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Torah Portion


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THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING-A FIRST GLANCE
B'HAR & B'CHUKOSAI (2 studies for the price of 1!)
LEVITICUS 25-27

A short study of the reading by Yaakov Fogelman, who lectures on Torah and Religious Zionism; sets and disks of these studies, as well as his audio and video tapes, are available at TOP. See "In the Service of God", by Shalom Freedman (Jason Aronson), for his views, and those of 20 other teachers of Torah, on Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish People today ($30).

This study is brought to you by Robert and Susan Mednick of Chicago and Jerusalem, in memory of Nettie Mednick, whose Yahrtzeit is on the second day of Shavuot in the Diaspora.


WHEN THE SAINTS COME MARCHING BACK
B'har opens: God directed Moshe at Mt. Sinai: "Direct the children of Israel and explain to them: `When you come into the land which I AM (now too!) giving you, the land shall celebrate a sabbath to God. Six years you shall sow your field... and there shall be "shabbat shabaton", a sabbath of sabbaths (or a sabbath of rest-- Sporno notes that more agricultural acts are prohibited by the Torah during the Sabbatical Year than on Shabbat) for the land in the 7th year-- a sabbath to God... (25:1-4)'".

"WHEN YOU COME..." implies that BIBLICAL sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years are in effect only when MOST Jews are in Israel, divided into their tribes (Sefer Hachinuch); each tribal area was best suited for its own unique development, its indispensable contribution to the national mosaic. Then Israel's ultimate goal of national perfection can be reached, exemplified by the jubilee year observance (Hirsch).

Most authorities claim that the Sabbatical Year lacks Biblical sanction since the exile of the 10 tribes, well over 2000 years ago, tho RABBINIC commemorative laws kept its memory alive (medieval authorities, e.g. Rashi and Rabbenu Chananel, even debate which year is the correct year!). So no miraculous Biblical Divine blessing of 6th year produce, that it suffice until produce planted in the 8th year emerges in the 9th, applies today- thus the chief rabbis of Israel legally sell the land to a non-Jew today, thereby satisfying the rabbinic prohibitions of growing and selling sabbatical year produce (except for home gardens; a certificate of goyot, legal status as a non-Jew, might be required from the non-Jewish "buyer"-- a few years ago, the alleged non-Jewish purchaser of the nation's chumatz food, forbidden to be in Jewish possession during Passover, was exposed as a Jew-- his Jewish mother married an Arab!); we thus avoid economic collapse, the logical outcome of a year without farming; eventual assimilation or persecution await the Jews who would then have to leave Israel. But an inspiring JP Magazine article on shmita observance in Israel today ("Fallow Fields, Rich Tradition", April 6) shows cases where God seems to be blessing pious farmers, who practice shmita strictly, and their lands.

Religious Zionists also use other legal devices, e.g. farming under a tent, to avoid both legal violation of rabbinic laws of shmita and economic collapse. Most haredim rely on sale of chometz to a non-Jew during Pesach, despite the strict Biblical prohibition involved in so selling Jewish land; yet they won't recognize the Chief Rabbi's sale of the land; their few agricultural settlements strictly observe rabbinic shmita. Fund raising abroad covers their losses; no one has offered to cover the resulting huge losses, if everyone else did so. For many years, I sought someone who would do a cost-benefit analysis of what exactly would indeed happen, if the whole Jewish agricultural community of Israel took a sabbatical during the alleged shmita year.

In its Torah and Science Studies, Machon Lev (The Jerusalem College of Technology) finally did a comprehensive study of the economic impact of such national shmita observance a year ago; they concluded that not only would we not lose much money, but would save loads of money, and even make loads and loads of money, if all farmers took off a year to learn about the more efficient use of our drastically limited amounts of water. When we consume and export fruits and vegetables, we are really consuming and exporting loads of precious water, worth more than those crops.

Such well-trained farmers could then share their knowledge of water conservation with the rest of the world, develop related products and curb our use of water; they are likely to thus bring Israel far more net income than agriculture per se can possibly do. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Machon Lev, primarily an academic institution, did nothing to implement their findings, e.g. setting up such courses and getting the government to underwrite the costs, including compensation to farmers who abandon their fields for a year to pursue such educated expertise. Hopefully, they and other institutions can start now, in preparation for the next shmita.

Ridvaz discerned in the outbreak of epidemics in the Holy Land in 1910 a mark of Divine displeasure, because of the Yishuv's laxity in the observance of the Sabbatical Year, following the measures sanctioned by Rav Kook. Rav Kook replied: "As to the cause..., there is none greater than the groundless hate in which we are steeped here, more than elsewhere. It is not the way of the Torah to allow the fear of punishment to guide us in establishing a point of law. We have to clarify from the Torah itself whether or not a certain measure is permissible, and once we succeed in doing so, we dare not ascribe any visitation to our interpretation of the law. for God would not falsify in His own Torah. It behooves us to investigate our actions in other directions, in particular attitudes and failings, which unfortunately disfigure our times" ("Guardians of Our Heritage", p. 508; some warped soul destroyed our outdoor literature rack; a rabid Old City Yeshivat Hakotel devotee warned me that God would punish me for disagreeing with his rosh yeshiva, the "gadol hador", tho I followed the approach of my own "gadol hador", Rav J. Soloveichik- the Rov indeed didn't care if his pupils followed him, preferring that they develop their own ability to judge issues).

THE BACKGROUND OF B'HAR

The Torah dwelt upon HOLINESS for the last 7 chapters; it is to permeate every aspect of Israeli life, that we be a "holy nation". This SHOULD BE the outcome of Israel's intimate contact with God, via His commandments-- a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6). Holy days sanctify time (e.g. no TV), and the holy place, the tabernacle, space; both dimensions merge in the sacrifices and agricultural offerings of the holidays, and are adjacent themes in our prayers and grace. Sacred time and sacred space also merge in sabbatical and jubilee years. The land of Israel and its crops become "holy"-- separated from the mundane-- every 7 years and every 50th year-- but only when most of Israel's people will return.

Torat Kohanim explains why sabbatical year laws are singled out as SPOKEN AT MT. SINAI-- they're a prototype; all their details are given with them- all Torah laws were indeed so taught at Sinai (tho later repeated in the Tent of Meeting and at the Plains of Moav-- this is R. Akiva's view in Zvachim 115b; but Rebbe Yishmael claims that only the general principles of mitzvos were given at Sinai, the details in the Tent; cf. Git. 60a). Per Ibn Ezra, the above passage (25:1-4) WAS proclaimed at Sinai, but was placed here to connect it with the forthcoming covenant of The Land.

HAFTARAT B'HAR is JEREMIAH 32:6-27

Jeremiah redeems Israeli land in Anatot (may Barak protect it!), when everyone thought Israel was finished and its land worthless (cf. 1948, today's falling Israeli real estate market); his act demonstrated faith in Israel's redemption from exile. The yovel message is self-redemption, return, on one's own initiative. So here God only informs Jeremiah of an upcoming encounter- "Your uncle is coming to try to sell you a field"-- without ordering him to buy it. He himself sees the great holy Zionist lesson he can teach by buying the field on the eve of the 70 year exile, thus doing God's Will on his own. Early chalutzim, tho non-religious on a conscious level, demonstrated this great faith in the eternal future of Israel; they sacrificed their lives to return and rebuild after 1900 years-- sheer insanity from a rational secular perspective, but beginning the Divine messianic era from a religious one, tho against all odds (and government incompetence?!). But Rav J. Soloveichik uses this passage to show that Jeremiah, as Avraham, does what God says, however irrational, without questions, and only tries to understand the commandment later ("Nefesh Harav").

THE BACKGROUND OF B'CHUKOSEI

Leviticus 25, laws of sabbatical and jubilee years, of helping the poor and limiting their servitude, closes with verse 55- "For the Children of Israel are slaves to Me, My servants, whom I took from the land of Egypt, I am God your Lord". 2 seemingly irrelevant verses 26:1-2 conclude the previous reading, B'har-- 1) "Don't make gods for yourself, don't set up an image... don't put a finished stone in your land to bow down to it-- for I am God your Lord". 2) "Keep My sabbaths and have awe of My sanctuary-- I am God!"

Per Rav Kanotopsky (in "NIGHT OF WATCHING"), "KEEP MY SABBATHS" (26:2) refers to the preceding sabbatical and jubilee years, applicable only when most Jews live in Israel. Their effect, when Israelis relinquish control of their real estate, slaves, and debts, is: "AND HAVE AWE OF MY SANCTUARY"-- each Jew and the State of Israel will themselves become an awe inspiring sanctuary, a LIVING EXAMPLE of God's powerful religious and social messages. All men will find and internalize God in Israel and, especially, Jerusalem, and take Him back home with them. The Torah now (26:3ff) adds that this sanctity will bring blessing in its wake, will restore God's original and ultimate perfect world.

The flipside of the blessings is a series of progressive curses, if Israel ignores and violates Torah-- nature's state and fate is 100% linked to the moral state of human, especially Jewish, nature (cf. Eden & the Flood, Gen. 3:17-19, 6:12). One may not bow down on carved or dressed stone, even to God. An exception is the Temple service-- perhaps it can bring out hidden sparks of holiness in lifeless stone itself, in each generation. The Rov notes that Jeremiah, as Avraham at the Akeda, first does what God says-- to redeem an Israeli field on the eve of Israel's exile-- however irrational, without ?, and only tries to understand the commandment later- "Nefesh Harav, Haftarat Bhar".

Leviticus is called Torat Cohanim, THE TEACHING (detailed laws) FOR THE PRIESTS-- both the Jewish KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and model HOLY NATION (Ex. 19:6) and its internal priests, descendants of Aharon (D. Hoffman). The fulfillment of its teaching will bring all mankind back to Eden, via Jerusalem. Ch. 26 portrays blessings and curses upon the people of Israel in every realm of life, dependent upon their adherence to, or flaunting of, this great Code. Both blessings and curses are miraculous, unparalleled in the natural order of nations, showing God's hand in history (Ramban, 11; cf. The Shoah and the rebirth of The State of Israel). Ch. 26 closes: "These are the statutes, the (social) ordinances, and the teachings (both oral and written-- Rashi), which God gave between Him and the Children of Israel-- on Mt. Sinai, by Moshe's hand (26:46).

We end Vayikra with a seemingly unrelated anti-climatic P.S.-- CH. 27, JM Ch. 23, the laws of sanctuary pledges and vows, their redemption, and that of second tithes, which must otherwise be eaten in Jerusalem, and laws of the tithe of animals (30f). All other laws of Leviticus were given BEFORE the covenant in Ch. 26. Per Hirsch, and Sporno, Ch. 27 deals with VOLUNTARY pledges (tho tithes are not, their redemption is). Only COMPULSORY laws, thru Ch. 25, comprise the covenant between the Jews and God at Sinai (the voluntary laws may be summarized in 27:34). The blessings and curses in Ki Savo are a new covenant-- "These are the words of the covenant which God commanded Moshe to establish with the Children of Israel in the land of Moav, besides the covenant... at Chorev" (Deut. 28:69-- cf. Leviticus' last verse, after this covenant: "These are the commandments that God gave Moshe for the Israelites at Mt. Sinai").

Ch. 27 may teach that our ultimate goal is voluntary action, from love of God, not just compulsory behavior, from fear of God (Shlomo Carlebach's Hassidic leit-motif). Yet we value he who obeys God's command over he who serves Him voluntarily (A.Z. 3a, Kid. 31a, B.K. 38a, 57a)-- this may refer to the self-subjugation of she/he who is commanded, OR to the conclusion that if God doesn't command something, it's not so important for one to do (e.g. women studying talmud or getting married?), tho it is better to do that which is commanded by Him, out of love. Murder, separating the soul from the body, entails the death penalty (24:21). Yet man's essence is his spirit, beyond time and monetary value-- the body per se isn't worth much; if one pledged a human body to the temple, the maximum sum due, also paid by a rapist of a young girl, is 50 shekels of silver; 100 sh. is paid for a false claim of a bride's adultery; I pay 30 sh. if my cow, God forbid, gored a slave. Actually, I don't know if I should say God forbid, since I don't own a cow, tho I do have a hard-to-control recumbent bicycle.

27:34, ending Leviticus, states that its laws were given at Sinai, unlike those in Numbers, given at the Tent of Meeting to the new generation. Rav D. Hoffman adds that Ch. 27 is the last in a series of laws as to how things acquire sanctity, tho pledges are redeemable. He shows Ch. 27's antiquity, refuting heretical and critical contentions that it is a Babylonian appendage to Vayikra.

ABSTRACT CONCEPTS AND PRECISE DETAIL

Detailed laws and the tabernacle service are Leviticus leitmotifs; it began with precise laws of sacrifices, dedicated to God in the Temple, and thus ends with Ch. 27, precise laws of temple pledges (Abarbanel, Rav Hertz). Science is the objective connection of precisely measured detail with sweeping abstract concepts. Torah too merges exact detailed laws of human behavior with abstract legal entities. In 25:1, Rashi teaches that all Sinaitic commands were given in great detail, not just as general principles, later filled in by the rabbis (vs. non-Orthodox and academic doctrines of faith or the lack thereof, e.g. Judith Hauptman's approach to Bible and Talmud; see our Behar study).

Unlike God's authentic Torah, the ENTIRE focus of many other "religions", including famous take-offs on Judaism, is upon inner subjective states-- "DID THIS INSPIRE YOU"?- rather than: "IS THIS AN OBJECTIVELY TRUE, PRECISE AND VALID DETAILED PART OF DIVINE REALITY?". In Judaism, commandments are valid, despite our reaction. Yet subjective aesthetics and emotion are also part of man. I must integrate the objective legal system with my subjective personality, "explaining" mitzvos (Rav JBS). Indeed, ardent pursuit of scientific knowledge itself expresses emotion. There is no logic to be logical, only a desire. Thus Torah interrupts its laws to give the great dream and vision behind them; the aesthetic component is also added to mitzvos, e.g. a beautiful sukkah, a Shlomo niggun for prayers. Rav Yitzchak Twersky notes that the seemingly dry and detailed Shulchan Aruch is afire with exciting spirituality, for all of it is based on its underlying introductory verse-- "I set God before me always".

"If you will walk in My statutes, guard My commandments and do them, I will give your rains in their season, the land will yield its produce... you will eat your bread with satisfaction and dwell securely in your land (26:3f)".

A GRADUAL GROWTH APPROACH: Hirsch claims that Chukim, statutes, aren't unexplainable, just hard to explain; all laws are such for a beginner. As he gradually forges ahead, things previously mysterious and unexplainable become intelligible, as new concepts and info accrue; eventually, everything makes sense, becomes "mishpatim", rational laws. Moshe, as Hirsch himself, even understood the mysterious law of the red heifer. Hirsch translates 26:3: "IF YOU FORGE AHEAD IN STUDYING MY (initially) UNINTELLIGIBLE LAWS, YOU WILL (eventually) GUARD THEM AS (rational) COMMANDMENTS...". The contrary is true too-- don't stop at any level of Torah understanding, for there is always a higher, yet unknown, aspect, "chok", awaiting discovery. But the more you know, the more you know that you don't know; always WALK, progress-- otherwise you'll regress. My own impression is that almost no one knows much about anything-- there's just too much to know and every year there's more; computers can access info quickly, but cannot give you the time to study and digest it. Rashi stresses learning the law in order to observe it-- "AND DO THEM". Mere academic learning doesn't bring blessing (cf. Buber, H.U.'s poorly populated, mostly heretical, Bible Department, and H.U.C.).

So those, whose life is dedicated to destroying traditional unity and divinity of Torah, are also de facto destroying Judaism's significance and impact-- why care about a collection of ancient documents, gathered together by some distant ancestor. Ultimately, such views also threaten Israel and Zionism-- without a divine Biblical basis and messianic destiny, they too lose meaning, significence, and remain but one of many competing secular political claims to the Middle East

Any attempted substitute for a tithed or dedicated sacrificable animal itself becomes sacred, unlike 2nd tithe produce; these tithes are eaten by the owners in Jerusalem. Each family thus has someone in Jerusalem, who brings its sanctity back to Galillee and Eilat (Sefer Hachinuch). The portion and the Book of Leviticus close with: "These are the commands which God ordered for the children of Israel, via Moshe, on Mt. Sinai (27:34). CHAZAK, CHAZAK, V' NITCHAZAK. May the strength and insight given us through our study of Leviticus, Torat Cohanim, strengthen and deepen our forthcoming study of Numbers, Bamidbar.

THE HAFTARA, JEREMIAH 16:19-17:14

Jeremiah also stresses that blessings and curses are ultimately caused by human conduct and relationship to God. Eventually, the Jews will bring ALL nations close to God, w/o intermediaries or "new" religions, only the eternal universal religion of the sons of Noah (but Rav Eliyahu Benazemogh feels that Christianity and Islam, purified of the dross which entered their Hebraic roots, will continue to guide non-Jews-- see "Israel & The Nations", Paulist Press, translated by Maxwell Luria; Jewish 1/4 Rav and Rosh Yeshiva Chaim Hirschenson had similar views). The Jews, full of regret, will realize they should have led others; instead, they themselves copied their degrading foolishness and idolatry (e.g. Sylvester & Halloween, Dallas & Soap). So promiscuous glorification and display of the body oppose human sanctity, a Jewish value. We are to teach others sexual modesty and holiness-- how sad to see immodest Israeli Jewish beauty queens displayed to the world. Crude warlike sport competition replaces Shabat, Jew against Jew (& some quick basketball converts); an amoral arms industry sells to all buyers. Thank God Ping Pong's profane 2000 attempt to represent Israel at Eurovision failed. Mei Eden and Yediot brought the profane Bahia Ballet to Israel.

Yet, the prophet assures us that God will heal and save the Jews, no matter how low they've sunk, after millennia of alien influence. They will return to their great mission in the State of Israel, relating to Him as the Truly Praiseworthy. We will even have truly Jewish universities, to spread, not debunk, God's Word.

We mourn the loss of kind and good-natured Jewish Quarter Rabbi Moshe Saltzberg, after a illness at home, tended to by his family; he helped establish many synagogues on police and army posts and taught at Menachem Tziyon Synagogue. May his fine family be comforted with other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


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