Friday, May 19, 2006

Parshas Behar-Becuhkosai - Chazak!!

וכי תשיג יד גר ותושב עמך ומך אחיך עמו ונמכר לגר תושב עמך או לעקר משפחת גר

אחרי נמכר גאלה תהיה לו אחד מאחיו יגאלנו (25:47-48)

גאולה תהיה לו - מיד אל תניחהו שיטמע עד שנת היובל (רש"י)

Our verses discuss a Jew who has reached such desperate straits as to have no other option but to take the degrading step of selling himself as a slave to a non-Jew. Although he will automatically be freed in the next Yovel year, Rashi explains that the Torah obligates his relatives to redeem him immediately so that he not remain a slave and learn from his master’s foreign ways.

The Darkei HaShleimus notes that Rashi explains (26:1) that the passages in Parshas Behar are written in a specific order and hint to a chronological order of events and punishments. A person who refuses to observe the Shemittah year will suffer financial misfortune and be forced to sell his possessions. If he refuses to correct his ways, his fortune will continue to decline until he is forced to sell his ancestral land, his house, and ultimately himself, not to a Jewish owner but even to a non-Jewish master. If we would witness this unfortunate chain of events transpiring, it would be very natural for us to feel no pity for somebody who not only blatantly transgressed the mitzvos, but even stubbornly refused to open his eyes and accept the Heavenly rebuke. We would feel a certain satisfaction knowing that he is finally receiving what is coming to him and would be tempted to leave him enslaved until he naturally goes free in the Yovel year, and would certainly be unwilling to spend money in order to redeem him. However, it is precisely regarding such an individual – a child of Hashem’s – that the Torah has mercy and commands that he should be immediately redeemed in order to prevent him from falling even farther, a lesson which teaches us the importance of never giving up hope on the soul of even one of our Jewish brethren, no matter how distant and estranged they may seem at present.

וחשב עם קנהו משנת המכרו לו עד שנת היבל והיה כסף ממכרו במספר שנים כימי שכיר יהיה עמו (25:50)

The law is that a Jew sold as a slave to a non-Jew is obligated to work for him until the next Yovel year. Nevertheless, it is the duty of his relatives to redeem him as quickly as possible so that he not assimilate and learn from the foreign ways of his new master. Rashi explains that he is to be redeemed by dividing the amount paid for him by the number of years which remained at that time until the Yovel year, which yields the value to his master of each year of his work. This should be multiplied by the number of years he has already worked, which indicates the “value” of the work he has performed thus far. This amount should be subtracted from the original purchase price, and the remaining amount is the “balance” which his brethren must pay to his master in order to secure his freedom.

The Chofetz Chaim derives an inspiring lesson from these seemingly mundane and complex laws. A Jew living today who is told to yearn for the coming of Moshiach could easily despair and wonder how he will merit to see the coming of Moshiach, something which was denied to so many righteous individuals in previous generations. However, we learn from the aforementioned laws that the closer a slave gets to the predetermined time of his release (the Yovel year), the less money will be needed to purchase his premature freedom because of all of the work he has performed with the passage of time. Similarly, upon creating the universe, Hashem decreed a preordained time for the final Redemption, although He also stipulated that with sufficient merits, it would be possible to bring Moshiach before his time. In order to cause his arrival centuries in advance of the prearranged time, tremendous merits were necessary, something that even our most pious ancestors weren’t able to accomplish. As the time for the ultimate redemption draws ever nearer, however, and we continue to suffer at the hands of our non-Jewish neighbors, the remaining “balance” dwindles ever smaller, a balance which we are indeed capable of “paying off” if we only allow ourselves to serve Hashem to our maximum potential!

דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם איש כי יפלא נדר בערכך נפשת לד' (27:2)

Parshas Bechukosai is commonly known as the parsha of “tochacha” – rebuke, as it is full of frightening threats of unimaginable suffering and punishment to be meted out for those who refuse to observe the Torah’s laws. It is interesting to note, then, that the parsha ends with a section dealing with the laws of “Arachin” – the dedication of the value of oneself or another person to the Beis HaMikdash – a section which seems to be completely misplaced.

During the Holocaust, the Germans took a particular sadistic pleasure in torturing and tormenting the great Rabbis of the Jews. The pain and suffering endured by our most righteous leaders is unfathomable. In one particularly gruesome incident, a number of merciless Nazi officers decided to beat the holy Klausenberger Rebbe to the brink of death. After enduring seemingly endless blows, the officers asked the bleeding and only semi-conscious Rebbe if after all of this, he still believed that the Jews are Hashem’s chosen people, to which he responded unequivocally in the affirmative. Amazed at his seemingly naïve faith, they pressed him for an explanation, to which he replied, “As long as I am the victim down here on the ground and not the cruel oppressor that you are, I am able to raise my head proud and know that Hashem chose me and I proudly continue to do his will.”

The Kotzker Rebbe (quoted by Rav Mordechai Kaminetzky) and Rav Meir Shapiro explain that after reading the terrifying curses contained earlier in the parsha and seeing how they have sadly been fulfilled throughout Jewish history, Jews may begin to lose belief in their value and self-worth. As a nation, they have been persecuted and discriminated against more than any other people throughout the ages, and such intense national suffering could easily cause a person to give up hope and confidence. As a result, the portion outlining the painful times which will befall wayward Jews is immediately followed by the section dealing with the laws of “Arachin.” The Torah details therein how much a person is required to donate to the Beis HaMikdash if he chooses to dedicate his “value” to the Temple. This juxtaposition comes to remind us that even in the darkest times, after enduring the most intense and inhumane suffering fathomable, although we may not be accorded respect and value in the eyes of our non-Jewish oppressors, our intrinsic worth in Hashem’s eyes is eternal and unchanging.

וכל מעשר בקר וצאן כל אשר יעבר תחת השבט העשירי יהיה קדש לד' (27:32)

Rav Shlomo Aharonson was once collecting charity for a needy individual and received a substantial donation from two wealthy brothers in his town, for which he thanked them profusely. They were therefore a bit taken aback when he returned to them a mere three days later to ask them to contribute once again.

He explained to them that when separating מעשר בהמה – the tithe of one’s animals, the Torah mandates a procedure which appears to be needlessly time-consuming and complicated. The farmer is required to place all of his animals of his newbord flock into a pen and allow them to walk single-file through a narrow opening before him. As he counts them off one-by-one, he is required to touch each tenth animal with a staff dipped in paint in order to mark it as his tithe. If he has a large flock which grows by a substantial amount each year, this process can be quite time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be much easier to simply count the number of new animals, divide it by 10, and separate that number of animals to be brought as sacrifices, similar to the procedure used when tithing one’s produce?

Rav Aharonson answered that were the farmer to do so, he could easily focus on the enormous number of animals for which he has worked so hard that he is now being required to give away all at one time. However, when he watches the animals pass him one-by-one, he first counts off 9 animals which will be his to keep and only then separates the tenth one for Hashem, a procedure which is much more easily digested as it allows him to focus on how much good remains for him. Similarly, he advised the wealthy brothers to step back for a moment and reflect on how much new wealth they had accumulated in the three days since his previous visit, a perspective which would much more easily allow them to magnanimously share a bit of their profits with the less fortunate – which they were quite happy to do!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Virtually the entire book of Vayikra revolves around the Mishkan and the laws of the Divine Service performed therein by the Kohanim. Why were the Parshios of Behar and Bechukosai, which seemingly deal with unrelated topics, placed here? (Daas Z’keinim, Peirush HaRosh)

2) Rashi writes (25:1) that the Torah emphasizes that the mitzvah of Shemittah was given over at Mount Sinai in order to teach that all mitzvos, both their general principles and detailed rules, were also given over at Mount Sinai. How can this be understood in light of the numerous episodes – Pesach Sheini, the daughters of Tzelafchad, and the blasphemer – in which Moshe himself didn’t know the law and only discovered it upon asking Hashem at that time? (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 125, Maharil Diskin, Shiras Dovid)

3) All of the laws regarding the observance of the Shemittah year are written in the singular, while those pertaining to the Yovel year are written in the plural. Why the difference? (Rav Zev Frank quoted in Har Tzvi, Rogatchover Gaon quoted in K’motzei Shalal Rav, Yalkut HaDrash)

4) The Gemora in Bava Metzia (62a) discusses a case in which two people are lost in the nearest settlement, but if one of them drinks it, he will be able to survive. Rabbi Akiva derives from a verse in our parsha (25:36) that חייך קודמין – the one with the water should drink it all, as his life takes precedence over that of his friend. The Gemora in Kiddushin (20a) states that one who purchases a Jewish slave acquires a master for himself. Tosefos there quotes the Yerushalmi which states that if the owner possesses only one pillow, he is required to give it to his slave. Why don’t we apply here the principle of חייך קודמין to say that the master should get to keep it? (Chiddushei Mahari”t Kiddushin 20a, Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, K’motzei Shalal Rav)

5) On the blessing that the tree of the field will give its fruit (26:4), the Toras Kohanim explains that if Jews perform Hashem’s will, then trees won’t give forth fruits after years of growing as they currently do, but will immediately bear fruits on the day they are planted, just as they did in the times of Odom HaRishon. In what way will this blessing be beneficial, as the fruits produced during the first three years are considered “orlah” and forbidden not only in consumption but in all uses? (Har Tzvi, M’rafsin Igri, K’motzei Shalal Rav Parshas Kedoshim)

6) One of the blessings for proper Torah study and mitzvah performance is (26:6) that no swords will pass through the land of Israel, even if not for the sake of battle (Rashi). If so, how will the subsequent blessing (26:7) that you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword become fulfilled? (Mayan Beis Ha’shoeiva)

7) In the rebuke of Parshas Ki Savo, the Torah states explicitly (Devorim 28:47) that the punishments mentioned therein will come because “you didn’t serve Hashem with joy and gladness of heart.” Is this also the underlying cause of the suffering described in Parshas Bechukosai; if not, what is? (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 9:1)

8) The rebuke contained in Parshas Bechukosai concludes with words of comfort (26:42-45), in contrast to that in Parshas Ki Savo which contains no such consolation. Why the difference? (Ponovezher Rav quoted in K’motzei Shalal Rav, Sha’arei Orah)

9) One of the reasons given for the happiness associated with Lag B’Omer is that on this day, the students of Rav Akiva, who had died en masse every day since Pesach, stopped dying. The Gemora in Yevamos (62b) states that at this point, the entire world was empty of Torah scholars until Rav Akiva moved to the South and found five new students. How is the fact that his students stopped dying a cause for celebration when the reason that they stopped doing so is that they were all already dead?

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