All In A Day’s Work
ואיש כי ימכור בית מושב עיר חומה… ימים תהיה גאולתו (כה:כט).
“If a man sold his ancestral home inside a walled city… he has one year to redeem it back” (25:29).
The Torah uses the word “ימים, days” to connote a time period of one year. Why doesn’t the Torah just say “שנה, year”? What lesson lies behind this strange usage? Let us examine two other places where this word is used to mean a year which will help us understand the message behind it. Firstly, Avraham and Sarah’s advanced ages are described as “באים בימים, they were coming in their days”. Secondly, Lavan demanded that before Rivkah leave to marry Yitzchok, she should remain at home for “ימים” which Chazal tell us meant one year. Why not just use the proper word?
The lesson here is that a productive person does not see his life as years, rather, his focus is on making every day count! Every individual day is utilized to its fullest, thus building the large scheme of his lifetime. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt”l compares life to the construction of a magnificent crown. Every day is a gem that adds to its splendor. If one gem is missing, it does make a difference though.
The verse in Parshas Eikev states, “מראשית השנה עד אחרית שנה, from the beginning of the year until year’s end”. The famous insight expressed is an explanation as to why the year is referred to first in definite article form, “the year”, and then at the end of the verse “the” is omitted? As a new year begins a person excitedly decides that this is going to be the year (of change, growth and improvement). Sadly, as the time goes by, it often remains the same old, plain “year”!
You may have heard this before, but I would like to explain it in a very positive way, which I think is the main point and depth of the thought. Why does one fail to make it the year!? The answer to this quandary is of utmost importance to us, because we want to succeed! Precisely because one focused only on the entire year! To state that one will improve this year is all too general to ever be acted upon! Only one that lives with short-term goals as well will achieve success and fulfillment! We must train ourselves not to focus on the year, but rather to see the day and seize the opportunity! This mind-set makes all the difference. It invigorates and mobilizes one to act fast and not hide behind general plans!
Avraham and Sarah’s lives are described as “days” because this was precisely how they lived. Every day was thought out and used wisely. On the flip side, Lavan wanted to prevent the creation of Klal Yisrael by his sister and Yitzchok, thus to him, in an evil sense, he saw the value of every single day that he could delay their union!
The Torah’s use of “days” as a synonym for “year” teaches us a most relevant message. King David so eloquently expresses this message in Tehillim. “זה היום עשה ה’, Hashem endowed me with this day, I will rejoice and be happy as I utilize it properly!”
Resting Land, Stirring Soul
Parshas Behar discusses the resting of the land, once every seven years and once every fifty years. I have always had the question of, what is the difference between Shmitah (the sabbatical year) and Yovel (the jubilee)? What is the lesson?
The Radvaz writes that the secret of Shmitah is that it represents “nullifying physicality” and Yovel is “nullifying the Ego”. Allow me to elaborate my take on this…
We live in a world that is physical and thus distracts us from spirituality. We strive to connect to Hashem and realize that His Will is the only reality and worthwhile pursuit. When one works hard to produce his livelihood, he can easily forget that it is Hashem who is truly providing for him. Shmitah asks one to rest from the land. Do not work or sell your produce. For people whose sole income came from their fields, this was the ultimate test of faith. Hashem promised that those that ceased to do business would be supported and provided for by Hashem. Hence, by stopping work, one showed that he was able to appreciate that his property and the world was null and void compared to Hashem’s request.
Yovel was even more difficult and telling. With every seven years being Shmitah, that makes year forty-nine Shmitah, followed immediately by Yovel in the fiftieth year! Two years in a row without planing, harvesting or business! This was the supreme test of faith! This separated the men from the boys. Does one really believe that Hashem is the only provider? Hence, Yovel was the nullification of all personal feelings and agendas and the full subjugation to Hashem. The ego was tamed and curtailed. Man subjugated himself fully to Hashem.
In truth, both Shmitah and Yovel serve to build Emunah, but they are successive levels. Shmitah is stage one and Yovel is even deeper and personal. In life there are always two stages, Chachmah, learning new raw knowledge and after that comes Binah, contemplating and making the knowledge a part of us. Shmitah is the knowledge that Hashem owns the world. Yovel is the most powerful deepening and application of this. First, nullification of material possessions and next nullification of the ego, the deepest recognition.
When the Kallah circles the Chosson seven times and they get married, this is exactly what’s happening. The seven circles represent Shmitah (7th year) and express an exclusiveness and nullification of the surroundings, there is nothing outside of us. Next, he marries her with a deceleration and ring. Marriage represents his connection to the woman, Binah (there are 50 Gates of Understanding!), and the nullification of personal egos with the goal of unifying and becoming one by connecting with Hashem….
Indeed, Yovel no longer applies nowadays, but the lesson and growth is available to be appreciated and lived.
The most famous words of Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai state that Hashem demands that we be Amel, toil, to understand Torah. Much has been said here…
I have always found the words of the Shulchan Aruch on this topic to be most enlightening. It reads (OC 139:10), we state two Berachos before and after reading from the Torah. The second Beracha delineates the two parts of Torah. “Asher Nassan Lanu Toras Emes, Hashem gave us the Torah of Truth”, this refers to Torah Shebichsav, the Written Torah. “V’Chayeh Olam Natah B’Socheynu, eternal life, He planted within us”, this refers to Torah Shel Baal Peh, the Oral Law. They are both truth? And what does a plant have to do with anything?
The difference is that the Written Torah is the Chumash which was dictated by Hashem to Moshe. Its crowning feature is just that, its exact Divine essence. It is the total epitome and embodiment of Truth which all truth emanates from.
The Oral Law is the part which we study and extrapolate upon based on the rules of Torah study given to us at Sinai. Its main point is achieved through sweat and toil. Just as a tree must be nurtured and tended to in order to produce fruit, so too, only through toil and work will one produce results in Torah. This is why it’s referred to by the words, “growing plant”. True Amel yields delicious and most rewarding fruit.
Close to Hashem
What’s the connection?! This is Rashi’s most famous question that begins our Parsha. Why is Shemittah connected with the concept of Har Sinai?
The theme of the Parsha is one: unrelenting faithfulness and connection to Hashem. A farmer worked hard to cultivate his field and support his family and then the seventh year arrived. He was now expected to refrain from working in recognition that Hashem is the provider of all sustenance and He commanded that the land rest during the 7th year which is Shemittah. This was a most humbling and centering experience. One placed himself totally in Hashem’s hands. It took a courageous commitment to take such a leap, and Hashem always delivered! The Torah promises that anyone who keeps Shemittah will be supported by Hashem Himself!
This is why Har Sinai is mentioned regarding the Mitzvah of Shemittah. The purpose of every single Mitzvah given at Sinai is the same as the goal of Shemittah, to bring one intimately close to Hashem. Every experience in life is meant to bring us in contact with the Master of the World.
The Parsha continues with Yovel, another Mitzvah which takes full faith. Property, slaves and many other things go back to their original owner. Yovel was another year that one was not allowed to work his land. Another Mitzvah is that of Onaas Mamon and Onaas Devarim, paining another person through taking advantage of him with monetary unfairness and the prohibition of paining another with words. This is all part of the theme of the Parsha. How so?
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) explains what stops one from trying to take advantage of his friend monetarily. If we believe that Hashem is the provider of our sustenance and He decrees how much money we should have irrespective of how much effort we increase in its attainment, then we will be honest and fair in business. It is only someone that lacks this belief that feels that he can make more money by manipulating others. Additionally, it is the same regarding Onaas Devarim, when we are connected and dedicated to Hashem, then our commitment and treatment of others is in line with this. The intricate nuances and complexities of how we speak and interact with others is one that only we know in our heart what we intended by our words and intimations. When we truly are connected to Hashem, we constantly ensure that our speech and treatment of others is done with the proper love and respect befitting of another precious child of Hashem. The theme of the Parsha is that of the entire goal of Har Sinai, to bring us deeply and intimately close to Hashem!
Inside and Outside
After an entire Parsha (Behar) discussed the laws of Shemitah and before a Parsha (Bechukosai) which talks about the rewards and punishments for one who keeps or disobeys the Torah, we find one seemingly out of place verse . The last verse in Parshas Behar states (Vayikra 26:2), “Obey My Shabbos and revere My sanctuary, I am Hashem.” What are the topics of Shabbos and Mikdash doing here, they seem to have nothing to do with anything before or after it?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895 – 1986) explains that the Parsha of Behar discusses Shemitah and the laws of selling one’s land and oneself into servitude. If one is in need of money and thus sells himself to a gentile, his Jewish brothers must redeem him immediately. This was the last topic mentioned. When someone lives by the gentiles he may pick up theirs beliefs and attitudes. He may begin to act and perhaps worship like them. He may have been influenced by their incorrect religious perspectives. Many non-Jews think that the place of worship of God is in the Church or Temple. The worship takes place there and stays there only. When inside the place of worship one prays and gives charity, however, when one is away from the church, then he or she is free to live life according to his own whims. This leads to a life of abomination and a misplaced belief that the church is intrinsically holy as a place. (Whereas this may not be the perspective of every gentile today, it certainly was the case in the time of the Torah and can be easily traced to many of today’s current trends.)
The Jewish perspective is that we are taught to act like a Jew on the outside and on the inside. The Shul is a place where we come to pray and connect with Hashem and our private lives are also a time to serve Hashem filled with laws and moral obligations. The Mikdash is a holy place and our own private celebration of Shabbos is an expression of our connection with Hashem in private, thus covering all fronts.
Rabbi Feinstein concludes that even though our sins have caused the Bais Hamikdash to be destroyed, the sanctity of the Jewish life and Shabbos still remains. The verse states, “Keep my Shabbos and revere my sanctuary.” This is to teach us that the Jewish life revolves around the service of Hashem in the Mikdash, our places of worship, and in the home, similar to the celebration of Shabbos. This verse comes right after talking about a Jew who was sold into slavery by a non-Jew. The Torah wishes to ensure that the Jewish person always remembers that our private worship of Hashem is of vital importance.
Parshas Bechukosai talks about the blessings and curses which are contingent upon our observance of the Torah. We are reminded by this verse that the proper focus is on growing closer to Hashem in public and private. Showing respect to our sanctuaries and honoring the Shabbos brings great joy and happiness to us.
Parshas Behar/ Bechukosai
When one reads the parsha of Bechukosai the theme of punishment and curses seems to be quite dominant. Is this the way that the Torah wishes for us to view life? Are we to be overcome with fear, gripped by anxiety and always wondering if we are good enough for Hashem? What is the proper perspective of this matter?
Look at Construct
Rabbeinu Bechaya notes (based on a Midrash that we do not have) that the blessings in the Torah begin with the letter Alef and end with a Tuf, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet; whereas, the curses begin with the letter Vav and end with the letter Hey (two letters at the beginning of the Alphabet which are located next to each other, with the Hey followed by the Vav). The significance of this expresses a most important message. Blessings are the main goal of the Torah, this is why they span from Alef to Taf. Curses are meant to be minimized.
Although the Torah does elaborate on the punishments for those who rebel against Hashem, this is only to stress the point that life is serious and following the Torah is a requirement. The curses are expressed through the letters Vav and Hey which are right next to each other to show their limited focus. Hashem wishes not to ever have to utilize them. More so, it is important to note that the curses begin with a Vav and end with the letter that comes before Vav, with a Hey. The curses are so to speak going backward instead of moving forward. This is because Hashem want to curtail them.
Left and Right
Rabbeinu Bechaya (Kad HaKemach) points out that the left and right hand represent kindness and judgment. Most people are righties and only a minority of people have a left hand that is stronger or are ambidextrous. (In the past people used to force children to become righties even if they showed a preference for their left hand, thus making lefties very uncommon.) Rabbeinu Bechaya states that the right hand represents the strength and generosity of Hashem. Therefore, to hint to this Hashem made man’s right hand strong and dominant. On the other hand, literally, the left hand is weaker in man because it hints to the din, judgment, found in this world, which is less prevalent. Rabbeinu Bechaya points out that if one contemplates all of the kindness that Hashem does for us on a daily basis his heart will be filled with joy. Hashem gives us food, clothing, air, health, enjoyable moments and many meaning moments. When one focuses on all of the good that Hashem provides us with, one will recognize all that he has to be thankful for.
The curses of Bechukosai are meant to show us that Hashem has expectations from us. But they are not primary. It is the blessings which Hashem expresses from Alef to Taf and wishes to bestow upon us. Hashem gives us opportunities to grow and to fix our mistakes. He wants to bestow only kindness and enjoyment upon us.
Mind Over Body
וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב (כו:מב). “I will remember my covenant with Yaakov” (26:42).
Rashi informs us the reason that Yaakov’s name is spelled here with an additional vav (יעקוב). There are five times that ‘Yaakov’ is spelled with an extra vav and five times that ‘Eliyahu’ is spelled with his vav missing (אליה[ו]). This is to signify that Yaakov took this letter from Eliyahu’s name as a collateral to assure that Eliyahu would come to redeem the Jewish people from exile! Now this certainly is a deep Torah secret, but let us delve into it to see what we can glean.
The Chida (Chomas Anach) quotes the following fascinating Chazal. Eisav got his name because he was born highly developed and full of hair. His name shows that he was עשוי, fully made! Yaakov received his name because he grasped on to the heel of Eisav struggling to emerge first, thus עקב, heel. Yaakov stole the Yud of עשוי, making his own name יעקב, and left his brother with עשו. In the future when Mashiach comes, Yaakov will take the vav of עשו as well and will become יעקוב while leaving only Eisav as עש, moth, a worthless tiny creature! This too is a Torah secret, but perhaps we can gain a practical lesson from it all!
The Chida goes on to explain that Yaakov’s action of taking the letter vav on five occasions hints to two important letters. First and most obvious is the ו, vav itself, the letter which he took. The second is the number of times that he took it which is five and is equivalent to the hebrew letter ה, hey, hence ו-ה. These two letters are highly significant for Chazal say that as long as Amalek is alive in the world, Hashem’s name (י-ה-ו-ה) is minimized to only י-ה, G-d, and is lacking its ending of ו-ה! Thus, the bringing of Mashiach will restore the final two letters. What does this all mean?
Putting it All Together
Amalek’s (עמלק) etymological root is מליקה, decapitation of the head. Why is this their name and essence? Hashem gave us freewill by providing us with a brain and a body. Our body has animalistic and earthly drives; it desires the pleasures of this world. Our brain on the other hand knows what is good and true and desires spirituality and perfection. With our conscience decisions we can choose to control our impulses and steer ourselves towards proper actions. The battle rages and victory is only in the hands of one who kings his intellect over his body thereby making his knowledge guide his actions. Thus, a head decapitation signifies a separation from knowledge and bodily application. The body is removed from the head’s control. Amalek strives for us to cut off our heads (knowledge and connection to Hashem) and rather let our bodies rule! The Holy Seforim write that theי-ה of Hashem’s name represents knowledge and the ו-ה at the end represents the body, physical action. Our job is to connect them, whereas Amalek strives to detach them! (Indeed, Eisav, the grandfather of Amalek and founder of their hedonistic worldview died by decapitation and his head was buried in the Cave of Machpeila! His body, the ruler of his life, surely did not belong in that holy burial plot!)
Thus we can begin to understand the above quoted Chazal. Yaakov’s role out of the three Avos was to be the family builder of the Jewish nation; to show the twelve tribes how to live their lives connected to Hashem. Yaakov desired to connect the ו-הto the י-הand to act accordingly! In fact, when Mashiach comes Yaakov will undermine all of Eisav’s strength by grasping his vav (physicality), and taking it, showing that he had conquered it! Yaakov entrusted Eliyahu with this responsibility as well. Thus, the two letters which the Chida found hinted in the words of Chazal (the letter ,ו vav, and its five times (,ה hey) that it was taken from Eliyahu) were precisely the letters which represent the practical application (ו-ה) of Torah observance! Eliyahu thereby became the enforcer of Torah law. He was entrusted to act when necessary, to ensure that the nation was living by Hashem’s commands.
Indeed, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) tells us that Eliyahu stated that he will arrive to announce Mashiach when we repent and listen to Hashem’s voice! In Eliyahu’s time he saw that the people weren’t acting properly and thus he made a public display of Hashem’s sovereignty on Mount Carmel. He took action and entreated his fellow brothers to follow his lead! Hashem rewarded Eliyahu by sending him to be present at every Jewish Bris Milah, circumcision, as this act shows our willingness to subjugate every part of our body to act for Hashem. (Incidentally, this is hinted by the word בריתי in our exact verse!)
Eliyahu was a reincarnation of Pinchos the Kohen. Pinchos is most famous for his passionate action for the glory of Hashem when he rose from among the Jews to protest and punish Zimri’s terrible sin against Hashem. The theme here is action! Additionally, Eliyahu HaNavi performed resurrection of the dead on a young boy. That child grew up to be the prophet Yonah, whose book stresses the theme over and again that we must act in accordance with the will of Hashem! This is the precise idea here.
Surely the concepts discussed here are of a very lofty nature, but the lesson that we see is clear. Our job in life is to live by the beautiful truths that we have in our heads and to apply it as best that we can to our everyday lives. Indeed, we all know that although this is often a most difficult task, when we do it we are rewarded with the greatest happiness and fulfillment available to mankind!
The Value of Life
After the hair-raising curses found in our Parsha, the Torah discusses the laws of Erachin, giving the Torah set value of a person to the Beis HaMikdash. The commentators point out that this is found right after the curses and rebuke of Hashem in order to stress to us that one should not get disheartened by the curses and feel that he is not worth much. Each person is precious and valuable in the eyes of Hashem.
There are two types of monetary donations that one can give. One is if he promised to give the “Erachin, set Torah amount” of an individual, then the donor opens the Chumash and gives the amount prescribed by the Torah based on age and gender. Every person fits into a specific category and the price is always the same for the entire spectrum of people in that category regardless of health, honor or standing. If however, someone promised to give “Damim, the monetary market value” of another person, then the price fluctuates based on age, strength, skills and any other factor that are specific to that person (Megillah 23b). What is the difference?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895-1986) explains that each person has two values, one value is from being a part of the Jewish Nation and the other is through his or her individual talents. The Erachin stresses that each Jew is precious and given equal opportunity to greatness. If someone promised to give the Erech, Torah value, of Moshe Rabbeinu at age 120 and that of another simple Yid who was also a 120 year old male, he would pay the same amount. Each Jew is precious. If someone promised to donate the Damim, market value of Moshe Rabbeinu, that would be an entirely different amount than for any other Jewish person. The value would reflect Moshe’s individual greatness.
I once heard in the name of Rav Moshe Shapiro a brilliant insight based on the laws of the domains of Shabbos. The Reshus HaRabim, public domain, only lasts until 10 tefachim high, however, Reshus HaYachid, private property, goes up infinity high. This signifies that in a group there are limitations. There is a limitation as to how high a group can go as there are various impediments placed on them collectively. However, the individual’s growth and greatness are unlimited. Just as in Halacha one’s home is considered a Reshus HaYachid, so too spiritually, one can grow to unlimited heights together with his or her spouse and family as it says (Yehosua 24:15), “I am my household will serve Hashem.” Each family has their special blend and ability to achieve greatness!