Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Behar-Bechukosai


V’safarta lecha sheva shab’sos shanim sheva shanim sheva pe’amim (25:8)

After relating the mitzvah of allowing the land to rest every seven years during Shemittah (the Sabbatical year), the Torah adds an additional requirement to count a series of seven cycles of Shemittah, as well as the years within each cycle, at which point work working the land is once again forbidden during the fiftieth year, which is known as Yovel (the Jubilee year). Although we certainly must keep track of the years and cycles in order to know when to allow the ground to lie fallow, why does the Torah mandate an actual mitzvah of counting the years and cycles?

In Pirkei Avos (1:15) Shammai teaches that one should make his Torah study fixed. In his commentary on this Mishnah, Rav Ovadiah Bartenura explains that a person’s primary occupation throughout the day should be studying the Torah, and whenever he grows weary and needs a break, he may engage in mundane work. He should not adopt the opposite approach of spending the bulk of his waking hours involved in his job and studying Torah only when he has a bit of free time.

While it would certainly be ideal if everybody could devote the bulk of the day to Torah study, the S’fas Emes acknowledges that this is not always a realistic plan. Therefore, he suggests an alternative explanation for the obligation to make one’s Torah’s study fixed. He explains that the factor which determines what is considered the primary focus of a person’s day is not the number of hours in which he is occupied in each activity, but what he mentally prioritizes and looks forward to as the most important part of his day.

If he works long hours to provide for his family but is constantly gazing at the clock to see how many hours remain until the shiur (class) that he attends, he has made Torah study the primary activity of his day. By the same token, somebody who is enrolled in a yeshiva but regularly checks his watch to see how much time is left until the end of the learning period or how many weeks remain until the end of the z’man (semester) is demonstrating that even though he spends countless hours in the study hall, the activities to which he most looks forward are mundane in nature.

In light of this explanation, the S’fas Emes explains that farming is an extremely labor-intensive profession. The amount of time and physical energy that a farmer must devote to his field in pursuit of a successful harvest is tremendous. In order to help him keep his priorities straight, the Torah commands the Sanhedrin to count the Shemittah cycles and years as a means of reminding the farmers to focus on looking forward to the Shemittah and Yovel years, during which they will be required to put their farm equipment away and spend an entire year engaged in uninterrupted Torah study.

Im bechukosai teileichu v’es mitzvosai tishm’ru v’asisem osam v’nasati gishmeichem b’itam (26:3-4)

Unfortunately, in our generation, there is no shortage of families suffering from serious financial, medical, and marital distress. However, Rav Yaakov Galinsky suggests that for all of the pain and suffering that they are compelled to endure, the even greater tragedy for many of them is that in their pursuit of segulos (supernatural cures) and other easy solutions, they remain oblivious to the only true Source of merits and blessings: Torah study and mitzvah observance.

Rav Galinsky offers an insightful parable to depict the folly in doing so. In the middle of the desert, a group of Bedouins dwelled peacefully and simply in their tents. However, they were only able to attain their greatest need – water – by traveling long distances to draw it from wells and transporting back to their tents in pails carried by donkeys, which was certainly an arduous process.

One day, some of the Bedouins traveled to visit a large city, where they were astounded by the sight of a most remarkable invention: the faucet, which supplied cold, fresh, clean water to every home and building that they encountered. The Bedouins quickly realized that the faucet had the ability to revolutionize their lives, so they quickly hurried to a hardware store and purchased faucets for all of the tents in their village.

Excited by their good fortune, the Bedouins hurried home and installed the faucets on the walls of their tents and tried to turn them on, but they were shocked when not a single drop of water emerged. They contacted the store to report that the faucets they had purchased were all defective. The store sent a representative to examine the situation, and when he arrived at the village to inspect the faucets, he began to laugh uncontrollably. The Bedouins demanded an explanation for his amusement over their suffering. He replied by explaining to them that the faucet itself is a simple piece of metal with no water inside; it only has the ability to produce water if it is attached to a series of pipes which connect it to a source of water. In the absence of any semblance of plumbing, installing the faucets on the walls of their tents was an exercise in futility.

Similarly, Parshas Bechukosai clearly and explicitly lays out a long list of wonderful blessings awaiting those who toil in Torah study and scrupulously perform the mitzvos. The Torah, which is compared to water, is the source of all blessing and good in the world, but only to those wise enough to invest the time and energy connecting themselves to it through Torah study and mitzvah observance. Unfortunately, those who spend their time seeking shortcuts and segulos are bound to be left with useless faucets and no water to drink.

V’tam la’rik kochachem (26:20)

One of the greatest and most well-known Rishonim, whose legal opinions and explanations of the Gemora are widely quoted and debated until the present day, is Rabbeinu Tam, a grandson of Rashi who lived in the 12th century. However, it is interesting to note that his birth name was actually Yaakov. How did he come to be universally known by the peculiar appellation “Rabbeinu Tam?”

In K’Motzei Shalal Rav, it is related that somebody once had a dream in which he received a most fascinating explanation for this historical curiosity. The law is that when a married woman dies, her husband inherits her possessions. The Toras Kohanim on our verse explains that the curse of “Your strength will be spent in vain” refers to a case in which a person gives a large dowry to his daughter upon her marriage only to have her die shortly thereafter, causing the possessions and money for which her father worked so hard to pass from his family.

One of the laws which Rabbeinu Tam enacted in his lifetime was that the estate and possessions of a woman who dies within 12 months of marriage shall be inherited by her father (or his next-of-kin) instead of by her husband (Sefer HaYashar 579). Because his actions brought an end to the curse of v’tam la’rik kochachem, he became universally known as Rabbeinu Tam.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (25:14) that when a person buys products, he should buy them from a Jew, and when he sells merchandise, he should sell to a Jew. Although a person is required to spend money for the performance of mitzvos, to what extent is he required to buy from a Jew or sell to him if it would be cheaper or more profitable to make the transaction with a non-Jew? (Ahavas Chesed Dinei Mitzvas Halva’ah 5:7, Ayeles HaShachar)

2) The Torah addresses the potential concern over lack of food to eat in the Shemittah year by stating (25:21) that Hashem will bless the crop and cause it to suffice for three years. Is this blessing still in effect at present? (S”ma Choshen Mishpat 67:2, Chazon Ish Shevi’is 18:4, Darkei Mussar)

3) One of the punishments in Parshas Bechukosai is that “you will flee with nobody pursuing you” (26:17). Wouldn’t it be a greater punishment if there were pursuers threatening to capture or kill them? (Chanukas HaTorah, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

4) Rashi writes (26:25) that because it is forbidden to leave a corpse overnight in Jerusalem (Bava Kamma 82b), when people die from the pestilence which Hashem will send, they will have no choice but to carry the bodies outside to be buried, even though they will be walking into the hands of the enemy who is besieging the city. Given that the prohibition involved is only Rabbinic in nature, and even Torah commandments are pushed aside when their performance endangers one’s life, why would they risk taking the bodies outside of the city walls? (Taam V’Daas, Outlooks and Insights)

© 2012 by Oizer Alport.