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Vedibarta Bam And You Shall Speak of Them
Volume III Vayikra


by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
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"G-d spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai... the land shall observe a Shabbat rest for G-d... the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land." (25:1-4)

QUESTION: What is the connection between shemittah and Mount Sinai?
ANSWER: Shemittah is proof that the Torah was given to the Jewish people by Hashem. When the Torah relates the laws of shemittah, it also guarantees that although the fields will be idle in the seventh year, the crop of the sixth year will be blessed so that it will produce enough for three years; the sixth, seventh and eighth years.

Such a guarantee could only be given by Hashem. Thus, the Torah's inclusion of the laws of shemittah, which were certainly given by Hashem, proves that the entire Torah was given by Hashem on Mount Sinai.

In addition, a human being knows that every year the harvest of the field becomes weaker, so that the first year after shemittah it would yield the most produce, and in the sixth year it would yield the least. A human being would not guarantee that which defies the laws of nature. Only Hashem, who transcends and controls nature, can promise something that is not in accordance with nature. This, then, is proof that Torah was given to us from Hashem on Mount Sinai.

"The land shall observe a Shabbat rest for G-d." (25:2)

QUESTION: The word "Shabbat" seems to be superfluous. Could it not have said, "Veshabta ha'aretz laHashem" "The land shall observe a rest for Hashem"?
ANSWER: The solar calendar contains approximately 365 days, which equals 52 weeks plus one day. Since in every period of seven days there is a Shabbat, during the entire year there are at least 52 Shabbatot with one extra Shabbat every seven years. When the farmer uses his land, in reality it is working continuously every day of the week and not resting on Shabbat. Hence, in a period of six years the land works a total of 312 Shabbatot.

Therefore, the Torah designated the seventh year as shemittah, so that for the 312 days plus the 52 Shabbat days of the seventh year, and the one additional Shabbat which accumulated over the seven year period, the land will rest and totally observe Shabbat for Hashem.

"The land shall observe a Shabbat rest for G-d." (25:2)

QUESTION: Rashi comments on the words Shabbat LaHashem,, "for the name of Hashem, just as it was stated (in the Ten Commandments, Shemot 20:10) regarding the Shabbat of creation" the Shabbat throughout the year.
What is the connection between the shemittah year and the Shabbat?
ANSWER: Hashem gave the Jews Shabbat as a time for spiritual rejuvenation. For a person who spends the weekdays immersed in work, Shabbat is to be a day of Shabbat laHashem devoted to prayer, Torah study, and becoming closer to Hashem, not merely a time of leisure or rest from the hard work of the week.

Rashi is teaching us that the year of shemittah should be like Shabbat a year devoted to study and prayer, enabling one to come closer to Hashem.

"In the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for G-d." (25:4)

QUESTION: The words "Shabbat laHashem" seem to be superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say, "In the seventh year the land shall have a complete rest"?
ANSWER: In Israel, the month of Nissan is the time when the fields are harvested. The month of Tishrei is the season for pressing olives and grapes. The Talmudic sage Rava instructed his students not to come to yeshivah during the months of Nissan and Tishrei so that they would be free to pursue their livelihood and not have to worry about how to sustain themselves throughout the year (Berachot 35b). Thus, while the year was dedicated to Torah study, there was a respite during the months of Nissan and Tishrei.

During a six-year period, there was a total of twelve months (one year) when Torah was not studied with proper diligence. To make up for the time missed in service of Hashem, we have the Sabbatical year of shemittah when the fields are not worked. This entire year must be "Shabbat laHashem" dedicated to Hashem through Torah study.

"But the seventh year... your field you shall not sow... It shall be a Jubilee Year ... you shall not sow, you shall not harvest." (25:4,11)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah use singular verbs (tizra) when discussing shemittah, but plural ones (tizra'u) for the yoveil the Jubilee year?
ANSWER: The laws of yoveil only apply when all the tribes are in Eretz Yisrael. According to the Gemara (Arachin 32b), once Sancherev exiled the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menasheh, the laws of yoveil no longer applied.

Since yoveil applies only when all the Jews are in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah uses the plural. However, shemittah is observed even if there is only one Jew in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, shemittah is discussed in the singular form.

"And you shall make holy the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants; a Jubilee it shall be for you, each of you shall return to his possession and each of you shall return to his family" (25:10)

QUESTION: The freedom proclaimed in the Jubilee year was primarily for the slaves. Why does the Torah say "lechol yoshvehah" "for all its inhabitants"?
ANSWER: Although being sold into slavery is demeaning, the Torah demands that the master treat his slave with great sensitivity and dignity. Thus, the Gemara (Kiddushin 20a) says, "Whoever purchases a Hebrew slave is actually acquiring a master." According to the Jerusalem Talmud (see Tosafot ibid.), if the master has only one pillow to sleep on, the slave has priority to it. Consequently, in the Jubilee year, "all inhabitants," both the slaves and the masters, enjoy a period of freedom.

"A Jubilee shall be that fiftieth year for you: you shall not sow." (25:11)

QUESTION: On the third day of creation, the plants only grew up to a point immediately below the surface of the ground. On the sixth day, after his own creation, Adam prayed for rain, and plants began to appear on the earth's surface. Why did they only grow up to the surface and not further on the third day?
ANSWER: The first day of creation was the 25th of Elul, with man being created on Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei (see Rosh Hashanah 8a). According to the Midrash (Psalms 90:4), "The Torah preceded the world by 2000 years." In accordance with the Torah command designating every fiftieth year to be yoveil (the Jubilee year, in which farmers in Israel are forbidden to work the land), the 2000th year was the fortieth yoveil year, ending with the first five days of creation.

Our sages explain the pasuk, "He tells His words to Yaakov, His laws and His judgments to Israel" (Psalms 147:19) to mean that He commands the Jewish people to do the things which He does Himself (Shemot Rabbah 30:9). To show how He, too, observes the mitzvah of yoveil, Hashem created the plants on the third day, but didn't allow them to grow out of the ground as it was still the yoveil year. On the sixth day of creation, the first day of the new year following the yoveil, Adam was allowed to work the fields, and so Hashem answered Adam's prayers for rain and let the plants emerge.

"When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, a man shall not aggrieve his brother." (25:14)

QUESTION: Why is the emphasis on one's "brother"; isn't it forbidden to defraud anyone?
ANSWER: The famous Chassidic Rabbi, Reb Nachum of Chernobyl was once approached by a distinguished-looking person who offered to teach him secrets of Torah. Reb Nachum said, "I cannot accept your offer until I consult with my Rebbe." When he sought his Rebbe's advice, the Mezritcher Maggid replied, "It is good that you came to ask, because that person was a representative of the spiritual forces which oppose holiness."

"Incidentally," the Rebbe asked his disciple, "What gave you the idea of inquiring before accepting his suggestion?"

Reb Nachum answered, "When I was young, my mother passed away and my father remarried. My stepmother was very cruel to me. I once came home from yeshivah for lunch when she was not home and noticed that she had left some fried eggs on the stove. Not wanting to waste time, I decided to serve myself and took a portion smaller than what she would normally give me. She returned home while I was eating and abruptly struck me across the face. I began to cry, and pleaded with her, 'Why did you hit me? I took less than what I normally receive!' She replied, 'I am punishing you because alain nemt men nit One should not take anything alone without permission.' Since that very day I learned not to take anything without permission, regardless of how good or desirable it may be."

One may rationalize that it is justifiable to cheat a brother because he should extend his assistance to help family members in time of need. Moreover, as a "brother" he will surely understand and forgive. Therefore, the Torah declared, "A man shall not aggrieve his brother" it is forbidden to take from anyone, even a brother, without his knowledge and permission.

"And the land shall yield her fruit and you will eat your fill." (25:19)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize "piryah" "her fruit," rather than say "peirot" "fruits"?
ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 5:9), when Hashem created the world, the earth was capable of producing fruit the very day it was plowed and sowed. The trunk of the tree was supposed to taste the same as its fruit, and even non-fruit-bearing trees yielded fruit.

After Adam sinned, the earth was cursed and we no longer enjoy any of these blessings. All these qualities will occur again in the days of Mashiach (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai 1:3-6).

With the word "piryah" her fruit the Torah is hinting to us that after the redemption, when we will come to Eretz Yisrael and observe the Torah and all its precepts, the land will produce her fruits according to her fullest potential as it was in the days of creation.

"If you will say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year?' I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year and it shall bring forth produce sufficient for three years." (25:20-21)

QUESTION: Such a question would only be asked by a heretic. Why does the Torah anticipate it and provide an answer?
ANSWER: During the sojourn in the wilderness, Hashem sustained the Jewish people on manna, about which the Torah says, "It tasted like a cake fried in honey" (Shemot 16:31). While one would expect the people to be grateful to Hashem for giving them such tasty food; they were nevertheless unsatisfied and complained, "Our soul is parched, there is nothing, we have nothing to anticipate but the manna!" (Bamidbar 21:6) Why such ingratitude?

A Jewish person is compounded of an earthly body and a soul which descended from Heaven. Our food also contains sparks of G-dliness. A Jew is supposed to eat not only for physical strength but also lesheim Shamayim for the sake of Heaven (to have strength to serve Hashem and study Torah) and by doing so, he elevates the sparks of G-dliness in the food. This process is known as "birur hanitzutzot" (separating and elevating the G-dly sparks), and is alluded to in the Torah: "Not by bread alone does man live, but rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d (G-dliness within the food) does man live" (Devarim 8:3).

Since the manna was a Heavenly food, it was entirely holy, and thus needed no spiritual elevation and there were no sparks mingled with the physical to elevate. Consequently, the Jewish people were unsatisfied, because eating such food was not in itself a spiritual service.

When Hashem gave the Jews the mitzvah of shemittah and instructed them to leave the fields idle, they worried that during the seventh year Hashem would again sustain them with manna, and thus they became apprehensive about the entire mitzvah of shemittah. Therefore, Hashem said, "If you [righteous people] say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year?' [apprehensive that it would be manna, do not fear because] 'I will bless the land to yield a sufficient crop for the three-year period' and, thus, you will continue to elevate G-dly sparks by eating earthly food."

"If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his possession, his relative who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother's sale." (25:25)

QUESTION: Why is this law stated in the singular, while the laws stated in the previous pesukim are in the plural?
ANSWER: Often, success and affluence bring great popularity. An affluent person has many friends and associates who enthusiastically greet him and eagerly participate in his celebrations. When the wheel of fortune takes a turn and he is no longer on the giving end, friends and even family suddenly turn down his requests for help, advising him to turn to someone else.

The Torah, therefore, speaks in the singular, to stress that when one is in need, everybody should consider it his responsibility to offer help and to see himself as the sole individual capable of coming to his brother's aid.

"If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him should come and redeem his brother's sale. If a man has no redeemer, but his means suffice and he acquires sufficient means to redeem it." (25:25-26)

QUESTION: The words "Ve'ish ki lo yiheh lo go'eil" "If a man has no redeemer" seem superfluous? Also, the word umatza and he acquires (finds) seems unnecessary, couldn't it just say, "oh hisigah yado kedei ge'ulato" "or his own means become sufficient to redeem it" [It may be bought back by dividing the sale price by the number of years from the sale until yovel, and giving the difference to the buyer], as it says in (25:49)?
ANSWER: The wheel of fortune took a turn on a wealthy person and his assets dwindled day after day. As this was happening, he became very sad and despondent. One day, after he lost all his wealth, he visited the public bath house and someone stole his clothing. Upon learning of this, he began to dance and rejoice. People asked him in amazement, "When you were losing only some of your riches you were very downhearted, why are you now so happy when you have lost everything?" He replied, "In the world there is a wheel: some are on top and some on the bottom. When I was on top and started going downward I was very sad, since I did not know where I might end up. Now that I am all the way down and even my shirt has been stolen, I know I cannot go down any further, so undoubtedly, I will start turning upward again from now on."

The Torah is alluding to this and telling us that when one reaches a state of poverty when he has to sell his ancestral heritage, and he has no redeemer in the entire world to come to his assistance, then Hashem will see to it that "vehisigah yado" "he will have means [through], "u'matza" "and he will find" i.e. acquire, "kedei ge'uloto" sufficient for the redemption.

"If your brother becomes impoverished and his means fail with you, you should strengthen him whether proselyte or resident so that he can live with you." (25:35)

QUESTION: Why are the words "umatah yado imach" "and his means fail with you" necessary?
ANSWER: Helping the poor is one of the greatest mitzvot in the Torah. Sometimes the needy may unknowingly turn for assistance to those formerly wealthy, but currently experiencing financial hardship. The Torah instructs us that when "umatah yado" "his means fail" "imach" "together with you" that is, you are now also experiencing financial hardship nevertheless, you must help him as much as possible, with the confidence that Hashem will bless you both.

Hashem promises that "vachai imach" so that he can live with you both you and he will merit divine blessings and live comfortably.

On this pasuk, the Midrash (34:1) quotes from Psalms (41:2): "Praiseworthy is the one who acts wisely for the impoverished; G-d will deliver him in a time of trouble." What message is the Midrash imparting to us?

In view of the above explanation, the link between these pesukim is easily understood: The phrase "beyom ra'ah" "in a time of trouble" does not refer to the receiver's trouble but to the giver's. Thus, King David is saying, "Praiseworthy is the one who acts wisely for the impoverished and extends aid to the needy [even] when he himself is in a time of trouble, that is, experiencing financial difficulties.

Why does the Torah use the word "maskil" "acts wisely" rather than "notein" "gives"?

The Hebrew term "dal" "pauper" is sometimes written with a "kamatz" and sometimes with a "patach." Here it is written with a "kamatz." The "patach" is pronounced with an open mouth and "kamatz" (according to the Ashkenazi accent) is pronounced with a closed mouth.

There are two types of impoverished people. One makes his impoverishment publicly known and openly asks for aid. The other is embarrassed and does not share his problems with anyone else. The talkative one will definitely arouse the concern of people, and many will come to his aid. However, the discreet individual whose state of poverty is unknown may, G-d forbid, falter.

Consequently, King David praises the person who is "maskil" "acts wisely" to the "dal" the poor man with the "kamatz" and finds a way to help him, even though he is silent and not beseeching.

"If your brother becomes impoverished and his means fail with you, you should strengthen him whether proselyte or resident so that he can live with you." (25:35)

QUESTION: "Vehechezakta bo" means, "strengthen in him." Should it not have said "vehechezakta oto" "you should strengthen him"?
ANSWER: Tzedakah is often viewed as the rich giving the poor. However, in the Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 34:8), Rabbi Yehoshua says, "More than the rich do for the poor, the poor do for the rich." The rich man who gives the poor man money is helping him temporarily with his daily needs. In return, through tzedakah, the rich man's assets become blessed and he is also greatly rewarded in olam haba.

Our pasuk alludes to this by saying "vehechezakta" "you will find strength for yourself" "bo" "in him" that is, through helping the poor man.

"Do not take from him interest and increase and let your brother live with you." (25:36)

QUESTION: How is the phrase "let your brother live with you" connected with not taking interest?
ANSWER: When a person lends money on interest, he profits with every day that passes. Thus, the lender wants every day to be as short as possible so that more days pass and he will earn more money. On the other hand, the borrower prays that each day should become longer so that he will have to pay for fewer days. Consequently, these two people have a different outlook on time. By giving an interest-free loan, the lender will not pray for a shorter day and the borrower will not pray for a longer day, and thus, "your brother will live together with you" with the same outlook on time.

Alternatively, the punishment for one who takes interest is extremely severe, to the extent that he will not arise at techiat hameitim the resurrection (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hilchot Ribit). The words "vachai achicha imach" allude to this: We are warned not to take interest so that when techiat hameitim the resurrection takes place all Jews will live together again.

When Rabbi Akiva Eiger was the Rav in the city of Pozen, a very wealthy man who often lent at interest passed away. The chevra kadisha (burial society) demanded that the family pay an enormous amount of money for the burial plot. The family refused and complained to the civil authorities.

The Rabbi explained the following to the authorities: "The Jewish people believe that after the coming of Mashiach, the resurrection will take place. Since we anticipate Mashiach's coming speedily, the deceased will be buried for a very short period of time. Therefore, the fees for burial plots are nominal. Unfortunately, since this man violated the prohibition of lending with interest, he will not arise at techiat hameitim. Thus, he needs a grave for an unlimited period of time. Hence, the chevrah kadisha was just in requesting the seemingly large amount of money from the family."

"Let your brother live with you." (25:36)

QUESTION: In Gemara (Bava Metzia 62a), Rabbi Akiva says that this pasuk teaches us that, "Chayecha kodemin lechayei chaveirecha" "Your life comes before that of your friend." Therefore, if two people are traveling in a wilderness and one has a supply of water sufficient for only one person, he may drink it himself so that he will survive, although his fellow traveler will die of thirst in the interim.
How can this be reconciled with the Gemara (Kiddushin 20a) that says, "He who acquires for himself a Jewish slave is actually acquiring a master over himself," and Tosafot explains it to mean that if he has only one pillow, the slave has priority to use it?
ANSWER: In the case described by Rabbi Akiva, each one of them is obligated to assure that his friend survives. Since, in this situation, this is impossible (the water is only enough for one) we say that your life comes first. However, in the case of the slave, the master is commanded to assure that, "Ki tov lo imach" "For it is good for him with you" (Devarim 15:16) but the slave does not have such an obligation towards the master. Therefore, the master must yield the use of the pillow to the slave.

Alternatively, the rule of Rabbi Akiva applies only in matters of life and death, and not when the issue is a matter of luxury or comfort. Hence, although a person should keep the water to save his life. In matters of luxury or comfort, however, one should deny oneself the luxuries and give them to his slave or friend.

"Do not take from him interest... I am G-d your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt." (25:36,38)

QUESTION: It is written in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei'ah, Hilchot Ribit 160:2) that he who lends with interest denies the Exodus from Egypt.
What is the connection between the Exodus and lending with interest?
ANSWER: At the Brit Bein Habetarim (Covenant Between the Divided Parts) Avraham was told by Hashem that the Jews would be enslaved in a strange land for 400 years and that "the nation they shall serve I shall judge." If the Egyptians fulfilled Hashem's decree, why were they punished?

The Ra'avad (Teshuvah 6:5) answers that although the Jews had to work for the Egyptians, they had no permission to overwork the Jews with hard labor. For taking more than they were allowed from the Jews (similar to taking interest), they were punished with ten plagues, and the Jews left Egypt with great wealth, after being there only 210 years.

A Jew who lends money with interest shows that he believes the Egyptians did nothing wrong and that they did not deserve punishment for the additional hard labor they imposed upon the Jews. Thus, he denies the justification for the accelerated Exodus from Egypt due to the unwarranted hard labor.

"Your money you shall not give him upon interest." (25:37)

QUESTION: The Hebrew word for interest is "ribit"; why is "neshech" used here?
ANSWER: Rich and poor alike sometimes need a loan, and a person may feel somewhat depressed when he has to ask for a loan. The word "neshech" can also mean "bite." The Torah is teaching that when you are approached for a loan, give it with a smiling countenance and a pleasant attitude. Do not make biting comments that will distress the borrower.

The same also applies when giving tzedakah to the needy give it with a smile, and don't say anything that would, G-d forbid, add to the pain of the poor person.

"Your money you shall not give him upon interest." (25:37)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis on "kaspecha" your money?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, there are people who only extend a loan when they receive high interest in return. Often, due to high interest rates, the borrower is unable to operate and must declare bankruptcy. Consequently, the lender ends up with nothing. The Torah warns "et kaspecha" your money do not lend on interest, because if you do, not only will you not receive the interest, but you will also lose your money.

"Either his uncle or his uncle's son shall redeem him." (25:49)

QUESTION: Why is the word "dodo" spelled without a vav after the first daled?
ANSWER: There is a question in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 98b) whether King David himself is going to be Mashiach or one of his descendants. The word "dodo" without a vav can be rearranged to spell the name David. Thus, the Torah is intimating that either dodo David himself, or "ben dodo" a descendant of David "yigalenu" shall redeem him K'lal Yisrael.

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