Torah Weekly - Parshat Behar

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Parshat Behar

For the week ending 15 Iyar 5760 / 19 & 20 May 2000

  • Summary
  • Insights:
  • El Al To Go Bankrupt?
  • Haftara
  • The Ultimate Landlord
  • Rights and Ramifications
  • Love of the Land
  • The Carmel Plan
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  • Overview


    The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat" for the land is called "shemita." (5754 was a shemita year in Israel.) After every seventh shemita, the fiftieth year, yovel (jubilee), is announced with the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur. This was also a year for the land to lie fallow. Hashem promises to provide a bumper crop prior to the shemita and yovel years. During yovel, all land is returned to its original division from the time of Joshua, and all Jewish indentured servants are freed, even if they have not completed their six years of work. A Jewish indentured servant may not be given any demeaning, unnecessary or excessively difficult work, and may not be sold in the public market. The price of his labor must be calculated according to the amount of time remaining until he will automatically become free. The price of land is similarly calculated. Should anyone sell his ancestral land, he has the right to redeem it after two years. If a house in a walled city is sold, the right of redemption is limited to the first year after the sale. The Levites' cities belong to them forever. The Jewish People are forbidden to take advantage of one another by lending or borrowing with interest. Family members should redeem any relative who was sold as an indentured servant as a result of impoverishment.




    "And G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai..."

    About fifteen years ago El Al, the Israel national airline, was losing money hand over fist. In spite of the best market research that money can buy, the number of unoccupied seats continued to grow, and the company's profitability continued to plummet.

    By a strange twist of what some would call fate, it was decided that the national airline of the Jewish State should no longer operate on the Sabbath. El Al flights which began on Friday and could not reach Tel Aviv before the onset of the Sabbath, or which originated in Tel Aviv between sunset on Friday until after dark on Saturday night, would no longer be offered.

    From being one of the least profitable airlines in the world, El Al rapidly became one of the most profitable.

    You could call this a coincidence. But isn't it counter-intuitive to cease operations for one seventh of the week and find your revenues jumping through the ceiling? The laws of production and return would dictate a loss of at least one seventh on overall revenue.

    It's interesting to note that one of the promises that G-d made to the Jewish People if they keep the Sabbath is that they won't lose out financially. Why should G-d make such a promise?

    We live in a world of illusion. The illusion is that the harder we work, the more we will profit. G-d wants us to know who is running the world. He tells us clearly in His Torah that if we keep the Sabbath, He will bless us not just with spirituality but with material bounty as well.

    The greatest demonstration that we know from where our livelihood comes is to put down tools on Friday afternoon, and while the rat-race runs on relentlessly through Friday night and Saturday, we retreat to a world of spirituality, family, closeness -- connecting to the real purpose of this physical world.

    In the Torah portion which is read this Sabbath in the synagogue, we learn about the commandment of shemita. When all the Jewish People lived in the land of Israel, every seventh year was like a Sabbath. (Incidentally, this is the source of the Sabbatical Year so prized by academics.) No planting or harvesting was permitted during the seventh year. The land of Israel was to have its own Sabbath. However, this was not an agricultural rest. Ask any soil expert, and he'll tell you that six years of farming followed by one year fallow will not help your crop yield. Rather the reverse. The shemita year was a year when the land needed to lie spiritually fallow.

    This week's Torah portion starts with an unusual phrase "And Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai..." All of the commandments were given on Mount Sinai. Why then, specifically, does the Torah record that it was on Mount Sinai that G-d told Moshe about the commandment of shemita?

    A Sabbath for people and a Sabbath for the Land. What connects these two ideas is that our relationship with G-d is based on our realization that it is He and only He who makes the wheels of our lives turn, whether on a personal level or in business.

    It's ironic that even though El Al's business has soared, they said at the time that not flying on the Shabbat would mean curtains for them. At the height of the controversy, El Al workers even physically attacked obviously religious travelers.

    To this day El Al continues to claim that it would make even more money with Sabbath flights ...


    Yirmeyahu 32:6 - 27



    The first verse of this week's Parsha reminds us that the land of Israel is only on loan to the Jewish People. Hashem remains the Owner. The Jewish People acknowledged that Hashem was the ultimate "Landlord" of Eretz Yisrael by observing shemita and yovel.

    The Haftarah presents a shattering picture. The Chaldeans are at the gates, poised for the final assault. All the admonitions to keep the Torah have proven fruitless. Yirmiyahu, who had dared to tell the truth about the dire situation of the Jewish People, had been jailed by King Tzidkiyahu. In prison, Hashem tells him that he should now prophesy about the time of the return from exile. For this purpose, he was to do something that was ostensibly absurd. He was to purchase a valueless field at full price, thus demonstrating the firm conviction that the impending destruction would ultimately pass.

    Rabbi Mendel Hirsch


    "Great of counsel and mighty of deed, Whose eyes are cognizant of all the ways of humankind, to give each man according to his ways and the fruit of his deeds." (32:19)

    When the Heavenly court judges someone deserving the death penalty, Hashem throws into the balance the grief that his innocent parents, wife and children will suffer if the sentence is executed.

    Hashem does not punish anyone until calculating whether this will cause undeserved punishment to one of his family members. That is the meaning of this verse: "Great of counsel and mighty of deed..." Only Hashem is capable of calculating the precise extent of a person's due, that he should only be called upon to bear "according to his ways and the fruit of his deeds."

    Rabbi Mahara Yitzchaki

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    Rusty iron rails driven into the ground in the Dania quarter of Haifa are the only reminders left of what was known as the "Carmel Plan."

    These rails were supposed to have served as barriers against the tanks of Rommel's Afrika Korps quickly approaching Palestine in 1942. The plan was to turn Mount Carmel into a Masada-like mountain fortress from which the Jews of Palestine would fight to the death if the German forces broke through the last line of British resistance at El Alameen.

    Although the Jewish community in Palestine forgot its differences with the British over the White Paper and joined the allied war effort (in sharp contrast to the flirtation of Haj Amin Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, with Hitler and Mussolini), the British refused to supply their Jewish allies with arms to defend themselves because they were afraid that they might not be returned. General Montgomery's forces turned back Rommel's army, and the Carmel Plan, with the help of Hashem, was never put into effect.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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