Behar – Bechukotai
Once again, this Shabbat, we will read two portions, Behar and Bechukotai. The first verse in Behar begins in a peculiar way. It says (Leviticus 25:1):
ספר ויקרא פרק כה
א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר
1) And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying.
Why does the Torah here announce that it was on Mount Sinai that Hashem spoke to him? Weren’t all the other directives given to Moshe also from Sinai?
Rashi addresses this question:
רש”י על ויקרא פרק כה פסוק א
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 from 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 from Sinai. The Sabbatical year provides unshakeable proof that Hashem gave the Torah on Sinai. Therefore, since we can verify that this law was given from Hashem on Sinai, we can verify that Hashem gave all the others at Sinai.
How does the Sabbatical year verify that the Torah was given on Sinai?
The Torah says:
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.
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. Were they expected to starve during the seventh and eighth years until the new crop came in?
Hashem anticipated this question and 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 enough 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 have commanded them to divide the land up into seven parts, and give each piece a Shabbat every seven years, thus allowing the other six parts to provide food for the inhabitants of those observing the Sabbatical year. Our Sages have an adage, “If you want to lie, put your witnesses far away.” That means that if a person lies yet claims to have witnesses, they will say to him, “Bring them!” To which he will respond, “So sorry, they are away in China on vacation, they can’t come.” 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 a liar wants to do is to provide his opponent with the 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 was. Both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar canceled taxes that otherwise would have been levied on Jews in the Shmitah 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 Shmitah year, again in keeping with the Torah observance. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Shimtah 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. There are many stories about farmers who have kept the Sabbatical year and experienced Hashem’s blessing for keeping it.
In 1980, the rabbi of the Jordan Valley, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Grossman, gave a lecture to the local farmers about keeping the Sabbatical year and explained the concept of how the Jews relied on Hashem to bless them with three times the number of crops during the sixth year. After the lecture, Effie Chanan, a local farmer, approached the rabbi and said to him, “If you promise me that this will happen to me, I will keep the Sabbatical year.” Because the whole region centers around agriculture, the rabbi asked him, “What will you do during with your free time?” Effie responded, “I will study some, and I will work a little. I can get a job as a clerk.” The rabbi said, “Some say that the law of keeping Shmitah in our times is only rabbinic, so let me inquire from a greater rabbi than I.” He consulted Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who said, “Some say the promise is only to the nation as a whole, not to an individual, but this much you can promise him. He will see special help from Hashem; Hashem will surely help him.”
Rabbi Grossman relayed the words of the rabbi to Effie, who accepted them and resolved to keep the Shmitah. During that whole year, all his neighbors and friends made fun of him, but his resolve was iron clad. He took a job as a clerk, and spent time studying Torah and coming closer to Hashem.
After Rosh Hashana, when the eighth year starts and it is permissible to plant again, Effie went to purchase seed for planting, but there was none because it had all been allocated to the other farmers who had already planted their crops for the new season.
Effie tried to use his connections to get hold of some grain, but there was nothing to be had. Finally, one of his friends told him that he had a tremendous amount of rotten celery seeds that he could give him for nothing, instead of throwing them out.
With no choice, Effie rented all the land he could get his hands on, and planted the celery seeds, a most unusual product.
To everyone’s surprise, the fields filled up with celery and each head of celery grew to three times the size of a regular celery. Everyone asked Effie, “What are you going to do with all that celery?” Effie would answer, “I have done my share, now it’s time for Hashem to do His.”
One day, Rabbi Grossman got a call from Effie asking him to come to his place as quickly as possible. “What’s up?” asked the rabbi. Effie explained, “The merchant who sold me the celery seeds called me up and asked me if I had done anything with the celery seeds that he gave me. I said to him. “Are you kidding? I am eating celery, breathing celery, and sleeping celery. They call me ‘Mr. Celery!” “You have a lot?” asked the merchant. “As much as you want!” said Effie. “Great! The going rate for a head of celery is a half a dollar. You can sell each head for three dollars, or possibly as much as $5 a head,” said the merchant. “What happened?” asked Effie. Very excitedly, the merchant said, “Over the last two weeks, Europe was gripped by a cold spell. Everything froze, and people are not leaving their homes. Since they are all staying home, they want to drink hot soup, but without celery, their soup doesn’t taste good to them. So, there is a tremendous demand for celery, and the stores in Europe are demanding celery. Get yourself as many workers as you can to harvest the celery, and I will arrange to have it flown to Europe.”
Rabbi Grossman arrived at Effie’s farm in time to see hundreds of Arab and Jewish workers harvesting the celery, with trucks waiting to take the produce to the airport where it would be sent to Europe. Effie became a very wealthy man and bought himself a brand-new Mercedes. He called the Mercedes “The Shmitah Mercedes.”
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, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, to visit the Holy Temple with a sacrifice.
This is what the Torah says (Exodus 23:17):
ספר שמות פרק כג
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):
ספר שמות פרק לד
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. They will not attack on the festivals. No one will coven your land. If Hashem did not write the Torah, how could a person make such an audacious promise that he has no ability to fulfill? In fact, 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 were protected and safe.
There are many other proofs from within the Torah itself that prove 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 is the 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 354 days in a lunar year as opposed to 365 and a quarter 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 move 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 now 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 in Tractate Rosh Hashanah relates the following story:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף כה/א
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 why 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.