Aliya-by-Aliya Parshat B’har-B’chukotai 5759

Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.

First Aliya -13+5=18 p’sukim (25:1-18)

One of the most famous sedra openers in the Torah: “And G-d spoke to Moshe AT HAR SINAI saying…”.

“Ma inyan shmita etzel Har Sinai?”. What does one thing have to do with the other? This expression is based on the unusual additional words in the otherwise very familiar verse: And G-d spoke to Moshe saying. The mitzvot that follow deal with Shmita, the Sabbatical year. A basic element of our belief (and knowledge) isthat the whole Torah was revealed by G-d to Moshe (and by him to us) at Sinai (and not just the Ten Commandments, as many people – Jews and non-Jews – claim). Why then mention the location of this particular set of commands? One of the principles by which the Talmud teaches us the Oral Torah is “when one issue is singledout for special treatment, the teaching not only applies to the one issue, but to the whole group from which it came”. Here the teaching is this: Just as Shmita with its details was given at Sinai (it says so specifically), so too were all mitzvot given at Sinai with their details (and not just “Chapter- headings”, assome people would have us believe). This idea is an important component of the chain of tradition, and is an essential component of “Emunat Chachamim”, the trust, faith, and confidence we must have in each link of the chain.

Although what we learn from the Torah-text phenomenon mentioned above teaches us about all the mitzvot, on another level we still can ask the question: “why was this particular set of mitzvot chosen by G-d, so to speak”, to teach us the general rule?” One commentator offers the following insight: The mitzva of Shmita teachesus (among other things) that G-d in concerned with the mundane things of this world. He cares about us and our earthly fields and trees. And He exists, not only in the lofty realm of the heavens, but His Essence fills the world. G-d’s choice of lowly Har Sinai as the venue for giving us the Torah, was meant to teach usthe same idea. How appropriate that the Torah tells us that it was at Sinai that G-d commanded us the laws of Shmita.

“When you come to the Land…” The Land is to be rested each seventh year. For 6 years one works the fields, and on the seventh there is to be a Shabbat to HaShem for the Land; neither land [326] nor trees [327] may be worked. Even that which grows on its own, may not be harvested (in a normal manner) from the land [328]or trees [329]. (The Torah uses the term “vineyard”, but means to include all trees. ) Shmita year is for all to benefit from the land (without the usual sharp distinction between landowner and others); and for the animals. (Shmita gives the land a chance to restore itself, and gives us a chance to put our relationshipwith the environment, with the other creatures who share the Earth with us. It helps us put things in proper prospective, to get our priorities straight.) Shmita reminds us of who created and still rules.

Note that there are four prohibitions here in Bhar pertaining to Shmita, and there is a positive command to rest the land in the seventh year, from Parshat Mishpatim. It is noteworthy, though not that unusual, that an area of Jewish Law is presented to us by Torah and Mitzvot in this way – with both positive mitzvot andprohibitions. Shabbat, Shmita, Yom Kippur, Yom Tov, kashrut (to an extent), etc. all are heavily sprinkled with serious prohibitions. As such, we are duty- bound to “toe the mark” lest we violate G-d’s Law. Our motivation would tend to be “fear of heaven”, fear of sin, fear of punishment. Strong motivations, but not asbeautiful and powerful as the motivation of “Love of G-d” that is at play when one strives to scrupulously fulfill G-d’s commands. One should not see Shmita merely as a series of “don’t do this”, don’t do that”. We should rejoice in the opportunity to serve G-d, demonstrate our faith and confidence in Him, be freer tostudy His Torah and perform mitzvot. Observing Shmita is not just avoiding the prohibitions. It is a positive statement of our belief in the Creator and Master of the World.

(When the majority of Jews are in Israel and the infrastructure of Torah life in Israel is intact,) the Sanhedrin is required to count seven successive seven-year cycles – 49 years [330]. On the Yom Kippur of the 50th year, the Shofar is to be sounded (as we do each year on Rosh HaShana, and as we do in symbolic fashionat the conclusion of Ne’ila each year) [331]. This 50th year is to be proclaimed “kodesh” as Yovel – the Jubilee year [332]. Farming the land is forbidden [333] (as during Shmita), as are harvesting that which grows on its own [334] and gathering the fruit of the trees in a normal manner [331]. Yovel is holy; we “eat ofthe land”. During Yovel one returns to his estate.

[SDT] V’HA’AVARTA SHOFAR T’RU’A BA CHODESH HA’SH’VI’I – and you shall blow the Shofar in the seventh month. This is considered an open reference to Yom Kippur of Yovel and a hidden reference to the other Shofar-blowing of the seventh month, namely, on Rosh HaShana. The sound of the Shofar is a call to repentance. The RasheiTeivot (initial letters) of the phrase quoted above spell the word T’SHUVA.

In business with others, one must deal ethically [336]; it is forbidden to cheat in business [337] (since land returns to its original owners with Yovel, real estate purchases are only for a specific period. Prices therefore, should reflect the number of years remaining until the next Yovel. This is the context of the generalmitzvot regarding proper business practices.)

Mitzva Watch

Here is yet another example of an area replete with prohibitions of a wide variety with a positive mitzva com manding us to conduct ourselves in accordance with the letter and spirit of halacha. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the positive mitzva in these areas. Technically, the positive command is “unnecessary”,since avoidance of all the prohibitions would already bring us to compliance with G-d’s Will.

The positive mitzva, then, can be understood as requiring us to put our hearts into what we are doing, not even violate the spirit of the law, and be prepared to go “beyond the call of duty” (lifnim mishurat hadin). Furthermore, it is through the positive mitzva that we can attain higher levels of sanctity, as we are challengedwith K’DOSHIM T’H’YU. The Rambam describes certain situations in business in which one can technically get away with something, but he is considered not to have acted in “a proper Jewish manner”. Perhaps the positive commandment also comes to teach us not to take advantage of the technical loopholes, but rather to conductourselves with the highest standards of business ethics.

There are more than one way of explaining what a positive command adds to our observance of mitzvot, when the prohibition(s) are already on the books. This was one explanation.

More… Let’s say that an art dealer passes off a good-quality fake as an original master. To be sure, the art dealer has violated the halacha against cheating in business. But whose law has been violated? Do we consider this type of cheating to be a rabbinic prohibition inspired by the Torah’s statements regarding theparticular example of cheating vis-a-vis the years remaining until Yovel. No. We say more. We say that our Oral Tradition teaches us that Yovel is the particular context for a wide category of prohibition. In other words, in this case, we are not dealing with Torah- inspired rabbinic extension of Torah Law. We are dealingwith Talmudic DEFINITION of Torah Law. These are not the same; the distinction between them is significant to our keeping things in proper perspective.

Not only must one not take unfair advantage of his fellow in money- matters, he must be careful not to “oppress” or deceive others with words [338]. This prohibition is very serious, as evidenced by the link the verse makes between it and reverence for HaShem. Safeguard and obey the statutes and laws of the Torah and dwellin security on the Land. (This link between observance of Torah and continued peaceful, secure living in Israel, is an oft- repeated theme, one that must be kept in mind in modern Israel. )

Second Aliya – 6+4=10 p’sukim (25:19-28)

The Land will yield its bounty and we will eat our fill and dwell in the Land in security. No one should question where food will come from (with two years in a row of Shmita restrictions). G-d promises to bless the land during the sixth year (two years before Yovel) so that the land will yield enough for three years; theplanting of the year after Yovel will supply our needs thereafter.

One commentator expresses the following idea. The pasuk states that if someone were to ask what are we going to eat…, then G-d will command His blessing to give us an abundant yield. However, one should not ask. If we are completely faithful and believe without reservation or question that G- d will provide for us, then He won’t have to command the blessing to come; it will happen as a natural reaction to that faith.

Here’s a thought…

Does the situation described above have the flavor of “relying on a miracle”, which is not supposed to be done? Perhaps we can say that this is different. If a person crosses the street with heavy traffic with his eyes closed, that is an irresponsible act, to say the least. We may not say: G-d will save me — if there issomething we can do about the situation (such as opening our eyes and looking both ways before crossing, etc.

But what can we do here? Plant more? Okay. Other measures too. But the bottom line is that G-d’s bracha is part of the deal with Him. We do our share. He does His. Sometimes He does more than “required”. That’s what we have no right to rely on without our efforts.

The land must not be sold forever [339] since it is to return to its original owners during Yovel [340].

If a person were forced to sell off hereditary land because of poverty, he or a relative may redeem the land by paying a proportional amount (depending upon how many years remain until Yovel). If not redeemed before Yovel, the land reverts to its hereditary owners with Yovel.

Third Aliya -10 p’sukim – 25:29-38

If someone sells a house in a walled city (walled, that is, from the time of Yehoshua, i.e. original conquest), he has up to one year to redeem it; if not, it remains the new owner’s forever. Redemption during the year is by returning the full amount paid, i.e. no deduction for the time that the buyer lived there. (Thisis technically an exemption from the Torah’s ban against interest.) Redemption of a house in a walled city is a mitzva [341]. On the other hand, houses in non-walled cities have the same rules as land – viz., redemption is possible until Yovel, at which time the house reverts to its original hereditary owners. Houses inLevite cities (even walled cities) are redeemable beyond the one-year limit, and do revert to the Levi at Yovel. The Levi has hereditary rights to those special (48 in number) cities. It is forbidden to alter the areas around those cities by selling off parts of the land on a permanent basis [342].

We are obligated to help our fellow who has fallen on hard times. We may not take interest for personal loans made to help him out [343]. “I am G-d Who took you out of Egypt, brought you to the Land, to be your G-d.”

(This is definitely NOT a non sequitur – it emphasizes G-d’s desire, so to speak, for His People to care about each other. It’s as if G-d says to us: Look and remember what I did for you. Now you be nice to your fellows.)

Fourth Aliya – 8+11+3+4=26 p’sukim – (25:39-26:9)

This bridge Aliya consists of 4 portions – two each of B’har and B’chukotai

If a Jew sells himself into servitude because of poverty (or any other reason), his master may not treat him contemptibly [344]. He shall be treated like an employee, and stays with his master only until Yovel. (This is the maximum; under normal circumstances, the Jewish manservant goes free much sooner.) At Yovel, he andhis family return to their hereditary land. We are servants of G-d (and should not be subservient to other people); no Jew shall be sold in the degrading way of the slave market [345]. Do not subject him to hard, spirit-breaking labor [346].

Jews (according to Torah law) may own non-Jewish slaves, such slaves becoming hereditary property. These slaves are not released at Yovel, but remain the permanent property of their owners [347].

If a Jew becomes a slave to a non- Jewish master, we may not permit him to remain so [348]. Redemption should be by his close relatives, or himself if he obtains the means. Equitable calculation should be made for compensating his master. We must not let his master break his spirit. All this is because Israel is subservientto G-d, who redeemed us from Egyptian slavery. We are to be committed to Him; we may not make false gods nor idols or sacred pillars; nor may we kneel on a “decorated stone” [349].

“Keep My Shabbat and revere My sanctuary, I Am G-d. As mentioned earlier, it is most likely that Shabbat here refers to Sh’mita. If so, it makes a matched bookend with the beginning of the sedra.

If we keep the Torah and mitzvot, then HaShem will provide beneficent, timely rainfall and bountiful crops. The yield of the Land will be so great, that each agricultural season will blend into the next one. And we will have plenty to eat – on our own Land.

“If you walk on the path of My statutes…” Rashi comments that this is not just another way of saying “keep the mitzvot”, but rather it points to our task of immersing ourselves in a Torah & Mitzvot way of life. Another commentator points to the word “walk” and says that it is insufficient to just “stand still” withinan environment of mitzvot, one must take continual strides towards greater spiritual heights.

And the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. Rashi says this refers to non-fruit-bearing trees that will bear fruit when G-d’s full blessing will be given. Further reward for (or result of) following the Torah and keeping the mitzvot, will be peace and tranquility in the Land (of Israel). Both natural disasters(wild beasts) as well as human enemies will be kept at bay by HaShem. And when we do encounter our enemies, G-d will grant us the ability to vanquish them mightily. If we keep to our side of the deal (so to speak), we will be blessed with fertility and G-d will keep His covenant with us.

Fifth Aliya – 37 p’sukim – (26:10-46)

This Aliya contains the “Tochacha”, one of two portions of the Torah containing G-d’s detailed admonition to the People, warning of the dire consequences that will result from disregard of Torah and mitzvot. Because it is so painful to hear these terrible words – especially realizing how often they have come true – thecustom developed to read this portion in a low voice. We are ashamed that G-d needs to threaten us in so graphic a way. There was a time when no one wanted the dubious honor of receiving this Aliya. Today the minhag is to call the Rabbi, Gabbai, or the Baal Korei himself for this portion. The Tochacha is always containedwithin one Aliya which begins and ends on “cheerier” notes. This is the reason for the wildly disparate distribution of verses among the Aliyot of this sedra.

A significant theme of the Tochacha is the connection between the keeping of the laws of Shmita and our hold on the Land. We must alway realize that we do not keep Eretz Yisrael without any strings attached. We have a clear commitment and responsibility to keep the Torah and fulfill the mitzvot as individuals AND as a community.Shmita was commanded in the previous sedra. In this week’s sedra, we are presented with the dire consequences of the disregard of this important mitzva.

Continual reference is made of both physical and spiritual benefits from observance of mitzvot, and the oppo site for disregard. This combination of promise of good and threat of bad, together with the body of mitzvot of the Torah, constitutes the covenant between G-d and the People of Israel at Sinai via Moshe.

Sixth Aliya – 15 p’sukim – (27:1-15)

In pledging funds to the Mikdash, it is possible to offer the “value” of an individual [350]. The Torah lists amounts for individuals depending on sex and age. In the event that the donor is poor, a kohen may reduce the amount. If a person pledges an animal to the Mikdash which qualifies as a korban, he may not exchangeor redeem that animal (even for one of greater value) [351]. If he attempts to do so, then both the original animal and its substitute (t’mura) are consecrated to the Mikdash [352]. An animal not fit for the Altar is to be evaluated by a kohen [353], and can be redeemed by adding 1/5 of its valuation. A person can alsooffer the value of a house [354], in which case a kohen determines its value, and the house becomes redeemable by adding 1/5.

If donating the value of a male child between 5 and 20 years of age, for example, is equivalent to a pledge of 20 shekels, then why not just donate 20 shekels? What is the significance of labeling certain amounts as the “value” of a person?

Part of the answer seems quite obvious. We psychologically relate much more strongly to our giving the value of person to the Beit HaMikdash than we would with a mere sum of money. This would be especially so if the person were ourself or a loved one. Modern fundraising psychology borrows this idea. Compare the emotionalconnection of contributing, let’s say, $100 to a charitable cause, compared with the same $100 which is called “foster a child” for a certain period of time. The money is the same. But the emotional response is quite different.

Seventh Aliya – 6+7+6=19 p’sukim – (27:16-34)

If a person dedicates the value of his property to the Mikdash, it is to be evaluated by a kohen based on quality and number of years to the next Yovel [355]. It then becomes redeemable by adding a fifth. If a person did not redeem the land, then Yovel does not release it to him, but rather to the Mikdash as consecratedproperty. The same applies if the officials at the Mikdash sold the property before redemption. At Yovel, it reverts to the Mikdash.

If the property in question is not hereditary, but rather purchased, then the rules differ. The land is evaluated in the same way, but at Yovel it reverts to its original owners, and not to the Mikdash.

A firstling is automatically sanctified to the Altar; one may not consecrate it as another korban [356]. This rule of not switching one sanctity for another, applies to other categories of korban as well. A non-kosher animal offered to the Mikdash is sold off. If something itself is consecrated to the Mikdash (rather thanits value), it cannot be redeemed; it remains holy.

Consecrated property goes to the kohanim [357,358,359]. A person under a death penalty has the status of “Cherem” (non-redeemable items). The land’s tithe (here referring to Maaser Sheni), is sacred; it is (either to be eaten in Jerusalem or) to be redeemed.

The tithe of the animals (cows, goats, sheep) are to be separated by counting every tenth one regardless of the quality of the animal [360]. These animals are sacred and must be eaten only in Jerusalem and under conditions of ritual purity. Maaser B’heima may not be redeemed [361]. Violation of this rule results in bothanimals being considered holy.

“These are the mitzvot… at Sinai.” This final pasuk of the sedra (and book of VaYikra), closes the section that was opened by the first verse of B’har, the usual partner sedra to B’chukotai.

Haftara – 22 p’sukim Yirmiyahu 32:6-27

Yirmiyahu spent most of his prophecy “career” warning the people of the upcoming destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. In a move geared to encourage the people, as a sign that after exile the people will return to Eretz Yisrael, the prophet arranges for the purchase/redemption of a plot of land that he was “related to”(had the right of redemption). The redemption is done in an overly demonstrative manner, so that all can see what was going on. This is one of the topics from Parshat B’har, hence the choice of Haftara.

[SDT] At the end of the Sh’ma, we read the verse: I Am G-d your G-d Who took you out of Egypt in order to be your G-d… In Bhar (Vayikra 25:38) we find the same words but with an additional phrase: I Am G-d… Who took you out of Egypt in order to give you Eretz Yisrael… We sometimes forget that we exist as a nationONLY because G-d wants us to. His plan was to be our G-d, to give us the Torah, AND to give us the Land of Israel. The fact is that we stood at Sinai to receive the Torah and become G-d’s Nation a few short weeks after we came out of Egypt. On the other hand, we did not go into Eretz Yisrael for forty years. This discrepancyin timing sometimes leads us to forget the centrality and essential role that Eretz Yisrael plays in our Nationhood. Comes the Torah and reminds us of this by putting Shmita (and all the mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael) next to Har Sinai. The question MA INYAN SHMITA EITZEL HAR SINAI should NEVER be asked by us. We know the answer.We just forget it sometimes. That is what Galut has done to us. That answer is that ALL mitzvot are part of the Torah, part of G-d’s Word. Never think that just because we received the Torah in Sinai (rather than in Eretz Yisrael) that Eretz Yisrael is any less an integral part of our Jewishness.