By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
May 19, 2001
SHMITTA - THE SEVENTH YEAR, in which the land of Israel lies fallow - is a national project of sanctification. The people of Israel acknowledge
Hashem's ultimate dominion over the one commodity - land - which mankind naturally feels is his most permanent possession. The
Shmitta year is devoted to spirituality, and the people trust in Hashem for their sustenance.
IF, ON THE OTHER HAND, one desecrates the laws of Shmitta, (as Kiddushin 20a-b interprets our portion) he will be punished with poverty.
Rashi explains (Vayikra 26:1), that he will be forced to sell off his possessions:
And if you sell anything to your friend . . . (Vayikra 25:14).
IF HE CONTINUES TO TRANSGRESS, he will have to sell his field, his ancestral heritage:
If your brother become poor and sells some of his possession . . . (verse 25), and then his house:
And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city . . . (verse 29).
EVENTUALLY, HE WILL BE FORCED to borrow money with interest. If all this still has no effect, then he will be forced to sell himself as a slave to a Jew:
And if your brother who is with you become poor and he was sold to you (verse 39), and finally to a non-Jew:
And if the hand of a stranger or resident who is with you achieve, and your brother become poor with him, and he was sold to a stranger or a resident with you, or to the stock of the stranger's family. . . . (verse 47).
THIS IS A HORRIFYING REPLAY OF ISRAEL'S DESCENT to Egypt, which deteriorated into poverty, alienation and enslavement. Thus, this unfortunate fellow-Jew must be redeemed, so he can resume his position as a member of Hashem's servant-people:
Because to Me are the Children of Israel servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d (verse 55).
BUT, THERE IS YET A GREATER FEAR:
You shall not make for yourselves idols or statues, nor shall you set up a pillar for yourselves, nor shall you place in your land a patterned stone to prostrate yourselves on it; for I am Hashem your G-d. My Sabbaths shall you keep, and My sanctuary shall you revere; I am Hashem (Vayikra 26:1-2).
RASHI (ADAPTING FROM TORAT KOHANIM) comments that these warnings are directed towards the one who was sold (as a slave) to a non-Jew. He should not say, "Since my master is sexually immoral, so will I be like him; since my master worships idols, so will I be like him; since my master desecrates the Shabbat, so will I be like him" (26:1).
THE PARALLEL TO EGYPT IS CHILLING. In Egypt, we served idols (Yalkut Shimoni 1:234). This is because the oppressed, while abhorring their oppressors, have a psychological need to emulate the dominant value system they represent.
THE INDIVIDUAL JEW AS WELL, sold in slavery to a non-Jew, is at risk of being influenced by his new environment, descending from emulation to assimilation, and from there to idolatry. Until such time as he is saved, the Torah reminds him: Remember who you are. He is enjoined to shun, not only actual idolatry:
You shall not make for yourselves idols or statues,
but even marginal idolatry:
nor shall you set up a pillar for yourselves, nor shall you place in your land a patterned stone to prostrate yourselves on it.
RAMBAM OPINES (Book of the Commandments, Neg. 11, 12; Laws of Idolatry 6:6), that these objects are so closely associated with idol-worship that the Torah rejects the pillar and the patterned stone, even if they are dedicated to the worship of Hashem. Presumably, if one begins by emulating these practices, he will eventually embrace idolatry.
HOWEVER, THE PATTERNED STONE - a stone floor for prostration before an idol (Rambam) or as an idol (Sefer HaChinuch, ascribed to R. Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century, #349) - is different. The Talmud (Megillah 22b) derives from the words "in your land" the ruling that, although this object is forbidden everywhere in the world, it is permitted in the Temple, for the people prostrated themselves to Hashem on the stone floor of the Temple. Rashi therefore explains that prostration on a stone floor is a form of worship that must be dedicated solely to Hashem, and only in His Temple. The Minchat Chinuch (commentary on the Sefer HaChinuch by R. Yoseph ben Moshe Babad of Tarnopol, 1800-1874) compares this to the prohibition against fashioning a sculptured human image (Shemot 20:20); the cherubim atop the Holy Ark had the faces of children, yet other human images were forbidden. That which is special to the service of Hashem must be exclusively reserved for the Temple.
PERHAPS WE CAN COMPARE this to a king who commands his closest advisor, and no one else, to appear in court wearing a favorite garment. Even if he is far away from the king, the advisor may not wear it anywhere else but in the king's presence, because this garment expresses the particular affection of the king for his advisor.
ONLY Hashem, in His wisdom, determines which form of worship is exclusive to Him. Alshich (16th Century) suggests that the key to Hashem's selection can be found in the closing verse:
My Sabbaths shall you keep, and My sanctuary shall you revere; I am Hashem (Vayikra 26:2).
OBSERVANCE OF SHABBAT attests to the belief in Hashem as the Creator; the entire world - all place, all time, all people - is Hashem's. Nevertheless, He has selected the Temple as the place for His Presence to dwell, and the Shabbat as His chosen sanctuary in time, and the Jewish people as His chosen sanctified people.
IT IS THIS WHICH THE UNFORTUNATE JEW, forced into an environment that threatens his very identity, needs to remember most.