Aliya-by-Aliya Sedra Summary
Numbers in [square brackets] are the
mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen - First Aliya - 13+5 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...". (see Lead Tidbit)
Another idea to explain why was this particular set of mitzvot was chosen by G-d, so to speak, to teach us the general rule is following: The mitzva of Shmita teaches us (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, not only in the transmission of Torah accompanied by the supernatural experiences of Sinai, but one the mundane level of practical agriculture.
Rav Zevin zt”l explains it this way: Shmita encapsulates the many types of mitzvot - Bein Adam LaMakom, Bein Adam L’chavei- ro, Bein Adam l’Atzmo, and, adds Rabbi Sholom Gold, Bein Adam L’Artzo. Between man & G-d, interpersonal, between the person and himself, and between the Jew and his Land. As such, Shmita is a worthy “partner” for Har Sinai because they both encompass the essence of Torah. Shita is model of the whole Torah.
"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  nor trees  may be worked. Even that which grows on its own, may not be harvested (in a normal manner) from the land  or trees . (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 relationship with the environment and with the other creatures who share the Earth with us, in perspective. It helps us 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 the Torah in this way - with both positive mitzvot and prohibitions (and not necessarily from the same portion of text). 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 as beautiful 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 to study His Torah and perform mitzvot. Observing Shmita is not just avoiding the pro- hibitions. 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 . 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 fashion at the conclusion of Ne'ila each year) . This 50th year is to be proclaimed "kodesh" as Yovel - the Jubilee year . Farming the land is forbidden  (as during Shmita), as are harvesting that which grows on its own  and gathering the fruit of the trees in a normal manner . Yovel is holy; we "eat of the land". During Yovel one returns to his estate.
In business with others, one must deal ethically ; it is forbidden to cheat in business . (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 general mitzvot regarding proper business practices.)
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). Further- more, it is through the positive mitzva that we can attain higher levels of sanctity, as we are challenged with K'doshim T'h'yu. 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 com- mandment also comes to teach us not to take advantage of the technical loopholes, but rather to conduct ourselves with the highest standards of business ethics. There is 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.
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 . This prohibition is very serious, as evidenced by the link the pasuk makes between it and the mitzva to revere (fear) HaShem.
Safeguard and obey the statutes and laws of the Torah and dwell in 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.)
Levi - Second Aliya - 6+4 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 6th year (two years before Yovel) so that the land will yield enough for three years; the planting of the year after Yovel will supply our needs thereafter.
[SDT] One commentator says that 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. This speaks to different levels of Emunah.
The land must not be sold forever  since it is to return to its original owners during Yovel . 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.
Shlishi - 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. (This is technically an exemp- tion from the Torah's ban against interest.) Redemption of a house in a walled city is a mitzva . 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 in Levite 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 (42+6) cities. It is forbidden to alter the areas around those cities by selling off parts of the land on a permanent basis .
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 . "I Am G-d Who took you out of Egypt, to bring 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.)
[SDT] The pasuk says that YOU SHOULD NOT LEND YOUR MONEY WITH INTEREST. The word here is B'NESHECH, which also means WITH A BITE. A Jew who lends money to his fellow should do it with an open heart and a pleasant disposition, and not be snappy or curt with the recipient. The Torah repeatedly shows us the compassion that G-d has for the down-trodden. He wants us to emulate those feelings. Giving is good. Helping others is good. But it must be with a pleasantness that will not hurt the feelings of the already disadvantaged.
One more step. Not only do our actions have to be proper, and not only do we have to speak pleasantly (including no dirty looks, raising of eyebrows, gestures, etc.), but we also must have proper thoughts. To lend a poor person money he needs, and even to behave properly, but to harbor a resentment or a condescending attitude in our minds, is improper. It might even be the worst part of the offense, since it is born of an incomplete belief that G-d is the Boss and calls the shots.
R'vi'i - Fourth Aliya -
8+11+3+4=26 p'sukim -
The "bridge aliya" of combined sedras is R'VI'I.
If a Jew sells himself into servitude because of poverty (or any other reason), his master may not treat him contempt- ibly . 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 and his 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 . Do not subject him to hard, spirit-breaking labor .
Jews (according to Torah law) may own non-Jewish slaves; such slaves become hereditary property. These slaves are not released at Yovel, but remain the permanent property of their owners .
If a Jew becomes a slave to a non- Jewish master, we may not permit him to remain so . 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 subservient to 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" .
"Keep My Shabbat and revere My sanctuary, I Am G-d.” 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" within an environment of mitzvot, one must take continual strides towards greater spiritual heights.
[SDT] The Gemara says that IM B'CHUKOTAI TEILEICHU is more that just stating the facts: If this, then that; if not this, then something else. The Gemara says that HaShem is asking us, pleading with us, to keep the mitzvot and immerse ourselves in Torah. If He asks, how can we not do what He wants - He created us, He put us into this world.
Promises of prosperity from the opening p'sukim of the parsha are made for Jews who live in Eretz Yisrael. The same deal, apparently, does not apply to those who live in Chutz LaAretz. This, says Torat Kohanim, is based on the word B'AR-TZ'CHEM.
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.
Notice how there is a promise of peace in the land and a promise for the might to vanquish the enemy. Peace in this context can refer to peace among Jews. Enemies from the outside still exist, and we are promised the ability to advance upon them.
Chamishi - 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 conse- quences 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 - the custom 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. (In many congregations, it is the one who gives out the Aliyot who gets the Tochacha, so that no one else will feel slighted by him.) The Tochacha is always contained within one Aliya which begins and ends on "cheerier" notes.
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 our hold on Eretz Yisrael is very much conditional. We have a clear commit- ment and responsibility to keep the Torah and fulfill the mitzvot as individuals AND as a community. Shmita was commanded in B'har. In B'chukotai 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 opposite for disregard of the mitzvot. This combination of promise of good and threat of bad, together with the body of mitzvot of the Torah, is the covenant between G-d and the People of Israel at Sinai via Moshe.
Shishi - Sixth Aliya - 15 p'sukim - 27:1-15
In pledging funds to the Mikdash, one can offer the "value" of an individual . The Torah lists amounts for individuals depending on sex & 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 exchange or redeem that animal (even for one of greater value) . If he attempts to do so, then both the original animal and its substitute (t'mura) are consecrated to the Mikdash . An animal not fit for the Altar is to be evaluated by a kohen , and can be redeemed by adding 1/5 of its valuation. A person can also offer the value of a house , in which case a kohen determines its value, and the house becomes redeem- able by adding 1/5.
If donating the value of a boy 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 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 emotional connection of contributing, $100 to a charitable cause, compared with the same $100 to "foster a child" or feed 5 orphans. Same amount, but the emotional response is quite different.
Notice the unusual, almost unique nature of T'MURA (the exchange of an animal for another sacred animal). Generally, when the Torah prohibits something, a person is considered to violate that pro- hibition when he does that which was forbidden. One may not cook meat with milk. Doing so is a violation. One may not steal. Stealing is a violation. Etc. One may not exchange one animal for a sacred one (that is fit for the Altar). But one cannot do so. The attempted exchange fails. The sacred animal is still sacred. So in this instance, that which is forbidden is not done. It cannot be done. The attempt itself then is the violation. This is highly unusual. (In addition to the attempted exchange failing, it also carries the additional penalty of the new animal also being considered sacred.) And... T'mura can be punishable by MAKOT, which makes it more unusual, since no act was done. A prohibition that involved no act is rarely punishable by the courts.
Sh'vi'i - Seventh Aliya - 6+7+6 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 . 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 consecrated property. 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 . The 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 than its 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 (before it gets to Yerushalayim).
The tithe of the animals (cows, goats, sheep) are to be separated by counting every tenth one regardless of the quality of the animal . These animals are sacred and must be eaten only in Jerusalem and under conditions of ritual purity. Maaser B'heima may not be redeemed . Violation of this rule results in both animals 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 pasuk of B'har, the usual partner sedra to B'chukotai.
Haftara - 17 p'sukim -Yirmiyahu 16:19-17:14
The words of the prophet contain warnings and admonitions which echo the Tochacha of the sedra. The haftara ends with a prayer for G-d's help in keeping us faithful to Him and His
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