Torah Weekly

For the week ending 16 May 2015 / 27 Iyyar 5775

Parshat Behar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat" for the Land is called "shemita". 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. G-d 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.


Yes, We Have Some Bananas!

“I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year…” (13-17)

Seven years ago, at the end of the last Shemita cycle, a secular farmer whose produce is bananas decided that he would undertake to keep Shemita.

He approached the “Keren HaShvi’it” organization for assistance, and they stipulated that he would be registered in their program if he would also undertake to personally observe Shabbat throughout the Shemita year.

He agreed and the organization undertook to cover his farming expenses, in return for which all the produce would become the property of “Otzar Beit Din” and would be distributed in full accordance with Jewish law.

And then a major spell of cold weather gripped the Land of Israel for over 2 weeks.

Bananas don’t like cold.

When bananas get hit with frost while still growing, they turn brown and become rock-solid hard.

The banana farmer knew he was in deep trouble when the relentless cold hadn’t let up for over a week. As his orchard was some distance from where he lived, he hadn’t seen the damage with his own eyes. His neighboring farmers, whose orchards bordered his, started to call him, complaining bitterly that their entire banana crop had been destroyed by the frost.

He decided it was time to inspect the damage, no matter how painful it might be.

He drove up close to Tiveria (Tiberias) to inspect his orchard. Passing by his neighbors’ orchards, one after another, he was overwhelmed by the damage.

Not a single fruit had survived; no tree was spared. All the bananas were brown, hard as rock. He could only imagine how bad his trees must be.

When he finally got to his orchard, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Not one of his bananas was brown. It was as though his orchard was in a totally different place. His orchard bordered those of his neighbors, but not a single tree of his was struck by the frost.

It was as if a protective wall kept the damage away. At first he thought he was imagining it, but as he moved from one section of his orchard to another, he realized that “more than the farmer keeps the Shemita, the Shemita keeps the farmer”.

He immediately called his contacts at Keren HaShvi’it and yelled into the phone, “Karah nes!, karah nes!” “There’s been a miracle! There’s been a miracle!”

A miraculous modern-day manifestation of “I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year…”

As a result of this miracle, his neighbors who previously refused to keep Shemita turned to the Keren and decided they were now ready to commit to Shemita observance.

“Very nice”, I can hear you say, “but did everyone who kept Shemita experience a miracle? Did everyone walk away without the loss of a shekel?”

The Chazon Ish (Shevi’it 18:4) says that the Torah isn’t guaranteeing here that everyone is going to prosper despite the restrictions of Shemita. Rather the farmers who observe these laws will have a general blessing. As always, and not just in the case of Shemita, the sins of the individuals can cause them to forfeit that blessing, as might also their neighbors’ actions.

The Jewish People are one. What any one of us does affects every one of us.

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