Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bamidbar Too

When The Jewish People travelled in the desert, we're told - (Bamidbar 2:17) - that "the way they rested (the order they camped in) was the way they moved (the same formation)." Rabbi Abraham Twerski broadens the application of this statement in the following manner. The way they rested spilled over into the way they moved forward. If their rest was spiritual, then their moving forward was spiritual too.

This applies to us in regard to Shabbos; the way we rest is the way we move. The flavor of our rest carries over and colorizes the way we transition into the week. If our Shabbos is a day of spiritual, not just physical rest, then we reap a spiritual surge into the week.

Shabbos is meant to spill over into our lives. It is a day of rest. Besides everything, Shabbos models for us the idea of a holy break. This is something that would serve anyone well on any day.

Taking a walk, playing/listening to music, exercising, reading, writing, conversing - these can all be sacred activities. The concept of leisure for leisure's sake is hard to rationalize in Judaism. The idea of down time that propels us upwards is a different story. The concept of how we rest leading into how we move onward a prominent concept in our tradition.

This is the idea behind the idea of Shemittah, a Sabbatical year. That year is meant to provide a break which invigorates when we move back into the long haul of "real life." Perhaps the reason why Shmittah is associated with Har Sinai is because it is meant to be like a year on that holy mountain, which we descend from with a holy glow of energy.

May we each be blessed with consistent spiritual pauses that allow us to proceed with sanctity.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Numbers: A Love Story
Rashi explains the lists and numbers that Bamidbar starts with as reflective of G-d's love for the Jewish People. When you cherish something you repeatedly count it. Hashem counted us three times in one year as an expression of His love of the Jewish People.

This concept of counting that which is beloved relates to our lives. We collect baseball cards as kids, shot glasses as adults, and repeatedly look over our treasures, assessing the value of each piece. We balance our checkbooks, and count our change, due to our affection for money. On the holiest level parents gaze for hours at each of their sleeping children.

It's not the literal counting that shows love, but the attention paid. This is what Rashi means by saying that counting reflects love.

When Hashem took us out of Egypt He carried us, cherished us, and counted us. Shortly after the expression of love that was the Exodus From Egypt the Jewish People strayed and our Father disciplined us with love and then counted us. When He rested His Presence upon us in the Mishkan He lovingly counted us.

These 3 times that G-d counted us can be applied to 3 relationships of love in life: The first rule of love is giving. We may use G-d's carrying us out of Egypt as a lesson of care and concern for others. However, just like G-d, we must show our love through setting of boundaries as well. As G-d showed us when He rested His presence upon us, sometimes when you love someone there is value in spending time, not to give in a specific way and not to discipline, but just to be together in love.

These 3 ingredients: care, discipline, and attention, need to be nurtured for relationships to be balanced. May G-d in his love for us, bless us in the art of love, as we each, in our own way, do our best to emulate G-d and communicate love with all the elements.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Behar/Bechukotai - Guest Post

Rabbi Hoffman has been writing a new, amazing, piece on each parsha every week for many years. You can subscribe and receive his "Netvort" every week by writing him at JoshHoff@aol.com.
Down to Earth
By Rabbi Joshua ( earthily known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

In honor of Yosef Bronstein and Batya Reichman on the occasion of their recent engagement. Mazal tov !!!

The beginning of parshas Behar presents us with the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year, and the laws of Yovel, the Jubilee year. The Torah tells us, first, that the land shall observer a rest for God ( Vayikra, 25:2), and then, after listing the basic laws of Shemittah, on which the land must lay fallow, we are told that the resting of the land shall be yours to eat" ( Vayikra, 25:6).

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, in his commentary Ner LaMaor, separates the first four words of the last verse-'vehayesa Shabbos ha-aretz lachem and the resting of the land shall be yours - from the next word - le'achlah - to eat, and explains these four words to mean that the purpose of leaving the land fallow and desisting from work during Shemittah is for the benefit of the farmer's spiritual essence. Just as Shabbos during the week serves the function of giving man a break from his busy work schedule so that he can contemplate more spiritual matters and come closer to God, so too is resting on the seventh year of the agricultural cycle meant to bring man back to himself and back to God.

Rabbi Meir Juzint zt'l once answered the question of the midrash, brought by Rashi on our parshah, of why the Torah mentions that the laws of Shemittah were given at Mt. Sinai, since all of the mitzvos were given there, by saying that the year of Shemittah should be spent at Mt. Sinai, in the sense of spending that time studying Torah.

Rav Neriah cites a number of commentaries, including Rav Yitzchak Aramah in his Akeidas Yitzchak, as saying that Shemittah should arouse us from the darkness of our thoughts. He also cites the famed proto- Zionist, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, as saying that a person should not be tied his entire life to his work in the field. Rather, he should spend one out of seven years free for the sake of his soul, and engage in the pursuit of Torah and wisdom.

Rav Neriah brings a second approach to the purpose of Shemittah, which is followed by the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim (3, 39), the Sefer HaChinuch, and others. They emphasize the social aspect of Shemittah that is geared toward helping the poor.

On shemittah, all lands are to become ownerless, and the poor are to be allowed to eat from whatever fruit and produce that grows there. The Rambam writes that the intention of Shemitah is to have compassion on people, and the Chinuch says that it comes to instill us with character traits such as generosity of the heart. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, in addition to his explanation that shemittah comes to afford workers the opportunity to develop their spirituality through learning Torah, also says that an additional purpose of shemittah is to serve as an equalizer between rich and poor, since, during shemittah, they are all equal in their access to the produce of the fields.

Rav Neriah says that this social aspect of shemittah is inherent in the continuation of the verse from which he pointed out the spiritual aspect of the year, as we read, " the resting of the earth shall be yours to eat, for you, for your servant and your maidservant, and your hired worker, and the stranger who dwells with you..."

I believe that there is an important connection between these two explanations of the purpose of shemittah, that can be demonstrated through a verse in parshas Emor. The second half of parshas Emor deals with the laws of the various festivals of the year. Interstingly, after the laws regarding Shavuos, and before the laws of Rosh Hashanah, there is a verse about the parts of one crop that a farmer must leave for the poor to take: "When you reasp the harvest of your land; you shall not remove completely the corner of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest: for the poor and proselyte shall you leave them, I am the Lord , your God" ( Vayikra, 23:22).

Why does this verse intervene between the secction on Shavuos and the section on Rosh Hashanah? Rav Dovid Feinstein explained that Shavuos falls during the time period in which we received the Torah, and we must realize that just as the Torah begins and ends with chesed - kindness, so, too, when we accept the Torah anew each Shavuos, we must also accept upon ourselves the need to perform acts of chesed, helping others less fortunate than we are. This is also why the Talmud tells us that when someone wants to convert to Judaism, he must be told about these laws of the gifts a Jew must leave in his field for the poor, so that he understands the importance of chesed in the Jewish religion.

After the end of the Shemittah year, during Sukkos, there is a mitzvah of Hakhel, as taught in parshas Vayeilech. The mitzvah involves gathering the entire nation in the Beis Hamikkadash and reading sections of the Torah to them. The Rambam, in his description of this mitzvah, seems to compare it to the original acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. After a year of immersion of Torah study, then, the nation, gathers together to re-accept the Torah, with a new appreciation for its teachings. Part of this re-acceptance must be a new commitment to helping others, as well, just as they helped the poor during Shemittah.

In this way, the two dimensions of Shemittah that we have seen in the various commentators come together, and serve as a guide for the way we should live our lives during the coming six years in the agricultural cycle.