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