Thursday, May 8, 2014

In Service: Working the Land, Working the Soul; the Torah Portion of Behar

This week's Torah portion is first and foremost about the Land. Like last week's Parashah, the opening words are somewhat different from the norm. The Torah specifically spells out that these particular words were said to Moshe "on Mount Sinai." As one would expect, Rashi immediately comments on this intriguing variation:

1And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying,

First, Rashi asks:

What [special relevance] does the subject of Shemittah [the “release” of fields in the seventh year] have with Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai? 

He answers by saying:

Rather, just as with Shemittah, its general principles and its finer details were all stated from Sinai, likewise, all of them were stated-their general principles [together with] their finer details-from Sinai. This is what is taught in Torath Kohanim (25:1). 

Rashi then further explains the above answer: 

It appears to me that its explanation is as follows: since we do not find the laws of Shemittah of land reiterated on the plains of Moab in Deuteronomy, we learn that its general principles, finer details, and explanatons were all stated at Sinai. Scripture states this [phrase] here to teach us that [just as in the case of Shemittah,] every statement [i.e., every commandment] that was conveyed to Moses came from Sinai, [including] their general principles and finer details, was repeated and reviewed on the plains of Moab.     

Rashi suggests that the choice to specifically mention the laws of Shmittah here provides for two separate conclusions to be drawn: 1) All laws were given at Mt. Sinai in full detail, even if the Torah does not specifically mention this regarding each law. 2) All laws were repeated and reviewed on the plains of Moab (in Deuteronomy), even those not specifically mentioned there.

Another explanation given by our sages as to why the laws of Shmittah were mentioned here is that the applicability of these laws was for some time in the very distant future, at the time the Land would not only be conquered, but also settled. If even these laws were given at Mt. Sinai in full detail, certainly all the other one were as well.

Perhaps a related, more spritually-oriented answer can be given: Shemittah is about physical land, actual earth, the ultimate in materiality. If even land was discussed in the highest detail, then certainly more "spiritual" laws were discussed in full as well.

Rashi's further clarification of his initial comment comes to teach us also the opposite lesson: even when the Jews were not as spiritually oriented, 40 years after Mt. Sinai, and about to conquer the Land, here also every law was repeated and reviewed in full, from the most material to the most spiritual.

In truth, what is "more spiritual" or "more material" is a somewhat subjective definition, based on our limited human perspective. We are told in Pirkei Avot that we are not supposed to weigh the importance of the Mitzvot. Both are extremely important, in every phase of our lives, both the more spiritual times as well as the more material ones.

Also, if one looks at the actual laws of Shemittah and Yovel (Jubilee) discussed in the beginning of this week's portion, one cannot help but see a clear connection with the Mitzvah of Counting the Omer, the 49 days (seven weeks) from Passover to Shavuoth. The Omer count is very spiritual in nature - it's a time of the year when we all become Kabbalists, focusing on the Sefirah combination for that day (Chesed shebeChesed, Gevurah shebeChesed, Hod shebeHod, and so forth). 

Ultimately, whether we are working on our souls and conquering our evil inclination, or conquering and working the Land, the objective is the same: getting closer and closer to G-d, by doing his will.

All of this is very connected to the month we're in Iyar, related to the Tribe of Issachar, and the coming month, Sivan, related to the Tribe of Zebulun. The men of Issachar spent their days fully immersed in Torah study, while the men of Zebulun were heavily involved in commerce and supported their sibling tribe.

It is also quite appropriate then that the Counting of the Omer takes place at this time of the year, as well as the holidays celebrating the recent conquest of the Land: Yom Ha'Atzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim. It is also the time of extremely spiritual days: Lag Ba'omer and, very soon, Shavuot.



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