Parashat Behar / Bechukotai
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat
Yaffa bat Sarah, Janet Safdieh, A’H,
by her family.
Parashat Behar / Bechukotai
This week’s parasha talks about the Shemitah —fallow. It opens with, “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them: When you come to the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem; for six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather in your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem; you shall not sow your field, and you shall not prune your vineyard (25:1-4).”
The Jewish farmers in the Land of Israel are required to let the land lie fallow, or rest, every seventh year. Plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting, are forbidden by halacha. Additionally, any fruits or herbs which grow of their own accord and where no watch is kept over them are deemed hefker—ownerless and may be picked by anyone. Just imagine if someone told you to close your business for an entire year, every seventh year. How would you survive? If you think about this concept, it’s an unbelievable test that these farmers have.
Shemitah is compared to Shabbat by Rambam in that both Shemitah and Shabbat bear testimony to Hashem’s creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh. The seven years of the Shemitah cycle also allude to the six thousand years of history that will peak by the seventh millennium at Mashiach’s arrival, which will be a period of peace and tranquility.
“The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it (25:19).” Rashi says that in return for observing the Shemitah laws, the Jews would not be exiled. We were in galut for seventy years between the first and second Batei Mikdash because of seventy Shemitah years which were not properly observed.
Hashem offers assurances that those who let their land lie fallow will not suffer famine. This parasha guarantees that the year before Shemitah, the land will produce a crop large enough to last for three years—the sixth, seventh, and eighth—until the crop planted in the eighth year is harvested.
We might think that the soil is an inanimate object that doesn’t need rest, but from an agricultural perspective, the land needs rest to grow to produce properly. Hashem gave us the Land of Israel, and He gave us a set of instructions on how to use the land most effectively. The Ohr HaChaim mentions the miracle that is this promise. The sixth year should be the weakest because the land produced for six straight years. But it’s that very year that Hashem blesses the land to produce crops for three more.
According to the Chatam Sofer, the laws of Shemitah prove that only Hashem could be the Author of our holy Torah. If a human being invented such a law, he would have to be crazy to make such a promise — because if it wouldn’t happen, he would be disproven. Only G-d can make such a statement and be right about it!
Parnasah Comes from Hashem
Shemitah is a test just like Shabbat, because our parnasah is not in our hands, although we may believe that it comes from our efforts. Rabbi Diamond always taught us that our work is muchrach ve’lo—necessary, but it doesn’t do anything, which is a very difficult concept to comprehend. Parnasah comes from Hashem. Though it’s necessary to put in our hishtadlut—effort, the actual sustenance comes from Hashem. Some people may think not working on Shabbat and not harvesting during Shemitah will be a hindrance to their income, when in fact, doing so will make them lose more!
The laws of Shemitah are juxtaposed with the subsequent pesukim dealing with a person who descends to the lower levels of poverty. Chazal explain poverty is a direct consequence of refusing to follow the Shemitah laws. If a farmer tries to defy Hashem by keeping his farm going through the seventh year, it will not only not benefit him. On the contrary, it will take him down a very slippery slope of poverty, to the point where he’ll have to sell everything he owns until he ultimately finds himself on the receiving end of charity!
Rabbi Avraham Bukspan writes in his book “Classics & Beyond” most often we are caught up in worrying about our own needs rather than those of our neighbor’s needs. If someone’s neighbor goes running to him, frantic, saying that he won’t be able to pay his rent that’s past due, the man would console him by saying, “Relax, have bitachon, Hashem will take care of you.” They are kind words but they’re just words. When it comes to us, however, we’re busy saving money, sometimes at the expense of our spiritual growth. We live in fear and concern, while we tell our friends to have faith and trust.
Rav Yisrael Salantar was quoted as saying, “We worry about our own physical needs and everyone else’s spiritual needs, yet it should be the reverse. Our concern should be for our neighbor’s physical needs and our own spiritual needs.” We need to strengthen our own bitachon in Hashem while saving the worry for other people. Rav Yaakov Yosef writes that Shemitah constitutes a yearlong lesson in bitachon in Hashem. It takes courage, but the reward is great. We see firsthand the power of Hashem—that there is really nothing to worry about.
Follow, Observe, and Perform
The first passuk in Bechukotai begins, “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them… (26:3)” This passuk seems a little redundant because it repeats itself three times with, “follow,” “observe,” and “perform.” Rashi explains that the passuk is talking about toiling in Torah study. We must know that the study of the Torah is the essence of a Jew and it’s what separates us from all the other nations of the world. This passuk is a hint to learn Torah and review our learning repeatedly. Toiling in Torah study is an incredible achievement.
The next passuk goes on to discuss the blessings Hashem will bestow upon us if we follow His commandments. “I will give rain in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit (26:4).” Follow Hashem’s decrees, commandments, and ordinances, and you will have a livelihood, beracha within your family, and you’ll be protected from your enemies. This is everything a person could want!
“But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments, and if you consider My decrees loathsome and reject My ordinances in order to annul My covenant, then I too, will do the same to you (26:14-16).” If we don’t follow the Torah, Hashem says He will turn His back on us. We will work and be unsuccessful. We will watch our enemies prosper.
It isn't wisdom and talents that make one successful, only Hashem’s blessing. Whomever Hashem chooses to give wealth to, is the one who will get it. If we follow Hashem’s decrees, success will follow!!
The Missing Vav
The Torah says, “And I will remember my covenant with Yaakov, and even my covenant with Yitzchak, and even my covenant with Avraham will I remember, and the Land I will remember (26:42).” This passuk contains the rather unusual spelling of the name Yaakov with five letters—yud, ayin, kuf, vav, and vet—rather than the usual four letters—yud, ayin, kuf, and vet.
Rabbi Frand cites Rashi, who quotes the midrash, which says that the spelling of the name Yaakov with a vav occurs in five places in Tanach. And that the spelling of the name Eliyahu without the normal vav at the end also occurs five times. The midrash explains that in those five places, Yaakov our Patriarch figuratively took a letter from the name of Eliyahu as a pledge to guarantee that Eliyahu Hanavi would announce the arrival of Mashiach.
“Eliyahu will only come to make peace in the world as it is written ‘Behold I send to you Eliya the prophet (Malachi 3:23).’” If the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, then the only way it will be rebuilt is if there is peace in the world. As a community and as a nation, we must find a way to come together and make peace between ourselves.
Yaakov Avinu chose the letter vav as collateral that Eliayhu would finally come and make peace amongst us. The letter vav always joins two words, two phrases, or two thoughts together. The meaning of the word vav itself is “hook”. Clearly, if there is any letter in the Hebrew alphabet that symbolizes connection and togetherness, it is the letter vav. Yaakov knew prophetically that there would be disputes before the coming of Mashiach. The only way for Mashiach to eventually come will be when peace is restored to the world.
Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh—All Jews Are Responsible for One Another
Lag Ba’Omer was this week, demonstrating the close of the mourning period for Rabbi Akiva’s students, in which we learn to treat our fellow Jews with the utmost respect. It was February of 2011 when Rabbi Yotav Eliach led a trip to Israel for a group of 50 American high school students. The last stop of the trip before they went to the airport was the cemetery in Har Herzl. As you can imagine, walking through the cemetery and looking at the graves of the young soldiers who gave up their lives and hearing their heroic stories can be a very emotional and moving experience. “The most difficult place to visit,” said Rabbi Eliach, “is Har Herzl. And that is because instead of the young burying the old, the old is burying the young.”
As Rabbi Eliach explained to the students the sacrifice that these young soldiers and their families had made, he suddenly noticed an elderly couple standing just a few feet away crying over a grave. Rabbi Eliach noted, “Everything I had been saying about what it means to parents and families was right there. It was very clear that this was a mother and father visiting their child’s grave.”
The tombstone included a picture of a young Israeli soldier named Erez Deri. One of the students leaned over and gently asked the mother, “Could you tell us a little bit about your son?” Mrs. Deri began relating how Erez was a paratrooper in the Israeli army and was tragically killed in 2006. But then Mrs. Deri told the group of students something which left them speechless. “Last night I had a dream. Erez came to me and said, ‘You didn’t merit to lead me to my chupah. Instead, I would like you to dedicate a Sefer Torah in my name. If a Torah is written in my memory, it will be as if you are sending me to my chupah.’”
But that was not all Erez relayed to his mother. He had something even more surprising to say. “Go to Har Herzl. There you will find good people who will help you write a Sefer Torah.” Those ‘good people’ who Mrs. Deri would meet the next day were this group of students.
One student remarked, “Something about this woman just sparked a connection with us, and we decided to take on this project to fundraise for a Sefer Torah and dedicate it in memory of Erez. We told Mrs. Deri we would be back next year with a Sefer Torah to fulfill her dream.” This group was a mix of secular kids and religious kids, kids from both yeshivot and public schools. They all felt so passionate about taking on this momentous project.
Exactly one year later, the same group of students returned with a brand-new Torah and headed to Ma’ale Adumim to write the final letters. They gathered in Erez’s room, noticing his uniform hanging pressed against the wall. On his desk, the Sefer Torah was laid down as the last few letters were written. “I was in tears,” Erez’s mother later said. “I was so emotionally moved. I felt as if all of Am Yisrael was with us.”
Everyone felt the excitement as they concluded adding the last letters and began parading down the street. All types of Jews from all walks of life were there, dancing and singing in unison. Am Yisrael was there.
A story like this ought to make us feel proud to be a part of the Jewish people. Jews can meet anywhere in the world, whether it be in a cemetery in Israel, or in an airport in Beijing. It makes no difference where, but there is an immediate feeling of connection, regardless of how different we look on the outside. Even if our homes are thousands of miles away, our hearts are so close. In order for Mashiach to come, the Jewish people will have to use the “vav” and become interconnected and inextricably bound to one another.
May we always follow Hashem’s laws and keep them sacred. May we continue to learn Torah and make it a priority of our days and nights. May we truly connect as a nation and witness the coming of Mashiach in our days! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
How would you feel if Hashem commanded you not to work for a whole year every seven years?
Shining Light on the Parasha
is available to purchase at
Eichlers, Mekor Judaica, and Tehilat Yitzchak in Brooklyn.
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Le’ilui Nishmat… Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher Avraham Ben Garaz Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah Avraham Ben Mazal Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana Rahamim Ben Mazal Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam Ovadia Ben Esther Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal Moshe Ben Yael Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal Meir Ben Latifa Chanah Bat Esther Yaakov Ben Rachel Malka Bat Garaz Moshe Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Kami Yaakov Ben Leah Mordechai Ben Rachel Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal Natan Ben Rachel Saadia Ben Miriam Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon Margalit Bat Mazal Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama Yehoshua Ben Batsheva Luratte Bat Masouda Esther Bat Menucha Uri Ben Rahel Rivka Bat Dona Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah Le'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at email@example.com. Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mailed to Jack Rahmey at 2387 Ocean Avenue Suite #1G, Brooklyn, NY 11229 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah”) Anyone interested in past parashiot please go to the website ParashaPerspective.org