Behar תשפ”ב

The first verse in this week’s parsha, Behar (Leviticus 25:1), begins in a peculiar way.

א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר

                1) And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying.

Why, here, does the Torah announce that it was on Mount Sinai that Hashem spoke to Moshe? Weren’t all the other directives also given to Moshe on Sinai?

Rashi addresses this question:

א) בהר סיני – מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני? והלא כל המצות נאמרו מסיני. אלא מה שמיטה נאמרו כללותיה (ופרטותיה) ודקדוקיה מסיני אף כולן נאמרו כללותיהן ודקדוקיהן מסיני כך שנויה בת”כ

Why is Mount Sinai mentioned specifically in connection to the laws of the Sabbatical year? Weren’t all the laws given at Sinai? To teach us that just as with the Sabbatical year whose general rules and details were stated at Sinai, so, too, all of the commandments – both their general rules and their details- were stated at Sinai.

The Chatam Sofer (R. Moshe Sofer 1732-1869) explains why the Sabbatical year was chosen to exemplify the concept that all the laws were given at Sinai. The Sabbatical year provides unshakeable proof that it was Hashem who gave us the Torah on Sinai, and that it could not have been the work of mortals. Therefore, since we can verify that Hashem gave this law and its details at Sinai, we can verify that Hashem gave us all of the other laws and their details at Sinai.

How does the Sabbatical year verify that the Torah was given at Sinai?

The Torah says (Leviticus 25:2-4):

ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַידֹוָד

ג) שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים תִּזְרַע שָׂדֶךָ וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים תִּזְמֹר כַּרְמֶךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ אֶת תְּבוּאָתָהּ

ד) וּבַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִת שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַידֹוָד שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרָע וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר

2) Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to Hashem. 3) You may sow your field for six years and for six years you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce. 4) But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a sabbath to Hashem: you shall not sow your field; you shall not prune your vineyard.

For the entire seventh year we must leave the field fallow and eat only what grows wild. We may not plant or harvest and store what grows; we may take only what we need, leaving the rest for others to take.

A reasonable way to give the farmers “a year off” would be to divide the land into seven regions, and give each region a year off every seven years. This way, the six food producing regions would provide sustenance for the vacationing region. Such a system would not tax the country, would be good for the land, and would be welcomed by the farmers.

But the Torah did not say that. Rather, the entire country must take a sabbatical on the same year. This seems like an impossible commandment to fulfill. If the whole land of Israel had to observe the Sabbatical year, what would they eat during the seventh and eighth years until the new crop came in? Maybe nowadays, with refrigeration, we could get away with it; but they were an agricultural society, dependent on the yearly harvest for their sustenance. They would surely starve during the seventh and eighth years until the new crop came in.

Hashem, anticipating the question, provided the answer (Verse 20):

כ) וְכִי תֹאמְרוּ מַה נֹּאכַל בַּשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִת הֵן לֹא נִזְרָע וְלֹא נֶאֱסֹף אֶת תְּבוּאָתֵנוּ

כא) וְצִוִּיתִי אֶת בִּרְכָתִי לָכֶם בַּשָּׁנָה הַשִּׁשִּׁית וְעָשָׂת אֶת הַתְּבוּאָה לִשְׁלשׁ הַשָּׁנִים

כב) וּזְרַעְתֶּם אֵת הַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁמִינִת וַאֲכַלְתֶּם מִן הַתְּבוּאָה יָשָׁן עַד הַשָּׁנָה הַתְּשִׁיעִת עַד בּוֹא תְּבוּאָתָהּ תֹּאכְלוּ יָשָׁן

20) And if you should say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not harvest our produce!”

Hashem answers: (21) Know then that I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield produce for three years.(22) And you will sow in the eighth year while still eating from the old crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop you will eat the old crop.”  

Hashem promised that He would provide sufficient food during the sixth year to last for the next three years. Before the Sabbatical year began, the storage houses would be stocked with enough food to last for the next three years.

Were the Torah written by a person, would he be so foolhardy so as to give a law requiring such a promise? How could he possibly make good on it? Instead, he would, as suggested, have commanded them to divide the land up into seven parts, and give each piece a Shabbat every seven years. Our Sages have a saying, “If you want to lie, put your witnesses far away,” which means, that when a person lies claiming to have witnesses, when they say to him, “Bring them!” he will respond, “I wish I could, but they are away in China on vacation.” But if he says that they are close by, they will be sure to call his bluff and demand that he produce them. The last thing that a liar wants to do is to provide his opponent with evidence that he is lying. If he tried it one time and it didn’t work, it would be all over.

This proves that Hashem, who has total control over the weather, the soil, and the crops, and the ability to fulfill the promise, wrote the Torah. For many years this promise was fulfilled, and the Jewish people observed many Sabbatical years before they went into exile, each with the sixth year providing enough crops to get them through until the eighth year’s harvest.

Historical records corroborate that the Jewish people observed this mitzvah. Both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar canceled taxes that otherwise would have been levied on Jews in the Sabbatical year, their overseers noting that they did not work the fields. To allow access to all to the crops that grew wild, fences were removed during the Shemitah year, again in keeping with the Torah observance.  The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Shemitah observance proved that the Jewish people were lazy and in rebellion against their Roman rulers.  So ingrained was this cyclical observance that it was a natural part of Jewish life in the land of Israel.

Since the Jewish people have returned to the land of Israel, the mitzvah of the Sabbatical year is once again relevant. Unfortunately, until recently, most Kibbutzim did not keep the Shemitah. It was just impossible to consider a whole year without crops and no income for the year. Yet because of an organization called “Vaad HaShemitah,” which meets with and educates farmers about the importance of Shemitah, now, many more farmers are keeping the Shemitah.

                Kibbutz Kommemiut, a kibbutz started by Torah observant Jews, was founded on the premise that it would keep all the laws of the Torah. The year 1952 was a Shemitah year, and they did not plant their fields. After the Shmitah year, when they sought to purchase good wheat grown in the 6th year, nothing good could be found. One of the neighboring kibbutzim had some rotten, wormy wheat left over from the 6th year that they were prepared to sell them for a premium.

                Reb Yechiel, head of farming, asked the rabbi of the Kibbutz, Rabbi Binyomin Mendelsohn זצ”ל,

“What should we do? No good wheat is available for purchase.”

The rabbi responded,

“If we cannot get good wheat that is permissible according to halacha, we will place our trust in the Master of the World, and He will command that His blessing come from the rotten wheat.”

                News got out that Kibbutz Kommemiut purchased rotten wheat for an exorbitant price, and Kibbutz Kommemiut was the laughing stock of the region. “It looks like they have money to burn if they can spend money on rotten wheat,” they said.  Everyone was sure that the Kibbutz wouldn’t see a single stalk of wheat grow from those kernels.

                They began plowing the fields in preparation for planting, after Sukkot of the 8th year. It wasn’t until the middle of the winter that the rotten wheat had finally been planted. In Israel, it rains only in the winter months, between Sukkot and Pesach, but, that year, it didn’t rain until after they had finished their planting.

                All of the other kibbutzim had planted their wheat the previous summer, during the Shemitah year. Because there was no rain, their wheat rotted in the ground and did not grow. The only kibbutz to have a bountiful crop of wheat that year, was Kibbutz Kommemiut. Everyone saw how Hashem had sent His blessing for keeping the Shemitah.

                Is 1952, Israel’s agricultural department decided to plant orchards in all the kibbutzim, including Kibbutz Kommemiut. The leaders of the kibbutz told the agricultural department that they would only allow them to plant orchards if their kibbutz could observe the Shemitah laws. The agricultural department would not agree, so no orchards were planted in Kibbutz Kommemiut.

                In 1958, Rabbi Mendelsohn had a lengthy discussion with Mr. Vigodetzki, the person in charge of planting the orchards, during which the rabbi explained the importance of keeping the Shemitah and that it could hasten the coming of the Mashiach. Mr. Vigodetzki was inspired by the Rabbi, and authorized an orchard be planted in Kibbutz Kommemiut. Planting the orchard cost a half a million lira, Israel’s currency at that time.

The Shemitah year came just two years later, when the saplings were still young and tender. Following the instructions of the Rabbi, they applied the laws of Shemitah, which allow for activities solely to preserve the trees, and did only what they were allowed to do. The overseers from the government warned the rabbi that he is endangering the entire project and that the whole orchard may be lost. The Rabbi put his trust in Hashem, and continued keeping the laws of Shemitah.

                In August, towards the end of the Shemitah, the head of the orchards came to Rabbi Mendelsohn, and with great emotion told him how of the 12 orchards in the vicinity, 11 of them worked during the Shemitah, and only one, Kommemiut, did not, and their orchard did better than all the rest. The rabbi responded, “I believe that Hashem runs the world, and because we kept His commandments, He has sent His blessing to our orchard.”

                This orchard would usually produce 700 bushels of fruit per year. In the year 1972, the year before the Shemitah, the agricultural office was surprised to hear that the orchard in Kommemiut produced over 2000 bushels of fruit. They first thought it was a mistake, and recounted the yield, but it turned out to be accurate. When they wondered about it, the rabbi showed them the explicit verse in the Torah (cited above) where Hashem promises that the 6th year will give forth three times its usual amount.

There is another mitzvah in the Torah where Hashem puts Himself “on the line” and makes a promise that only He could fulfill. This is the mitzvah that every able-bodied man who owns property to go to Jerusalem three times a year, on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, to visit the Holy Temple with a sacrifice.

 This is what the Torah says (Exodus 23:17):

יז) שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶל פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן יְדֹוָד:

17) Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Master, Hashem.

While this sounds great for the men who would have the ultimate spiritual experience at the Holy Temple, it would be very reckless to leave all the women and children at home alone to face the surrounding hostile nations who are just waiting for the men to abandon their families and go to Jerusalem. Thrice yearly, they would have the opportunity to walk into the Land of Israel and take it over, since all the able-bodied men are far away in in Jerusalem. What is the giver of this commandment thinking? Didn’t he stop to consider the possible consequences of such a commandment?

Of course He did. For Hashem, this is a piece of cake. Hashem tells us in the Torah (Exodus 34:24):

                                                                                                    כד) כִּי אוֹרִישׁ גּוֹיִם מִפָּנֶיךָ וְהִרְחַבְתִּי אֶת גְּבֻלֶךָ וְלֹא יַחְמֹד אִישׁ אֶת אַרְצְךָ בַּעֲלֹתְךָ לֵרָאוֹת אֶת פְּנֵי יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה:

No one will covet your land when you go up to appear before Hashem (in the Holy Temple) three times a year.

Once again, Hashem has promised that He would protect all the women and children left at home from the enemies. No one will covet your land and they will not attack on the festivals. If the Torah were written by a man, why would he make an audacious promise that he has no ability to fulfill? Indeed, this promise was repeatedly kept, as the Jewish people made the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple three times a year. The men left home with complete calm and security knowing that their loved ones and property were protected and safe.

There are many other proofs from within the Torah itself that show that it could only have been given by the Creator of the world because the Torah is privy to information that only the Creator could know.

A stunning example of this is knowledge of the exact length of a lunar month. The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. A lunar month begins with a new moon, the smallest sliver of the moon reflecting the light of the sun. As the month progresses, the moon grows full, and then wanes until it disappears for 24 hours. There are approximately 354 days in a lunar year as opposed to 365 ¼ in a solar year, an 11-day difference.

This difference would be insignificant except that the Torah mandates that Pesach and Sukkot be celebrated in the spring and fall respectively. If no adjustment were made to synchronize the lunar and solar calendars, these festivals would regress through the seasons as the 11- day difference added up year after year. To correct for this, seven months are added in a 19- year period. This keeps the calendars synchronized so that the festivals fall out in their proper season.  

This system has been operating for the last 3,300 years without a hitch. If the length of a lunar month was off by even the smallest amount, over so many years the gap would have grown greater and greater until the festivals would fall out in the wrong times.

The Midrash explains that Hashem taught Moshe the average length of a lunar month, which is the number used in the calculations, and thus they are perfect.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 25a) relates the following story:

תנו רבנן פעם אחת נתקשרו שמים בעבים ונראית דמות לבנה בעשרים ותשעה לחדש כסבורים העם לומר ראש חדש ובקשו בית דין לקדשו אמר להם רבן גמליאל כך מקובלני מבית אבי אבא אין חדושה של לבנה פחותה מעשרים ותשעה יום ומחצה ושני שלישי שעה ושבעים ושלשה חלקים

Our Sages taught: Once the heavens were covered with clouds and the likeness of the moon was seen on the 29th of the month. The people thought to declare a “new moon” and the Rabbinical Court wanted to sanctify it, but Rabban Gamliel said to them: “I have it on authority from the court of my father’s father that the renewal of the moon takes place after not less than 29½ days, ⅔of an hour and 73 parts of an hour.”

According to the Sages, an hour is divided up into 1080 parts. Maimonides explains this unusual number. Because it is divisible evenly by every number from 1-9 except for 7, and therefore it is easy to work with fractions. This number in the Talmud is also expressed as 29½ days and 793 parts of an hour. According to this calculation, the magic number Moshe received from Hashem for the length of a lunar month is 29.53059 days.

Google rounded it up one decimal, but this number is the result of years of research based on calculations using satellites, hairline telescopes, laser beams, and super computers, and has been revised many times, finally arriving at this number.

Once again, we see that the information handed down from generation to generation could only have originated with the Creator of the universe who runs the world with extreme precision and accuracy. 

These are but a few of the many proofs that we have a true Torah. How fortunate we are to be living with the Torah, the truth of the Creator of the universe.

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