Wednesday, May 18, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Behar begins by stating that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai and then immediately turns to the laws of shmitah. Rashi asks the famous question rhetorically invoked when two matters as seemingly unconnected as shmitah and Har Sinai are linked together:

“Mah inyan shmitah eitzel Har Sinai,” loosely translated as, “What does shmitah have to do with Sinai?”

Rashi answers that the Torah juxtaposes the two pesukim to teach that just as all the minutia of the laws of shmitah were expounded at Sinai, the myriad details of all the mitzvos were likewise taught at that time.

The Torah discusses the laws of shmitah and then guarantees the blessings reserved for those who honor these laws, allowing their land to lie fallow every seventh year as a testament to their belief in the word of G-d.

Perhaps another reason for the linkage of shmitah and Har Sinai might be to teach us that one who seeks the brachos of shomrei sheviis should not delude himself into thinking that those blessings come cheaply—that all one has to do to earn them is observe shmitah.

“Mah inyan shmitah eitzel Har Sinai,” is to teach us that in order to merit the rewards of keeping shmitah, a Jew must do far more than observe the laws of shmitah; he must follow all the halachos and dinim that were handed down at Sinai.

This approach might explain an obvious inconsistency at the end of the parsha. The last posuk of Parshas Behar reads, Es shabsosai tishmoru umikdashi tira’u, ani Hashem. The Baal Haturim points out that in this posuk, the word “tishmoru” comes after the word “Shabbos,” whereas in Devorim, the command of shamor precedes the word “Shabbos.”(Shamor es yom haShabbos.)

The Baal Haturim quotes the Mechilta to explain that this is to teach that the Shabbos requires shemirah both before and after the exact time of Shabbos; one must extend the holy day at the beginning and at the end, adding chol to the kodesh.

Perhaps we can find a deeper dimension in this explanation, using the lesson we inferred from the posuk linking shmitah to Har Sinai.

The posuk implies that for one to be a shomer Torah umitzvos, it is not sufficient to only observe the 24 hour period which comprises Shabbos. One must also observe the many commandments governing day-to-day life during the rest of the week. The kedusha of Shabbos demands shemirah lefonav ule’acharav.

I remember the first time I was shown a Jewish cemetery in a small town far from New York. The property was divided in two; and I was told that one side is the Shabbosdiker and the other side is the vochadiker. It was then explained that the Shabbosdiker side held only Jews who had observed the Shabbos, even in the face of hardship. On the other side, the vochadiker, were the people who were unable to resist the temptations to be mechalel Shabbos.

These Jews had arrived in America penniless in the beginning of the past century, and the temptation to escape poverty by working on Shabbos was just too great for them. They would go to shul Shabbos morning and then head off to their jobs, driven by the fear of the heavy price they would have to pay for keeping Shabbos. The consequences of refusing to work on Shabbos meant being fired from one job after another and putting one’s livelihood in jeopardy.

It is not for us to judge them, but the ones who gave up on Shabbos became vochadiker Yidden. Their Yiddishkeit was vochadik—lacking in holiness—even though they did their best to keep all the other mitzvos. Ultimately, most of them and their descendants were lost to the Jewish people and when they passed away, they were laid to rest in the vochadiker bais olam.

The Jews who held fast to Shabbos observance were the Shabbosdiker Yidden, seven days a week; their lives were blessed, their homes were blessed and when they were laid to rest, they were placed in the Shabbosdiker bais olam. There they remain waiting for Moshiach to arrive and bring them back to life as Shabbos Yidden.

Boruch Hashem, our nisyonos are not as great as those faced by the people of that forsaken New England town I visited, but we all need to improve in certain areas to better qualify us as Shabbosdiker Yidden throughout the week. Shabbos has to affect the way we conduct ourselves during the entire week, and the way we behave during the other six days influences our observance of the seventh.

A Shabbos Jew dresses differently, speaks differently and eats differently, not only on Shabbos, but during the whole week. A Shabbos Jew conducts himself with eidelkeit and ehrlichkeit not only on Shabbos but throughout the week. A Shabbos Jew adds to the holiness of Shabbos by sanctifying the days before Shabbos and the days after it.

A Shabbos Jew spreads the kedushas Shabbos to everything he does from Shabbos to Shabbos. He anticipates and plans for Shabbos from Sunday onwards, as he specifies each day in relation to Shabbos, saying, “Hayom yom rishon b’Shabbos, Hayom yom shaini b’Shabbos, etc.”

And so it is with a shmitah gibor. It is very difficult for a person who lives off of the land to wake up one day and decide that although he has been lax in keeping mitzvos, he will observe shmitah. It is only the person who faithfully observes all the halachos hatluyos b’aretz the other six years who can meet the great test of faith of leaving his ground untouched during the seventh year.

The man who is fastidious about his observance of maaser and terumah and leket, shikcha and peah, has no problem with shmitah. The one who ensures that his animals do not run wild and damage other people’s property,; the one who makes sure that there are no michsholim on the paths which cut through his property will be scrupulous with the dinim as given on Har Sinai.

The person who conducts his business with emunah and bitachon and does not resort to chicanery and thievery to make his living, he is the one who will have the strength to let go when shmitah arrives and depend upon Hakadosh Boruch Hu to feed him.

“Vetzivisi es birchasi lochem;” Hashem promises his blessings to those who observe the laws of shmitah, because those people are the ones who observe the laws of Sinai day in and day out and not only on isolated occasions.

This theme runs through the subsequent pesukim [25: 17, 18, 19] in parshas Behar. “Do not harass one another… and you shall perform my chukim and observe my mishpatim and then you shall dwell securely in Eretz Yisroel, and the land will then give its fruit and you will be satisfied when you eat, and you will live securely…”

Those who seek to live with security need look no further than Parshas Behar. Those who seek peace should learn the lesson of “Ma inyan shmitah eitzel Har Sinai.”

Those who look for nachas from their children, for stable lives, for a healthy livelihood, should heed the lesson of the Shabbosdiker Yidden and of the shmitah Yidden throughout the ages.

Despite all the temptations thrown at them by society, no matter what pressures and inducements they faced to bend the rules a little bit here and there, they remained fastidiously devoted to the laws of Sinai. They did not bend in the wind, nor welt in the heat of the times. They remained steadfast, focused, honest and upstanding, seven days a week, seven years of shmitah and fifty years of yovel.

They were our parents and grandparents who led the way for us and lit up the path. Let’s follow their example and do the same for our children and grandchildren. We will thus merit the brachos of this week’s parsha and the other parshiyos of the Torah reserved for those who follow in the well-trodden path stretching from Sinai through the desert, the holy land… the inquisitions… Auschwitz… and the very streets on which we ourselves walk today, leading to the yom shekulo Shabbos, bimheira beyomienu, amen.


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