Look Before You Leap
Volume 21, No. 43
4 Elul 5767
August 18, 2007
Bava Metzia 10:3-4
O.C. (Mishnah Berurah) 2:4-6
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Yevamot 107
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Yoma 9
R' Moshe Schwab z"l (1918-1979) writes: With the arrival of the month of
Elul, we are faced with the question, "What is Elul?" How is this month
different from every other month?
R' Yisrael Salanter z"l said, "Every month should be Elul, but Elul is
Elul." R' Schwab explains: All year long, a person should act the way we
try to act during Elul. At least, when Elul arrives, one should be aware
that his life, both the material and spiritual aspects, hangs in the
balance. This is true of oneself, of one's family, and of every member of
the Jewish People.
Elul is the time to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days on
which, we believe with perfect faith, we will be judged. We understand
that everything that will happen, whether on a personal or communal level,
depends on those days. Yet, one cannot "leap" into Rosh Hashanah. One
must prepare for it. To the degree that one prepares himself, to that
extent he will experience Rosh Hashanah. Conversely, to the degree that
one is lax in preparing for Rosh Hashanah, to that extent he will miss out
when Rosh Hashanah comes.
A person who knows that he has a court date in the distant future does not
let his life be overshadowed by that upcoming event. However, as that
date looms near, the litigant begins to fixate on it. So should we be
when Elul approaches. All year long, we know that Rosh Hashanah is in the
distant future, and we ignore it. When Elul comes, it is time to start
focusing on our upcoming court date. Chazal say that on Rosh
Hashanah, "Every living creature passes before Hashem." This really
means, "Every living creature." There are no exceptions. (Ma'archei Lev
Vol. I, p. 57)
"The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say, `Who is
the man ha'yarei / who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return
to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows, like his
R' Meir Horowitz z"l (1819-1877; the Dzikover Rebbe) notes that the
word "ha'yarei" appears twice in the Torah - here and in Shmot (9:20),
regarding the plague of hailstones: "Ha'yarei / Whomever among the
servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and his
livestock to the houses." What is the significance of this pairing?
At first glance, we would assume that a person who is afraid of
everything, even his own shadow, so-to-speak, does not fear G-d. A G-d-
fearing person knows that we have nothing to fear but G-d Himself.
However, our initial presumption might be wrong. A righteous person does
fear something else - his own sins and their consequences.
Our Sages say that when the officers announced that whoever is fearful and
fainthearted is exempt from army service, they referred to those who were
fearful of dying in battle because of their sins. [In particular, the
Gemara singles out the sin of talking in the middle of davening.] Our
Sages' interpretation is alluded to by the two appearances of the
word "ha'yarei." Do not think that the fearful person in our verse is one
who does not fear G-d. He is fearful because he fears G-d. (Imrei Noam)
"They shall speak up and say, `Our hands have not spilled this blood,
and our eyes did not see'." (21:7)
These words were said by the elders of a city in proximity to which a
corpse was found. Our Sages ask: Would we think for a moment that the
elders murdered a hapless traveler? Rather, the elders are saying: We did
not see this traveler. Had we seen him, we would have given him
provisions for the road, which might have saved his life.
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (Chida; died 1806) quotes a certain R'
Ephraim who notes that the Hebrew words "lo shafchu" are an acronym
for "Levayah / accompaniment, achilah / food, shetiyah / drink, parnassat
kol ha'derech / provisions for the whole way." (Nachal Kedumim)
[This coming year - 5768 - will be a shemittah / sabbatical year, when
certain agricultural activities are prohibited in Eretz Yisrael. In
preparation, we are devoting a portion of each issue to legal and/or
philosophical aspects of the sabbatical year. The following laws are
taken from Chapter 2 of Sefer Ha'shemittah, by R' Yechiel Michel
Tukochinski z"l (1872-1956), a prominent halachic authority in
Yerushalayim, probably best known outside of Israel for his work Gesher
Ha'chaim on the laws of mourning.]
The shemittah includes four general commandments:
1) Letting the earth rest from agricultural work, as the Torah says
(Vayikra 25:2), "The land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem."
The Torah also states (Shmot 34:21), "You shall desist from
plowing and harvesting," and (Vayikra 25:4-5), "Your field you
shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune; the aftergrowth of
your harvest you shall not reap and the grapes you had set aside for
yourself you shall not pick."
One does not transgress the law of "You shall desist from plowing and
harvesting" unless he physically works the field of a Jew, whether his
own field or the field of another Jew. However, the owner of a field
transgresses the positive commandment of "The land shall observe a
Sabbath rest for Hashem" if his field is worked by anyone, even a non-
2) It is a mitzvah to abandon the produce of one's fields that grows in
the seventh year and to declare it hefker / ownerless, as it is written
(Shmot 23:11), "And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and
unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat . . ."
All produce that grows on its own, whether on trees or in the fields, must
be treated as hefker. One may bring from them into his house like
anything that he acquired from hefker. However, one may not lock his
gardens. One who does lock his garden or who gathers all of his produce
into his house [at one time] transgresses this positive commandment.
If one did guard his produce, most poskim / halachic authorities hold that
the produce does not thereby become prohibited [although a mitzvah was
Fields that are adjacent to non-Jewish communities, like fields on the
borders of Eretz Yisrael, may be guarded so that they will not be looted.
In such a case, it appears [R' Tukochinski writes] that one may bring more
than his immediate needs home at one time; however, one should harvest
with a shinui / a change from the ordinary method. Of course, even in
such a field, one must let any Jew take from the produce.
3) It is a mitzvah to treat the produce of shemittah with sanctity and not
to market or waste it. This is learned from the verse (Vayikra 25:6),
"The Sabbath produce of the land shall be yours to eat," [i.e., to
eat, but not to market or waste]. This mitzvah includes the requirement
to destroy all of the remaining produce at a certain time, for the next
verse continues, "And for your animal and for the beast that is in your
land shall all its crop be to eat." [Ed. note: From here our Sages
learned that each type of produce of the shemittah may be eaten only so
long as it is found in the wild. This mitzvah, called "Biur," will be
discussed in a future issue.]
4) The fourth commandment is not dependent upon the Land. It is to
forgive outstanding loans at the end of the shemittah year. [This, too,
will be discussed in a future issue.]
More "Ma'aseh Rav" from the Diaries
In addition to the historical interest of Eleh Masei, subtitled "A Journal
of the Journey of the Rabbis, Members of the Committee to Raise the Crown
of Judaism in Our Holy Land, Who Toured All the Settlements of Shomron
[Samaria] and Galil [Galilee] in the Winter of 5674 ," the work from
which we have been presenting excerpts this past year is significant as a
source of reliable information about the halachic practices of some of the
leading Torah figures of early 20th-century Eretz Yisrael, especially R'
Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l, later Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the
Holy Land, and R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, z"l, later Chief Rabbi of the
Eidah Ha'chareidit in Yerushalayim. Such halachic rulings, derived not
from the express rulings of Torah scholars, but rather from their actions,
are referred to as Ma'aseh Rav / action of the rabbi. We presented some
examples two weeks ago, and below are some additional ones.
In Teveryah, R' Kook, who was a kohen, did not enter the place commonly
referred to as the grave of Rabbi Meir Ba'al Ha'nes. [Even though there
are authorities who maintain that the graves of tzaddikim do not generate
ritual impurity and there are others who maintain that nobody is buried in
the "grave" of Rabbi Meir Ba'al Ha'nes - at least not a Jew - R' Kook
In Poriah, the rabbis praised the actions of the settlers, who caught an
Arab thief and turned him over to the governing [non-Jewish] authorities
rather than taking the law into their own hands. The rabbis noted their
awe of the settlers who, because it was late at night when the thief was
caught, gave him dinner and a comfortable bed for the night.
Upon leaving the settlement of Merchaviah, the rabbis opted to travel in
the less comfortable and less dignified wagon owned by a Jew over the
nicer wagon of a non-Jew. [By so doing, they fulfilled one or both of the
following mitzvot: (1) doing business with a Jew; and (2) giving charity,
since the wagon driver likely was poor, and the highest form of charity is
to give someone a job.]
[Finally, one of the participants in the rabbis' tour, R' Ben Zion Yadler
z"l, recorded in his own diary that R' Sonnenfeld would get down from the
wagon from time-to-time and walk alongside because, he explained, walking
in Eretz Yisrael is itself a mitzvah.]
Copyright © 2007 by Shlomo Katz
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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