15 May 2020

Rabbi Winston – Behar-Bechukosai – Shabbos Kodesh

Dedicated in loving memory of Neal Kark—Nachum Velvel ben Yosef, a”h. May the learning of this week’s Perceptions be a merit for his Neshamah and his entire family. Marvin, Lenny, and Edye Kark and Families

And G–D spoke to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Shabbos to G–D.” (Vayikra 25:1-2)

RASHI COMMENTS ON these verses and explains: 

What [special relevance] does the subject of Shmittah have with Mt. Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai? However, just as with Shmittah, its general principles and its specific details were all stated from Sinai, likewise, all of them were stated—their general principles [together with] their specific details—from Sinai. This is what is taught in Toras Kohanim (25:1). 

It appears to me that its explanation is that since we do not find the laws of Shmittah of land reiterated on the plains of Moav in Devarim, we learn that its general principles, specific details, and explanations were all stated at Sinai. The Torah states this here to teach us that [just as in the case of Shmittah,] every statement that was conveyed to Moshe came from Sinai, [including] their general principles and specific details repeated and reviewed on the plains of Moav.

The issue is that the Torah slips in the words, “on Mt. Sinai” into the verse first quoted above. Normally when G–D spoke to Moshe, the verse doesn’t mention this, so the question is, why add these words now? Rashi answers, to indicate that just as all the laws of Shmittah were given at Mt. Sinai, so too were all of the laws of every mitzvah given at Mt. Sinai, even if they are not mentioned in the Torah until later. 

Fine. But that doesn’t answer another question: Why Shmittah? Why is this particular mitzvah the one G–D chose to use to teach this important lesson, that ALL mitzvos were given at Sinai in detail? What, if anything, does Shmittah have in common with Mt. Sinai?

The Torah adds some additional information that helps with this:

“I am G–D, your G–D, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a G–D to you.” (Vayikra 25:38)

The Talmud learns from this verse, that G–D can only really be the G–D of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel (Kesuvos 110b). The truth is, we learn this earlier from Ya’akov Avinu who, on his way to the Diaspora, said this:

And Ya’akov took a vow, saying, “If G–D will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear; and if I return in peace to my father's house, and G–D will be my G–D… (Bereishis 28:20-21)

What did he mean, “and G–D will be my G–D”? Wasn’t G–D ALWAYS his G–D, no matter WHERE Ya’akov went? Not on the level G–D was in Eretz Yisroel, as Dovid HaMelech would later say, and the Talmud would explain:

“For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave to the inheritance of G–D, saying, ‘Go, serve other G–Ds’.” (I Shmuel 26:19). But who told Dovid: “Go, serve other G–Ds?” Rather, this comes to tell you that anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisroel is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship. (Kesuvos 110b)

This is what Ya’akov was saying to G–D: 

“I am being forced to leave Eretz Yisroel due to no fault of my own. Please go with me and act towards me on the level You normally do when I am in Eretz Yisroel!”

And as even Lavan himself pointed out, G–D did exactly that. Because Ya’akov was on a divinely-originated mission in Padan Aram, G–D accompanied him as if the borders of Eretz Yisroel had been spiritually expanded to encompass Ya’akov away from home. Being above space and time, the spiritual world can do that, if and when G–D agrees to it.

Clearly this had been the case at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Torah. It was in the Diaspora, and yet Har Sinai had the status of the Temple Mount while G–D “hovered” over it. The desert bloomed for them like Eretz Yisroel eventually would. This is why perhaps the generation of the spies later got the impression that Eretz Yisroel can be anywhere, rejecting the actual Land of Israel for the desert…Spain…Eastern Europe…the Western world, etc. 

The whole point of Shmittah is exactly this, to bind these two ideas together, that G–D is our G–D, made official at Har Sinai and the receiving of Torah, and that Eretz Yisroel is the place to best actualize this unique and holy relationship. By making Shmittah the throwback to Kabbalas HaTorah, it made sure that at least every seven years the Jewish people were reminded of the intimate and intricate connection between the Land of Israel and the Har Sinai event.

That’s one level. There is at least one more. 

Just as the seventh day of the week is Shabbos for a Jew, the seventh year of tending the land is Shabbos for the land. The issue is not so much Shmittah, but the “Shabbos” it represents, and what that is supposed to facilitate: a deeper connection with G–D that supersedes time and space, just as Kabbalas HaTorah did in its time. 

It’s almost like a Sci-fi movie, the kind where a person opens a normal door but finds a whole different plane of reality on the other side of it. The door may not be physical in this case, but the higher plane of reality certainly is there. In this case, the door is the mitzvah of Shmittah itself, just like Shabbos. The act of doing the mitzvah as prescribed opens the “door” to what awaits on the other side.

Recently I have been doing a webinar called, “Mindfulness, Torah, and Redemption.” In fact, I have just completed a book of the same name, which I hope to get into the Amazon store soon, b”H. As the title indicates, it is about the idea of mindfulness, except from a Torah perspective. Where the rest of the world leaves off, this book and webinar continues on.

The main point is how the “moment” is more than just time. We humans are time-bound, and what we call the “Present” is just a threshold over which the Future becomes the Past. For us, time is elusive, and unable to travel faster than the speed of light, we can’t “stop” time.

But we can rise above it. We can attach ourselves to G–D, Who is eternal, and therefore is, by definition, the “Present.” Above time, G–D has no future or past, because they are not relevant to Him. Being eternal, everything only exists in the Present, at least as far as we can understand.

If a person really wants to be “in the moment,” which is where the exhilaration of life is, they have to attach themselves to G–D as much as they can. Learning Torah the right way does this. Performing the mitzvos the right way does this. Certainly Shabbos does this, which is why it is one-sixtieth of the World-to-Come…and time seems to have a different quality than on the other six days of the week. 

This is Shmittah as well. It’s not just about taking a year off from working the land, and having more time to learn. It’s about taking a year off from the mundane reality of the previous six years, and learning how to rise to a higher spiritual plane…similar to that at Har Sinai and the giving of Torah. Now it makes great sense to specifically connect these two events.

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