly like them rather than outreaching to them. Our governance, as well of segments of Am Yisrael have not yet internalized the deep spiritual meaning of Hashem having Brought Am Yisrael back to Our Home and having given us tools to facilitate His bringing about our eventual completeness and unity.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three and 3/4 years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.

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