Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Blessings of Bechukosai Teleichu

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 Shmittah. Rashi asks the classic question invoked when two matters seemingly unconnected are linked together: “Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai?” loosely translated as, “What does Shmittah have to do with Har Sinai?”

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

The Torah discusses the laws of Shmittah 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 Hashem.

Perhaps another reason for the linkage of Shmittah 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 for observing only one component of the mitzvos of Har Sinai.

Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai” teaches us that in order to merit the rewards of keeping Shmittah, a Jew must do far more than observe the laws of Shmittah. 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 states, “Es shabbsosai tishmoru umikdashi tira’uh, 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” in the posuk of “Shamor es yom haShabbos.”

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

Perhaps we can explain that the posuk is implying 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 kedushah of Shabbos demands shemirah lefonov ule’acharov.

It is common to describe a frum Jew as a shomer Shabbos. This is because in order to be considered a shomer Shabbos, you also must observe the other commandments. A shomer Shabbos Jew dresses differently, speaks differently, and eats differently, not only on Shabbos, but during the entire week. A shomer Shabbos Jew conducts himself with eidelkeit and ehrlichkeit, not only on Shabbos, but throughout the week as well. A shomer Shabbos Jew adds to the holiness of Shabbos by sanctifying the days before Shabbos and the days after it.

A shomer Shabbos Jew spreads 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 sheini b’Shabbos, etc.”

And so it is with a shomer Shmittah. 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 his observance of all the mitzvos, he will observe Shmittah. It is only the person who, after faithfully observing all the halachos during the other six years, can meet the great test of faith and leave his ground untouched during the seventh year.

The person who is fastidious about his observance of maaser and terumah, and leket, shikchah and peah, has no problem with Shmittah. The one who ensures that his animals do not run wild and damage other people’s property, and the one who makes sure that there are no michsholim on the paths which cut through his property, will be scrupulous with the dinim 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 is one who has the strength to let go when Shmittah arrives and depend upon Hakadosh Boruch Hu to feed him.

Vetzivisi es birchasi lochem.” Hashem promises His blessings to those who observe Shmittah, because those people are the ones who observe the laws handed down on Har Sinai day in and day out and not only on isolated occasions.

At the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim to explain the posuk of “bechukosai teileichu.” Rashi says that it means “shetihiyu ameilim baTorah.” The way to achieve holiness and perfection is by expending much energy to study and understand the Torah. The way to show that we are serious about following the path of Hashem and observing His mitzvos is by delving deeply and persistently into the difficult passages of the Torah.

The Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah writes that the Torah does not make a permanent impact on one who takes a lackadaisical approach to its study, nor on one who learns while indulging in earthly excess, or while satiated by food and drink.

The Torah belongs to the one who knocks himself out, so to speak, working to understand its words, and refrains from sleep in order to learn and understand the word of Hashem.

That is why a rebbi is obligated to teach the same passage to his student several times until the student understands it. If the student doesn’t understand what is being taught, the rebbi is not permitted to get angry, but should patiently explain it until its meaning is grasped. By the same token, a student should not be uncomfortable about admitting that he didn’t understand what is being taught. He should ask to have it explained and reviewed as many times as necessary until he understands it. Greatness in Torah requires total dedication. Only one who is consumed by ambition for spiritual greatness can grow in Torah.

Greatness is not inbred. It doesn’t come about from learning once a week. It isn’t accomplished overnight. It takes years of persistence and perseverance to constantly strive and aim higher. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of growth to reach the pinnacle.

As Torah mechanchim and mechanchos meet this week at the Torah Umesorah Convention, the world is in turmoil. We must do all we can to produce a new generation of leaders and giants to deal with the complex issues facing us.

Our ambition and drive must be to excel in Torah and avodah. We have to value excellence and appreciate it in others. We should demand the best for ourselves when it comes to spiritual matters and not easily compromise when it comes to what is really important in life. In a word, we must become ameilim baTorah.

Our chinuch system must teach our children to appreciate the gift of Torah they have been given. They need to realize that they are the Chosen People, chosen to live a life of kedushah and taharah, of simcha and sasson, and that they are not mutually exclusive. Torah breathes life into those who follow its ways. A Torah life is a blessing. One who understands that will happily dedicate their life to ameilus baTorah.

Children who appreciate the full picture of Yiddishkeit and know that ehrlichkeit and middos tovos are an integral part of their being, understand that fidelity to a value system is their birthright.

Jews who are reminded from a young age onward that shemiras Shabbos involves more than observing the lamed tes melachos, live on a higher plane the entire week and recognize that, by doing so, they are among the luckiest people alive.

Despite all the temptations thrown at them by society, and no matter what pressures and inducements they face, they will remain steadfast, focused, honest and upstanding. They will bring us all much nachas.

The Torah promises that if we are ameilim baTorah, if we work according to the Torah and concentrate our main efforts on Torah study and observance, we will be blessed and successful in all we do.

The Torah is what gives us our identity and what defines us. As we stand in the Sefirah period, we commemorate that we were freed from Mitzrayim so that we could accept the Torah on Har Sinai.

We count towards Shavuos, the day which marks our receiving of the Torah, to demonstrate that we are striving and reaching upward. Each day of the count we seek to improve ourselves so that we better appreciate the gift that is the Torah.

We don’t count the way one would normally count down to an anticipated date. We count upward. We are each saying, “I am not the same person I was yesterday. I am better. I have progressed yet another day and have taken another step towards my goal. I am on the way to realizing that the most important thing I can do is accept the Torah, study it, and follow it with devotion.”

If we want to excel in our lives as Torah Jews, we have to realize what those successful people described above realize. The key to success, both spiritual and material, is to devote oneself to the task with all our strength and talent.

We have to take ourselves and our responsibilities seriously. We have to take pride in our mission, so that we can succeed in being good Jews and good people. It won’t happen with a haphazard, lackadaisical approach, or by going through the motions perfunctorily. It demands a lifetime of ameilus coupled with discipline and determination.

Let us devote ourselves to our G-d-given task and thus merit the brachos that the parsha reserves for those who are ameil in Torah.


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