Home Subscribe Services Support Us
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz

Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc


Volume XIV, No. 32
15 Iyar 5760
May 20, 2000

Today's Learning:
Shekalim 2:5-3:1
Orach Chaim 298:9-11
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Ketubot 51
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Nazir 47

This week's parashah introduces the mitzvah of shemittah. Every seventh year, farmers are commanded to leave their lands fallow and lenders are commanded to forgive their loans. However, the Gemara and later authorities inform us, these mitzvot do not apply _according_to_Torah_law_ at a time when the majority of Jews live outside of Israel. Rather, these mitzvot apply today only according to Rabbinic law.

If so, wonders R' Shaul Yisraeli z"l (1909-1995; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav), why did the Sages devise ways to circumvent the literal requirements of these commandments? For example, the sage Hillel taught that a document called a prozbol allows a lender to collect loans after the shemittah. Instead of allowing us to use what appear to be loopholes to avoid keeping a Rabbinic mitzvah, asks R' Yisraeli, why didn't the Sages simply abolish that Rabbinic mitzvah altogether?

Also, even if using a prozbol is halachically permitted, R' Yisraeli writes, is it the "right" thing to do? He explains:

First, doing that which the Torah prohibited sullies our souls. However, that which the Torah did not prohibit, even if it is superficially similar to what the Torah prohibited, does not have the same negative consequence and may be done.

Second, it is an important aspect of halachic decision-making that whenever it is impossible to observe a mitzvah and the Sages therefore have to use their power to waive that mitzvah _temporarily_ (see, for example, Gittin 60a), the waiver should be enacted in a way that preserves a memory of the mitzvah. That way, both during the era when we do not perform the mitzvah and later, when it is time to begin performing the mitzvah again, we will remember that the mitzvah exists.

The midrash teaches: "One must always ask himself, 'When will my deeds reach those of my forefathers'?" This includes the obligation to yearn to perform the mitzvot which our ancestors observed and we cannot observe. (Ma'amar Shemittah B'mahalach Ha'dorot, reprinted in Gaon Be'Torah U've'midot p. 259)


"If you will say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year? - behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops!' I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three year period." (25:20-21)

R' Yosef Yoizel Horowitz z"l (the Alter of Novardhok; died 1919) asks: When would a person ask this? If it is before the sixth year, who thinks so far ahead to the shemittah year? If it is in the sixth or seventh year, the blessing will already have come, so what will there be to worry about?

R' Horowitz answers: In fact, it is human nature to worry about even the distant future. Already in the first year of the shemittah cycle, people are prone to worry about what they will eat in the seventh year.

The verse before the above verses says, "The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it." R' Horowitz explains that this verse is not a promise but a commandment. "Don't worry about the shemittah. Don't store away food during the non-shemittah years in preparation for the shemittah. Rather, I command you to eat your fill of the fruits of the first six years, and to feel secure about the future." (Madregat Ha'adam: Darchei Habitachon Ch. 6)

R' Shaul Yisraeli z"l (see above) adds: Much has been written about solving the "shemittah-problem." Some people sell their land to a non-Jew before the shemittah year and then continue to work the land as an employee of the non-Jew. Those who do not rely on that leniency have found other halachic methods so that they will be permitted to work the land during the shemittah. The lesson of the above verses, however, is that we should not see the shemittah as a problem. The shemittah is a test of our faith and a tool by which G-d can demonstrate that He watches over us, and we should lovingly accept it as such.

Many halachic authorities hold that the laws of shemittah do not apply _according to the Torah_ at a time when the majority of Jews live outside of Israel. Rather, the shemittah today is only a Rabbinic ordinance. R' Yisraeli notes that this Rabbinic decree demonstrates very starkly the holiness and faith of the Jewish people. The Torah promises that Hashem will multiply the produce of the sixth year in preparation for the shemittah, but who is to say that He will do so at a time when the shemittah does not exist according to Torah law? (So-to-speak, as far as Hashem is concerned, we may work the land in the seventh year, so why should He bless the produce of the sixth year?) Indeed, it is clear from various statements in the Gemara and Midrashim that there was a famine in Eretz Yisrael during many shemittah years. Nevertheless, the Sages demanded that we submit ourselves to this test of our faith.

An additional note: The Torah's promise that Hashem will bless the produce of the sixth year demonstrates beyond any doubt that the purpose of the shemittah is not to let the land lie fallow to rejuvenate itself, as is commonly done with farmland. If that were the case, the most successful year would be the year after the shemittah, not the year before the shemittah. (Ma'amar Shemittah B'mahalach Ha'dorot, reprinted in Gaon Be'Torah U've'midot p. 259)


"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine." (25:23)

The Torah has already stated above (verse 13) that land which has been sold reverts to its original owner when the Yovel/Jubilee year comes. What does this verse add?

Ramban explains that this verse prohibits even agreeing to sell land in Eretz Yisrael in perpetuity. Although such a sale would not be effective because it violates a Torah law, the mere agreement to make such a sale is a sin. Why did the Torah prohibit making such an agreement? Because, writes Ramban, it is human nature that it will be easier to fulfill the mitzvah of returning the land at the Yovel if one accepts the fact from the outset that he will be obligated to return it.

R' Simcha Zissel Broide z"l (see below) adds: The lesson of this verse, as interpreted by Ramban, is that life is full of challenges, but a person must seek ways to lessen the challenges that he will inevitably face. Thus, the Torah challenges a person to return the land that he has purchased, and the Torah instructs a person to make it easier on himself by recognizing early on that this land will not be his forever. (Sahm Derech: Bereishit Vol. II, p. 282)


Pirkei Avot

"Who is strong ('gibor')? One who restrains his [evil] inclination."

Why is this statement phrased in the present tense? R' Baruch Hager z"l (the "Seret Rebbe"; died 1965) explains that restraining one's desires is a constant challenge from which one may never rest. In fact, notes R' Chaim Meir Hager z"l (the "Vizhnitzer Rebbe" and R' Baruch's brother), the Torah does not want us to finish the task. The mishnah does not say, "One who has destroyed his inclination." True, one must restrain his impulses and evil inclination, but there is a time to use them as well. In Chazal's words, "Serve Hashem with both of your inclinations." (Mi'maayanot Ha'netzach, p.195)

"Rabbi Meir said: 'Minimize your involvement in commerce ("esek") and study Torah'."

R' Avraham Pinso z"l of Sarajevo writes: This can be understood in light of the gemara (Avodah Zarah 19b) which promises that if one studies Torah with the proper intentions, his investments will prosper on their own. It does appear superficially that this is not the case, but we cannot gage a person's inner motivations, and we therefore do not know whether he really deserves this blessing. Also, a person may study Torah with the purest of intentions, but forfeit this promise because of his sins. This is the likely explanation any time we see that a promise of the Torah is not fulfilled. (Katit La'maor)

"Do not focus on the pitcher but on its contents."

R' Pinso writes: This is an allusion to the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. It looks like an earthenware jar, something of little value. In fact, however, it is filled with the sweetest wine. How so?

We think of the yetzer hara as a pest. We are constantly fighting with the yetzer hara, trying to do good and to please Hashem. For doing so, we earn our places in the World-to-Come. But without the challenge which the yetzer hara presents, we would never earn that reward. (Ibid)

"Rabbi Shimon says, 'There are three crowns--the crown of Torah, the crown of royalty, and the crown of the priesthood- -and the crown of a good name is above all of them'."

Then aren't there four crowns? asks Rav Nachum Mordechai Friedman z"l (the "Tchortkover Rebbe"). He explains that the "crown of a good name" is not a separate distinction, but is the "crown jewel" of the other crowns. All of the Torah, royalty, and priestliness in the world are worthless if their master does not earn a good name as well. (Doreish Tov p. 197)


R' Simcha Mordechai Ziskind Broide z"l

This week marks thirty days since the passing of R' Simcha Mordechai Ziskind ("R' Simcha Zissel") Broide, one of the roshei yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Born in Yerushalayim in 1911, R' Broide was a grand-nephew of the "Alter of Kelm," one of the early leaders of the Mussar movement, and was his namesake.

In his younger years, R' Broide learned in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Later, he was accepted into Yeshiva Knesset Yisrael, the transplanted Slobodka Yeshiva in Chevron.

R' Simcha Zissel remained in Chevron until 1929, when, together with other survivors of that year's massacre, he relocated to Yerushalayim.

R' Broide wrote Sahm Derech, a collection of lectures based on Ramban's Torah commentary. (So far, only two volumes, covering the book of Bereishit, have been published. An excerpt appears below.) R' Broide died in Yerushalayim on the 16th of Nissan.

Sponsored by Marcia Goodman and family on the yahrzeit of father and grandfather, Yehuda Zvi ben Shlomo Halevi a"h

Mr. and Mrs. Jacob S. Edeson and Raizel and Tommy Stern in honor of the birthdays of Tommy Stern and Ian Hillel, Nathan, Helene, and Samuel Hirsch Edeson

Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further studyand discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), andyour letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.Text archives from 1990 through the presentmay be retrieved from Donationsto HaMaayan are tax-deductible.



View Complete List

Vows in a Time of Distress
Shlomo Katz - 5760

Long-Term Payout
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5761

Intention Equals Value
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5764


Shlomo Katz - 5772

Of Givers and Takers
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5762

Teaching Limits
Rabbi Aron Tendler - 5760

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Rabbi Berel Wein - 5776

The Heart of Gold - Perceiving Amalek
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5761

The Secret of the Mishkan
Shlomo Katz - 5768

> Who Goes Hither, Freind or Foe
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5773

A Tabernacle in Your Heart
Shlomo Katz - 5774

How Does One Perceive His Fellow Jew?
Rabbi Yosef Kalatzky - 5764

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Make Way!
Rabbi Chaim Flom - 5768

Exchange Sacrifices for Torah Learning
Shlomo Katz - 5759

A Heart of Wood
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5769

Sanctuaries Are Built
Rabbi Label Lam - 5768

Project Genesis Home

Torah Portion

Jewish Law



Learn the Basics




Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base


About Us

Contact Us

Free Book on Geulah! Home Copyright Information