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Parsha Page by Fred Toczek

A survey of parsha thoughts from Gedolei Yisroel compiled by Fred Toczek. Perfect for printing and use at your Shabbos tisch.


Next Parsha:  Bechukosai

Coming Soon: Shavuos

BEHAR 5757 & 5762

I. Summary

A. Shemittah (Sabbatical) Year. After the Jews took possession of Canaan, they are to observe each seventh year as a Shemittah (Sabbatical) year for the land, during which they are not to sow their fields, prune their vineyards, or reap the harvest that grew by itself.

B. Yovel (Jubilee) Year. Each 50th year was the Yovel, which was proclaimed on Yom Kippur. During the Yovel year:

1. Fields were not to be sown or harvested;

2. Hebrew slaves were to be set free; and

3. Land reverted back to its original possessor. (Thus, the price of land that was sold was based upon how many years of ownership remained before the Yovel.) Land sold because of its owner's poverty could be redeemed by either the former owner or his relative. If someone sold a house in a walled city, he could only redeem it within one year of the sale; however, homes in villages and in cities set aside for the Levi'im would revert back to their original owners during the Yovel year.

C. Prohibition of Interest. One should lend money to a poor fellow Jew without charging him interest.

D. Treatment of a Slave. If a poor Jew was forced to sell himself into servitude, his Jewish master should treat him with respect. As noted above, the servant would be set free during the Yovel year. A relative could redeem a Jewish servant by paying his master a sum based upon the number of years remaining until the Yovel.

II.  Divrei Torah

A. Lil'Mode U'lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)/Artscroll Chumash

1. The significance of Shemittah.

a. Ramban notes that, like Shabbos, Shemittah bears testimony to Hashem's creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh day. (This is why only the Shemittah -- not any of the Festivals -- is specifically likened to Shabbos.)

b. Shemittah (and Yovel) helps us to develop Emunah (faith in Hashem), for it acknowledges that our possessions and personal freedom are provided by Hashem and are under His dominion.

c. The Sfas Emes, z'tl notes that the land's rest during the Shemittah year teaches us that the primary force in the universe is Hashem, not the laws of nature. By leaving his fields untended, the Jew demonstrates that this world is but a corridor leading to the ultimate world. However, it also teaches that one can't totally abstain from the world in which he lives. Thus, we must sow and harvest for six years (just as we must work for six days and rest on the Shabbos). This recognition infuses holiness and purpose into our workdays and years.

2. Interest and Shemittah. What is the connection between the prohibition of charging interest and the laws of Shemittah? Shemittah and the prohibition against interest remind us that our land and money, respectively, are gifts from Hashem.

3. The Highest Form of Charity. "If your brother becomes impoverished . . . you shall strengthen him". Rambam notes that this teaches us that the highest form of charity is to step in with help to prevent someone from become poor (e.g., by giving him/her a loan, investing in his/her business, etc.) As Rashi notes, when a donkey's load begins to slip, even one person can adjust it; but if the animal has fallen, even five people can't get it back on its feet.

B. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

1. By realizing that others suffer, we can more easily cope with our own suffering. It is a mitzvah to blow the shofar to proclaim the Yovel. This was to remind the master who was to free his servant and the landowner who was to return land to its rightful owner that others were doing the same. Knowing that others are undergoing hardships makes it easier to accept our hardships, and to put our own suffering into perspective.

2. Hashem does not want you to cheat His children. The Parsha commands "and when you sell anything to your fellow man or buy from your fellow man, you shall not cheat one another". If one remains aware that Hashem is the creator of all people, he/she will be careful not to deceive others (just as one would be most careful if dealing with the offspring of an emperor). Rav Nachman was asked how it is possible to think of Hashem when involved in business, to which he replied "people find it easy to think about business when they are praying; similarly, if one really wants to, he/she can think of Hashem while engaged in business."

3. Feel an inner respect for other people. The Parsha prohibits a master giving a servant work that isn't really necessary (e.g., telling a servant to warm things up when the master doesn't really need it). Why does the Torah prohibit this, since the servant has no idea that his work is unnecessary? The Torah wants us to feel an inner respect for the dignity of others, since we are all created in Hashem's image.

C. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)

1. The Emunah in Shemittah. "If you will say what will we eat in the seventh year? Behold! We will not sow and gather in crops! I [Hashem] shall ordain My blessings for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period [i.e., the seventh-ninth years]." Rashi, citing Chazal, teaches that the 70 years of the Babylonian exile were punishment, measure-for-measure, for the 70 Shemittah years which the Jews failed to observe when they were on their land. But if the above verse assures the Jews that the crop from the sixth year will be excessively abundant, why would they fail to adhere to the laws of Shemittah and insist on planting or harvesting during the Shemittah year? Since the sixth year would be so abundant, one could easily be led astray into believing that the seventh year would be equally (or even more) prosperous. Thus, it required great emunah (faith in Hashem) to recognize that however attractive the short term gains were, they would disappear quickly, whereas the reward for observing mitzvos, even though it may sometimes seem long in coming, lasts forever.

2. The Prohibition Against Interest. Why does the Torah connect the prohibition against interest with the Exodus from Egypt? Homiletically, when Hashem told Abraham that his descendants would suffer exile and enslavement for 400 years, it was a debt of servitude. The debt didn't begin to be "repaid" until much later, when Jacob went down to Egypt. Furthermore, we are told that the Egyptian exile lasted only 190 years (and that the Jews were enslaved for only 116 years), since Hashem took off time to compensate for the extremely harsh labor imposed by the Egyptians at the end. Normally, when repayment of a debt is postponed, interest is accrued. However, instead of increasing the debt, Hashem reduced it. Thus, the prohibition against interest reminds us that just as Hashem forgave us the interest, we must do so for others.

D. Parsha Parables (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)

50 years of transition. The Torah teaches us that the end of the Yovel, a 50-year cycle in the land of Israel, there is a radical socio-economic transition: " . . . freedom shall be announced to the land and all its inhabitants." Every servant shall return home to his family. All land that was sold shall return to its original owner. "And the land shall not be sold for eternity, for I [Hashem] am the true owner of the land!" Hashem, the "Ultimate Landlord," further reminds us that all such transactions are canceled with Yovel. All of these reversions occur at the close of Yom Kippur. Why? One of the most intriguing aspects of Judaism is the concept of teshuvah (repentance). No matter how great a sin, every Jew has the ability to change his situation and undo the damage. Yom Kippur is the day that is most appropriate for teshuvah, for it represents the idea that in the world of spirituality there is no sense of permanence. The desperate soul who feels he has no chance to change begins the year with a clean slate. He is rejuvenated and revitalized. In this Parsha, the Torah tells us that this rejuvenation does not only happen spirituality. Even regarding physical or financial situations, there is no permanence. Yovel is the Yom Kippur of the material world. This concept is illustrated by the following story: A wealthy traveler came to meet the Chofetz Chaim, whose piety and brilliance were admired all over the world. Entering the sage's tiny home, the wayfarer was shocked at it simplicity. In the center of the room stood an old table and a rickety bench. The kitchen was tiny and primitive, and the small cot on the side was hardly befitting this leader of European Jewry. "Rebbe," asked the man, "where are all your possessions? How can you live with barely a thing? The Chofetz Chaim gently asked the man, "And how did you arrive here?" "By coach," the man answered. The Chofetz Chaim walked outside and peered into this very fine carriage. He then turned to the man and asked, "I see no dining room here, nor kitchen, and not even a bed?" "But Rebbe," the man protested, "I am but traveling. I don't need those amenities. I don't know where I'll be tomorrow, and they are only useful in a fixed place." The Chofetz Chaim smiled,"I, too, am traveling in this world. I know not where I will be tomorrow. I only need temporary amenities." Every Yovel on Yom Kippur we are reminded that this is a world of transition. Whether it be in our personal lives, our real estate or our spirituality, there is always movement and change. Let us remember: it is always for the best.

E. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)

Perfection of Chesed. The prohibition against taking interest is one of the most formidable in the Torah. The Midrash states that on Judgment Day, any sins will be submitted for debate between accusing and defending angels, but for sin of taking interest, there is no deliberation and condemnation is immediate. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz states that the principle behind the prohibition of interest is that it constitutes a personal gain acquired while performing chesed (an act of kindness), in this case, lending someone money. Any act of kindness should be done altruistically, and receiving any return detracts from it and essentially destroys the concept of chesed. (One of the most important acts of chesed is attending to the burial of the dead. Obviously, there can be no anticipation of the beneficiary returning the favor. It is therefore pure chesed.) Since the overriding concern is that the person in need should receive the help he requires, the Talmud states that all acts of chesed are rewarded, even if one does them for ulterior motives. However, our goal should be to achieve the highest level of chesed, that which brings one no personal gain whatsoever. The Talmud states that the purpose of creation was to make possible the performance of chesed. This gives chesed its supreme importance. Chesed is the reason for all existence.

F. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)

1. The meaning of Shemittah. We can derive multi-faceted lessons from Shemittah:

a. Horav Shimon Schwab, z'tl, observes that Shemittah symbolizes mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Despite one's attachment to his land, he is asked to divest himself of his source of livelihood for an entire year, in order to let all Jews and animals "trespass" on his pride and joy. Why? Because it is Hashem's command. This is true heroism!

b. Shemittah attests to the entire Jewish people's belief that Hashem "owns" the land. We demonstrate publicly that we are surrendering our control and ownership of the land, and renounce whatever outstanding debts are owed us. Through Shemittah, we demonstrate our faith and trust in Hashem. We do not worry while our land lies fallow. Our trust is resolute, our faith unshaken.

c. Shemittah attests to the Jewish people's uniqueness, further evidencing the exceptional relationship we are privileged to have with Hashem.

d. It is the ultimate expression of emunah (faith in Hashem) -- if one approaches Shemittah purely from a rational perspective, their scientific conclusions would not support permitting the fields to remain fallow. However, if one is able to have the faith to comply with Hashem's mandate before he strives to understand it, he can obtain a level of strength and faith comparable to that of the angels.

G. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)

True freedom. "You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants." This verse refers to the mitzvah of emancipating slaves in the jubilee year. Whether a person was sold as a slave in order to make restitution for theft, or whether he sold himself as a slave because of economic hardship, he was to be set free unconditionally in the jubilee year. Since only a minority of the population were slaves, why does the Torah use the words "Proclaim freedom to all its inhabitants," since the vast majority of the people were free? The Pnei Yehoshua explains this with a profound psychological insight. Slavery does not only deprive the slave of his freedom, but the master as well. A person who dominates others is not truly free either, and the Talmud correctly states that one who acquires a slave acquires a master over himself (Kiddushin 20a). He who enslaves another becomes enslaved himself. The most absolute type of slavery occurs when a person is enslaved by his ego. One who has the need to control others is not free. The truly free person has no need to control others. Indeed, the psychologically healthy person realizes what an enormous task self-mastery is, and since he is occupied with becoming master over himself, he does not have the time, energy nor need to be a master over others.

H. Torah Gems (Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)

1. True Freedom.
"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof. . ." The Torah did not address "all the slaves," but "all the inhabitants," because in any country where freedom is incomplete. Slavery is an affliction which afflicts both slave and master. (Penei Yehoshua)

2. Strangers and Dwellers. "For you are strangers and dwellers with Me. . ." If you are strangers, how can you be dwellers (which implies permanence), and if you are dwellers, how can you be strangers? The meaning of this verse is as follows: G-d and the Jewish people always have a stranger-dweller relationship. If we feel that we are strangers in this world, and that this world is but a corridor leading to the World To Come, then G-d's Divine Presence dwells among us. If, on the other hand, we feel that we are dwellers in this world, and that we can do what we want without
any care of future retribution, G-d becomes a stranger, as it were, to us. (Dubno Magid)

3. The Ultimate Redeemer. "And if the man has no one to redeem it, he himself will find the means to redeem it." When there is no redeemer, when all sources of help have been exhausted, then "he himself will have the means." G-d promises that He Himself will help the person, and "he will find the means to redeem it." (Chasam Sofer)

4. Reaching Out To the Poor. "And if your brother becomes poor. . ." The previous verses appear in the plural form, but when the Torah refers to aiding the poor it switches to the singular. When someone needs help, people shift the responsibility to another, claiming that the other is a closer relative, more wealthy, etc. The Torah thus speaks in the singular, reminding us that each individual has a responsibility of helping the poor, and one cannot absolve himself by referring the poor person to someone else. (Alshekh)

I. Tell It From The Torah (R'Yaacov Peterseil)

1. Being Honest With Ourselves. "And you shall not deceive your fellow man." There are those who take this verse one step further. Not only should we not deceive our fellow man, but we should also not deceive ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we will be honest with others.

2. Interest: A Lesson In the Value of Time. "You shall not take any interest from him." Why is it prohibited to lend money to a fellow Jew and charge interest? Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains that the most important thing we have in life is time. Time is what puts everything into perspective. In truth, we should be sad at every passing moment, for each one brings us closer to "the day of reckoning." But someone who lends money and charges interest has the exact opposite feeling. Every second that passes brings him great joy, because he is making more interest on his money.

J. Soul of the Torah: Insights of the Chassidic Masters on the Weekly Torah Portions (Victor Cohen)

1. Pride In Our Service of Hashem. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt'l gave the following reason for the Parsha being named Behar, not Behar Sinai. Mount
Sinai exemplifies two aspects of personality - on the one hand, it was "the lowest of all mountains," a symbol of humility. On the other hand, it is a mountain, showing pride and honor. It is thus a blend of these two opposites. Yet, it is called "The Mountain of Hashem," the place where Hashem chose to make known His presence and transmit His teachings. The title of the Parsha emphasizes the pride and not the humility. Once we understand that we must undertake the mission with which Hashem has entrusted us, there is no need to be reminded to be humble in the face of service to Hashem. This is the intent of the name Behar, "on the mountain - the servant of Hashem stands proud, invested with strength of purpose.

2. Honest Business Practices. "When you make a sale to your fellow or when you buy land from the hand of your fellow, do not victimize one another."   The Chernobyler commented that if we are honest in our business dealings and observant of the laws against fraud, interest and false weight, that in and of itself is serving G-d.

3. Never Despair. "If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand becomes weak then you shall assist him." The Baal Shem Tov commented that when times are bleak and there seems to be no hope, you should not resign yourself to that predicament and state of mind. Become strong and develop a positive attitude.

K. Something to Say (Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser)

1. The Value of Faith. "If you will say: 'what will we eat in the seventh year?. . .' I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year." This is an assurance to the farmers, who may not plow and plant during the Shemitta. If they ask what they will have to eat, G-d tells them that He will send His blessing in the sixth year so that they will have enough of a surplus to provide abundant food until they can resume their normal agricultural cycle.  Rebbe Zishe of Anipoli analyzes the relationship between the Jewish people's question and G-d's response. It would seem from the wording of the verse that unless they demand to know "what will we eat?," G-d will not send His blessings. Is this so? R' Zishe answers that a lack of faith can close a pipeline through which blessing flows to the world. If the Jews are so lacking in faith that they must ask where their sustenance will come from, G-d tells them that He will have to take emergency measures; He says he will ordain his blessing, for it will be necessary for Him to reinstate the closed-off blessing in the world. If there had not been a lack of faith, it would have been natural for the blessings to flow.

2. True Empathy. On the same verse, the Tzor Hamor asked why G-d sends his blessing upon us only when we ask, "what will we eat?" A person who is wealthy often cannot feel the distress of the poor. G-d therefore gives the commandment of Shemitta. In observing Shemitta, wealthy people will also feel what it is like not to have everything they want. They, too, will have to turn to G-d and ask "what will we eat?" This need will arouse in them a sympathy for the lot of the poor. Because of the concern shown by the wealthy, G-d "will ordain" [H]is blessing." G-d's blessing will be sent in the merit of their sympathy.

L. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

1. Yovel and Shemitta Remind Us That G-d Is Our Ruler. Rashi notes that the Torah explicitly mentions that the rest on the Shemitta year is for the Almighty, just as the Torah states this in reference to the weekly Shabbos. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz cites the Raavad that a fundamental principle behind the commandments is that "they are to remind us constantly that we have a Creator who is our Ruler." The Almighty gave us this earth, but after using the Earth from some time, we can mistakenly think that the earth belongs to us, and we can forget that the Almighty is the real owner. Thus, the Torah stresses in this verse that the commandment to rest in the seventh year applies to the land which the Almighty gave us. The Almighty gave us the commandment of Shemitta and Shabbot to help us internalize the awareness that he is the true Boss of the earth.

2. Be Very Careful Not to Cause People Pain with Your Words. "And you should not hurt the feelings of one another, and you shall fear the Almighty." The Torah instructs us not to say anything to another which will cause him/her emotional pain. Rabbi Schlomo Kluger commented that some people are careless with others' feeling, focusing solely on those obligations which relate to their own relationship with G-d. However, if we are not respectful of others, we will eventually be careless with those commandments between man and G-d. Therefore, in the same verse that warns
us not hurt others, the Torah reminds us to fear G-d - failure to observe the first half of the verse will lead to failure to observe the latter part of the verse.

3. Do Acts Of Kindness Without Any Ulterior Motive. "Your money you shall not give him upon interest." R' Chaim Shmuelevitz explains the prohibition against charging interest by noting that the Torah wants to train us to do acts of kindness without any gain. Not only are we prohibited to charge interest when lending money, but the borrower is also prohibited from paying interest in any form. When we lend money (or do any other acts of kindness), we should do so only to help others and not with any expectation of return.

M. Reflections on the Sedra (R' Zalman Posner)

The Face of Shemitta. Why was the mitzvah of Shemitta particularly related to Mt. Sinai? After all, the entire Torah was taught to Moshe on Mt. Sinai. Shemitta, perhaps more than any other mitzvah, tests a Jew's faith in G-d. There is no reason for its fulfillment other than faith in G-d, and without faith in G-d its fulfillment is impossible. As Sinai is symbolic of Judaism, Shemitta is symbolic of devotion to Judaism. We have our Shemitta each week - the Shabbos - that is no less a test of our devotion to G-d and our religious commitment.

N. Pirkei Torah (R' Mordechia Gifter)

True Bitachon. "The land will gives its fruit and you will eat your fill. If you will say, 'what will we eat in the seventh year?,' I will ordain My blessing for you . . . " S'forno explains that one who does not question what he will eat in the seventh year will indeed have less produce; however, the nutritional quality of the produce will be so enhanced that he will not be required to eat as much as usual. Less will carry further, and the produce of the sixth year will thus suffice for the seventh year. However, one whose emunah is not so strong and asks what he will eat in the 7th year will have plentiful crops that will last him through the 7th year; nevertheless, these crops will be of normal (not enhance) quality. From S'forno's explanation, we note two kinds of bitachon (trust in G-d). One is the kind possessed by one who wants to completely fulfill G-d's will, but wonders how he will survive doing so. His bitachon is great, for even though he does not know what he will eat, he nonetheless fulfills G-d's will. Yet, there is an even greater level - the trust of one who performs the mitzvah and does not even inquire as to what will become of him. His bitachon is so great that he is absolutely certain that G-d will take care of him; his faith is more than a matter of perception - it is a reality!

O. Rabbi Frand on the Parsha

The Perfect Antidote. "When you sell from your friend or buy from your friend, do not cheat each other." Smack in the middle of the instructions respecting Shemitta, the Torah inserts the singular prohibition of not cheating others. Why does it belong here? Furthermore, why does this law - which applies to movable property, not real estate - appear in the midst of the Shemitta laws? The Beis Av explains that the underlying concept of Shemitta is to impress upon people that, in the final analysis, everything we have comes from G-d. This concept negates the rationale for cheating - a person may think that his underhanded methods brought him additional monies. But, if he believes that everything comes from G-d, he can't expect to outsmart Him. Thus, the lesson of Shemitta reinforces that cheating is not only wrong, it is futile.

P. Lil'Mode U'lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)/Artscroll Chumash

1. The significance of Shemittah.

A. Ramban notes that, like Shabbos, Shemittah bears testimony to Hashem's creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh day. (This is why only the Shemittah -- not any of the Festivals -- is specifically likened to Shabbos.)

B. Shemittah (and Yovel) helps us to develop Emunah (faith in Hashem), for it acknowledges that our possessions and personal freedom are provided by Hashem and are under His dominion.

C. The Sfas Emes, z'tl notes that the land's rest during the Shemittah year teaches us that the primary force in the universe is Hashem, not the laws of nature. By leaving his fields untended, the Jew demonstrates that this world is but a corridor leading to the ultimate world. However, it also teaches that one can't totally abstain from the world in which he lives. Thus, we must sow and harvest for six years (just as we must work for six days and rest on the Shabbos). This recognition infuses holiness and purpose into our workdays and years.

2 Interest and Shemittah. What is the connection between the prohibition of charging interest and the laws of Shemittah? Shemittah and the prohibition against interest remind us that our land and money, respectively, are gifts from Hashem.

3. The Highest Form of Charity. "If your brother becomes impoverished. . . you shall strengthen him". Rambam notes that this teaches us that the highest form of charity is to step in with help to prevent someone from become poor (e.g., by giving him/her a loan, investing in his/her business, etc.) As Rashi notes, when a donkey's load begins to slip, even one person can adjust it; but if the animal has fallen, even five people can't get it back on its feet.

Q. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

1. By realizing that others suffer, we can more easily cope with our own suffering. It is a mitzvah to blow the shofar to proclaim the Yovel. This was to remind the master who was to free his servant and the landowner who was to return land to its rightful owner that others were doing the same. Knowing that others are undergoing hardships makes it easier to accept our hardships, and to put our own suffering into perspective.

2. Hashem does not want you to cheat His children. The Parsha commands "and when you sell anything to your fellow man or buy from your fellow man, you shall not cheat one another". If one remains aware that Hashem is the creator of all people, he/she will be careful not to deceive others (just as one would be most careful if dealing with the offspring of an emperor). Rav Nachman was asked how it is possible to think of Hashem when involved in business, to which he replied "people find it easy to think about business when they are praying; similarly, if one really wants to, he/she can think of Hashem while engaged in business."

3. Feel an inner respect for other people. The Parsha prohibits a master giving a servant work that isn't really necessary (e.g., telling a servant to warm things up when the master doesn't really need it). Why does the Torah prohibit this, since the servant has no idea that his work is unnecessary? The Torah wants us to feel an inner respect for the dignity of others, since we are all created in Hashem's image.

R. Kol Dodi on the Torah (Rabbi David Feinstein)

1. The Emunah in Shemittah. "If you will say what will we eat in the seventh year? Behold! We will not sow and gather in crops! I [Hashem] shall ordain My blessings for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period [i.e., the seventh-ninth years]." Rashi, citing Chazal, teaches that the 70 years of the Babylonian exile were punishment, measure-for-measure, for the 70 Shemittah years which the Jews failed to observe when they were on their land. But if the above verse assures the Jews that the crop from the sixth year will be excessively abundant, why would they fail to adhere to the laws of Shemittah and insist on planting or harvesting during the Shemittah year? Since the sixth year would be so abundant, one could easily be led astray into believing that the seventh year would be equally (or even more) prosperous. Thus, it required great emunah (faith in Hashem) to recognize that however attractive the short term gains were, they would disappear quickly, whereas the reward for observing mitzvos, even though it may sometimes seem long in coming, lasts forever.

2. The Prohibition Against Interest. Why does the Torah connect the prohibition against interest with the Exodus from Egypt? Homiletically, when Hashem told Abraham that his descendants would suffer exile and enslavement for 400 years, it was a debt of servitude. The debt didn't begin to be "repaid" until much later, when Jacob went down to Egypt. Furthermore, we are told that the Egyptian exile lasted only 190 years (and that the Jews were enslaved for only 116 years), since Hashem took off time to compensate for the extremely harsh labor imposed by the Egyptians at the end. Normally, when repayment of a debt is postponed, interest is accrued. However, instead of increasing the debt, Hashem reduced it. Thus, the prohibition against interest reminds us that just as Hashem forgave us the interest, we must do so for others.

S. Parsha Parables (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)

50 years of transition. The Torah teaches us that the end of the Yovel, a 50-year cycle in the land of Israel, there is a radical socio-economic transition: " . . . freedom shall be announced to the land and all its inhabitants." Every servant shall return home to his family. All land that was sold shall return to its original owner. "And the land shall not be sold for eternity, for I [Hashem] am the true owner of the land!" Hashem, the "Ultimate Landlord," further reminds us that all such transactions are canceled with Yovel. All of these reversions occur at the close of Yom Kippur. Why? One of the most intriguing aspects of Judaism is the concept of teshuvah (repentance). No matter how great a sin, every Jew has the ability to change his situation and undo the damage. Yom Kippur is the day that is most appropriate for teshuvah, for it represents the idea that in the world of spirituality there is no sense of permanence. The desperate soul who feels he has no chance to change begins the year with a clean slate. He is rejuvenated and revitalized. In this Parsha, the Torah tells us that this rejuvenation does not only happen spirituality. Even regarding physical or financial situations, there is no permanence. Yovel is the Yom Kippur of the material world. This concept is illustrated by the following story: A wealthy traveler came to meet the Chofetz Chaim, whose piety and brilliance were admired all over the world. Entering the sage's tiny home, the wayfarer was shocked at it simplicity. In the center of the room stood an old table and a rickety bench. The kitchen was tiny and primitive, and the small cot on the side was hardly befitting this leader of European Jewry. "Rebbe," asked the man, "where are all your possessions? How can you live with barely a thing? The Chofetz Chaim gently asked the man, "And how did you arrive here?" "By coach," the man answered. The Chofetz Chaim walked outside and peered into this very fine carriage. He then turned to the man and asked, "I see no dining room here, nor kitchen, and not even a bed?" "But Rebbe," the man protested, "I am but traveling. I don't need those amenities. I don't know where I'll be tomorrow, and they are only useful in a fixed place." The Chofetz Chaim smiled,"I, too, am traveling in this world. I know not where I will be tomorrow. I only need temporary amenities." Every Yovel on Yom Kippur we are reminded that this is a world of transition. Whether it be in our personal lives, our real estate or our spirituality, there is always movement and change. Let us remember: it is always for the best.

T. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)

Perfection of Chesed. The prohibition against taking interest is one of the most formidable in the Torah. The Midrash states that on Judgment Day, any sins will be submitted for debate between accusing and defending angels, but for sin of taking interest, there is no deliberation and condemnation is immediate. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz states that the principle behind the prohibition of interest is that it constitutes a personal gain acquired while performing chesed (an act of kindness), in this case, lending someone money. Any act of kindness should be done altruistically, and receiving any return detracts from it and essentially destroys the concept of chesed. (One of the most important acts of chesed is attending to the burial of the dead. Obviously, there can be no anticipation of the beneficiary returning the favor. It is therefore pure chesed.) Since the overriding concern is that the person in need should receive the help he requires, the Talmud states that all acts of chesed are rewarded, even if one does them for ulterior motives. However, our goal should be to achieve the highest level of chesed, that which brings one no personal gain whatsoever. The Talmud states that the purpose of creation was to make possible the performance of chesed. This gives chesed its supreme importance. Chesed is the reason for all existence.

U. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)

1. The meaning of Shemittah. We can derive multi-faceted lessons from Shemittah:

a. Horav Shimon Schwab, z'tl, observes that Shemittah symbolizes mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. Despite one's attachment to his land, he is asked to divest himself of his source of livelihood for an entire year, in order to let all Jews and animals "trespass" on his pride and joy. Why? Because it is Hashem's command. This is true heroism!

b. Shemittah attests to the entire Jewish people's belief that Hashem "owns" the land. We demonstrate publicly that we are surrendering our control and ownership of the land, and renounce whatever outstanding debts are owed us. Through Shemittah, we demonstrate our faith and trust in Hashem. We do not worry while our land lies fallow. Our trust is resolute, our faith unshaken.

c Shemittah attests to the Jewish people's uniqueness, further evidencing the exceptional relationship we have with Hashem.

d. It is the ultimate expression of emunah (faith in Hashem) -- if one approaches Shemittah purely from a rational perspective, their scientific conclusions would not support permitting the fields to remain fallow. However, if one is able to have the faith to comply with Hashem's mandate before he strives to understand it, he can obtain a level of strength and faith comparable to that of the angels.

V. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)

True freedom. "You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants." This verse refers to the mitzvah of emancipating slaves in the jubilee year. Whether a person was sold as a slave in order to make restitution for theft, or whether he sold himself as a slave because of economic hardship, he was to be set free unconditionally in the jubilee year. Since only a minority of the population were slaves, why does the Torah use the words "Proclaim freedom to all its inhabitants," since the vast majority of the people were free? The Pnei Yehoshua explains this with a profound psychological insight. Slavery does not only deprive the slave of his freedom, but the master as well. A person who dominates others is not truly free either, and the Talmud correctly states that one who acquires a slave acquires a master over himself (Kiddushin 20a). He who enslaves another becomes enslaved himself. The most absolute type of slavery occurs when a person is enslaved by his ego. One who has the need to control others is not free. The truly free person has no need to control others. Indeed, the psychologically healthy person realizes what an enormous task self-mastery is, and since he is occupied with becoming master over himself, he does not have the time, energy nor need to be a master over others.

Next Parsha:  Bechukosai

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