RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS BEHAR
13 Iyar, 5779; May 18, 2019
"Keep the Faith"
This week's parsha email has been sponsored by Rochel Manses in loving memory of her sister, Simmy bat Hnina, whose yahrtzeit will be this coming Monday, the 15th of Eyar, which is the 30th day of the Omer.
May Simmy's soul soar even higher in heaven receiving continued nachas from her entire family.
Thank you, Rochel, for sponsoring!
"Keep the Faith"
This week's parsha opens with the mitzvah of Shemittah (observing the Sabbatical year by letting the land rest; Parshas Behar, 25:1-2). The mitzvah of Shemittah is so crucial, that our possession of Eretz Yisrael is dependent upon it. Proof of this is that we find that when the Jews first entered the Land, they did not observe seventy Shemittah years properly. As a result of this, they were exiled from the Land for specifically seventy years in order to "pay back" those seventy Sabbatical years that they desecrated (Rashi, Parshas Bechukosai, 26: 34-35; Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 33a).
Let us explore why Hashem gave Eretz Yisrael to us specifically in the merit of observing the Shemittah year. In order to understand one approach which addresses this issue, we must first become familiar with how God operates with respect to paying us our sechar (wages or reward) in return for the mitzvos that we do.
Rebbi Ya'akov says that reward for mitzvos in this world is non-existent. Meaning, there is no such thing as reward in this world for the mitzvos that we do (Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-ishah Niknis", pg. 39b). This statement is backed by the pasuk which says, "And you must observe the commandments...that I command you hayom la'asosam (today to do them; Parshas Vaeschanan, 7:11). Rashi (ibid) says that the words "hayom la'asosam" come to teach us that "hayom" (today) is for doing. However, by inference, the verse is telling us that machar (tomorrow), referring to Olam Haba, we will receive reward for having done them.
One reason that the commentaries offer as to why Hashem pays us only in Olam Haba is because Hashem does not want to waste our reward on a transient and temporary world such as ours.
The Ba'alei Mussar give the following example to explain this idea. Imagine a person who wants to smoke (by the way, Rav Scheinberg ZT"L maintained that smoking is an Issur D'Oraisa. We are just using smoking as an example), but he has no cigarettes. However, he does have a $500 bill in his pocket. So, he takes the $500 bill, rolls it up, stuffs some leaves in it, lights it up, and begins to smoke. Yes, he is enjoying himself, but he is wasting a $500-dollar bill on just one cigarette. If he would have just waited a little bit longer, he would have gotten a much bigger bang for his buck. He would have been able to buy many packs of cigarettes and many other items. This is analogous to receiving sechar in this world. Yes, we enjoy it now, but had we waited to cash it in in Olam Haba, the sechar would have gone much further. Therefore, Hashem stores our wages away for us to enjoy in the next world which is permanent and eternal.
Although this is a logical reason which explains "why" Hashem stashes away our reward for us until a later time, it is still problematic because "how" is Hashem allowed to do so? You see, the Talmud shares a novel idea with us by stating that even God fulfills His own mitzvos (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah, chap. 1, "Arba'a Roshei Shanim", pg. 7b). Since this is the case, we find two verses in the Torah which demand that a boss pay his workers their hire on the day that they work for him (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 24:15), and not keep any wages to himself overnight (Parshas Kedoshim, 19:13). Therefore, "how" can God withhold our wages until "tomorrow" (the next world) when He must abide by Torah law which demands that He pay us "today" (in this world)?
Before addressing an answer to this question, let us just mention that according to this idea that Hashem chooses to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, we will now be able to understand the text of Birchas Hamitzvos a little bit differently. Prior to performing a mitzva, the nusach of the bracha is, "Asher Kidishanu B'mitzvosav Vitzivanu" (that sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us). The word "Bimitzvosav" (His commandments) does not merely mean to say that these commandments were commanded to us by God. Rather, it also means to say that the mitzvos are "His commandments," meaning, that Hashem Himself is bound to these mitzvos, and therefore, Hashem Himself keeps the mitzvos. Then, He invites us to keep the mitzvos together with Him.
We find a number of examples in the Gemara which tells us that Hashem observes His own mitzvos. For example, The Gemara tells us that Hashem wears Tefillin (Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 6a, Rebbi Avin bar Rav Ada in the name of Rebbi Yitzchak). The Gemara (ibid, pg. 7a, Rebbi Yochanan quoting Rebbi Yosi) also tells us that Hashem even davens. There are many obvious questions that can be raised about this idea. For example, who does God pray to? Himself? What does that mean? How does Hashem fulfil honoring "His parents?" How does Hashem keep kosher? These are great questions to sink our teeth into. This discussion is well beyond the scope of this article. However, we are going to concentrate on how Hashem observes the mitzva of paying us (His workers) on time if He withholds our reward until a later date.
The Rebbe, Reb Heshel of Cracow, answers this question based on a halachah found in the Code of Jewish Law. There is a case which talks about somebody who says to his agent "Go out and hire workers for me." The agent carried out the order, hired the workers and said to them that the responsibility of paying them falls squarely on the boss's shoulders. The Shulchan Aruch rules that in such a case neither the boss, nor the agent, are liable for withholding payment from the workers if they do not pay the workers on the day that they worked (Choshen Mishpat, 339:7). The workers must be paid, but they need not be paid on time.
The Gemarah (Baba Metziah, chap.9, "Hamekabel Sadeh Meichaveiro", pgs. 110b-111a) explains the reasoning behind this law. The boss is not obligated to pay them on time because a boss only needs to pay his workers on time if he directly hires them out himself. However, if an agent did the hiring for the boss, the law of paying on time does not apply to the boss because the workers are not called the boss's "sechirim" (hired help, Kedoshim, 19:3) with respect to this law of paying them on time.
Additionally, the workers themselves realize that they are not going to be paid on time as in regular cases because they see that the boss himself did not hire them out directly. By sending an agent to hire them out, the workers understand that this is not going to be the normative case of hiring workers in which they would have to be paid on time. Therefore, when the workers signed up for this job, they did so with the knowledge that they might be paid late. By accepting this job, the workers gave their consent to be paid late.
The agent is also not liable from withholding the workers' wages because the workers work for the boss, not for the agent.
The Rebbe Reb Heshel says that this is precisely what is going on in the big picture when it comes to sechar mitzvos. The reason why God does not have to pay us on the day is because He did not hire us out directly. Rather, Hashem sent an agent to command us in the mitzvos. That agent's name was Moshe. Therefore, Hashem, the boss, does not have to pay us on time because He did not hire us out directly, and Moshe is not responsible for paying us on time because we do not serve Moshe, we serve Hashem. We must be paid, but we do not have to be paid on the day that we do the work.
This is why the Midrash says that whatever reward the Jewish people do receive in this world, is only in the merit of our faith in God. The reason for this is because God commanded us directly to have faith in Him. The mitzvah of faith is contained in the first two of the Ten Commandments, "I am Hashem your God" (Parshas Yisro, 20:2) and "There may not be any other gods in My Presence." (Parshas Yisro, 20:3).
Although Moshe commanded us in all the other mitzvos, these two commandments were heard by the people directly from God (Makkos, chap. 3, "Eilu Hein Halokin", Pgs. 23b-24a, Rebbi Samlai). Since Hashem commanded us to have faith in Him directly, He is bound by the law that says that a boss must pay his workers on time. This is why any reward that we do receive in this world is on account of our faith in Hashem (The Rebbe Reb Heshel of Krakow).
The Chavas Yair (Rabbi Yair Bacharach, 1639-1702, Germany) says that this idea about being paid reward even in this world because of our Emunah in Hashem, will help us understand a certain verse a little bit more deeply. The pasuk in Koheles (4:9) says, "Tovim Hashnayim Min Ha-echad (two are better than one), Asher Yesh Lahem Sachar Tov Ba'amalam (for they get a greater return for their labor)." The Chavas Yair suggests that we reread this verse in the following way:
"Tovim Hashnayim" - the two commandments of Anochi and Lo Yihiyeh Lecha are good because we heard them...
"Min Ha-Echad" - from the One Hashem directly, which caused a situation in which...
"Asher Yesh Lahem Sachar Tov Ba'amalam" - that they will have good reward, even in this world, for all of their efforts that went into keeping their faith.
Moreover, this idea will help us understand a mysterious Ba'al Haturim. The pasuk says, "Re'eh Anochi Nosein Lifneichem Hayom Bracha Ukelala" (See I present before you today a blessing and a curse; Parshas Re'eh, 11:26). The Ba'al Haturim comments on this verse by saying that when it says, "Re'eh Anochi," it means, "See the Aseres Hadibros which opens with the word "Anochi."
This comment seems strange because what is the connection between this verse in Parshas Re'eh and the Aseres Hadibros? The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, 1724 J-M-1806 Italy) says in his Sefer Chomas Anuch (a plumbed wall; See Amos, 7:7) that the Ba'al Haturim was bothered by this verse in Parshas Re'eh because it said, "See I present before you TODAY a BLESSING." This sounds like Hashem is going to BLESS, meaning REWARD us, TODAY - in this world. How could that be if the Gemara says that reward for mitzvos in this world is non-existent?
Therefore, the Chida says that the Ba'al Haturim answered his own question with his comment. The Ba'al Haturim interpreted the words, "Re'eh Anochi" to mean, "Look at the word Anochi that represents the first mitzva of the Aseres Hadibros." The word Anochi represents the mitzva of Emunah which we were commanded to do directly by God. Once Hashem hired us out directly to have faith in Him, He must pay us today in Olam Hazeh. This is how that verse in Parshas Re'eh can conclude with the words, "Hayom Bracha" (TODAY there will be BLESSING). According to the Ba'al Haturim, this verse is specifically referring to the reward that we will receive because of our Emunah in Hashem. Such reward will be received even "Hayom" in Olam Hazeh.
Now let us show how the essence of Shabbos is basically a display of our Emunah in Hashem. When we observe Shabbos, it is a declaration that we believe that God created the world. The way in which we demonstrate this belief is that we rest on the seventh day because God "rested" on the seventh day. God's "resting" on the seventh day means that He "rested from creating." Therefore, when we rest on Shabbos, we are making a statement that God also rested on Shabbos, and God's "resting" on Shabbos was a resting from creation. Therefore, our resting on Shabbos testifies that we believe that Hashem created the world (See Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim, chap. 242, explaining Shabbos, chap. 16, "Kol Kisvei", pg. 118b which says that Shabbos observance atones even for idolatry. The reason for this is because idolatry is placing one's trust in a foreign power. However, Shabbos observance testifies that we believe only in Hashem and not in any other foreign power. Thus, Shabbos undoes the sin of idolatry).
Since Shabbos observance represents our faith in God, it is included in the first two of the Ten Commandments which instructs us to have faith in God. Since we heard the first two of the Ten Commandments directly from Hashem, it is as if Hashem commanded us directly to observe Shabbos. Therefore, we will be rewarded, even in this world, for Shabbos observance which is all about emuna in Hashem.
This idea about being paid on time (today, in Olam Hazeh) for Shabbos observance is even hinted to in the verse that commands us to pay workers on time. The verse says, "B'yomo Titein Secharo" (You must pay his hire on that day; Parshas Ki Seitzei, 24:15). The acronym of the words "B'yomo Titein Secharo" spells "Shabbos." This teaches us that in the merit of Shabbos observance, we will be paid even "today" in this world (Arizal, Pri Eitz Chaim,Sha'ar Shabbos,chap. 1).
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this explains the reason behind the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos (delighting oneself on the Sabbath; Yeshaya, 58:13). Although Shabbos is a very spiritual day, we are still enjoined to celebrate it in a very physical way, including increasing our eating, drinking, and sleeping. The reason for this is that we are declaring that on account of keeping Shabbos which demonstrates our faith in Hashem, we deserve to be rewarded already in this world. Sabbath observance is one specific way through which we fulfil the commandment to have faith in Hashem. Therefore, Shmiras Shabbos is contained within the first two of the Ten commandments which Hashem instructed us to observe directly. As a result, we must be rewarded in this world as well. The physical Oneg Shabbos represents that reward that we receive in this world.
This idea is also hinted to in the Kiddush that we make on Friday nights. The first words of Kiddush that we say out loud are, "Yom Hashishi Vayechulu Hashamayim" (The sixth day, and the Heavens were completed; Parshas Bereishis, 1:31-2:1). The acronym of these four Hebrew words spells God's Name "Havayah" (which is spelled yud, hey, vov, and hey; Rema, Orach Chaim, 271:10).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that those four letters of God's Name are supposed to trigger our minds to remember that yud hey vov hey also serve as the acronym for another verse which says, "Yismichu Hashamayim V'sagel Ha'aretz" (The Heavens will be glad, and the Earth will rejoice; Tehillim, 96:11; Tikkunei Zohar, preface, pg. 9b). The connection between this verse in Tehillim and Shabbos is as follows.
With respect to all the other mitzvos, we will "Yismichu Bashamayim" (rejoice in Heaven) because we will receive our reward there. However, there is very little "Visagel Ha'aretz" (gladness on Earth) regarding the reward for most mitzvos, because we do not receive reward for mitzvos in this world.
However, with respect to observing Shabbos, we will receive reward even in this world because Shabbos is about faith, and God commanded us directly to have faith, and therefore He must pay us on time. Therefore, regarding Shabbos, we will not only be "Yismichu Bashamayim" (happy in Heaven), but we will even be "Visagel Ha'aretz" (rejoicing on Earth) from the reward that we will receive here. This is why the full Name Havayah is coded into the Friday night Kiddush. At the onset of Shabbos we are hinting that reward for Shabbos observance is experienced "above and below" (Zohar, Yisro, pg. 88a), meaning in Olam Haba above and in Olam Hazeh below. This is the way that we kick off Shabbos observance. It is with a reminder that as a result of keeping Shabbos, we will benefit from it even in this world.
Now, the mitzvah of Shemittah is also about having faith in God. Being forced to refrain from working the Land reminds us that God is the boss and the owner of the Land. Moreover, Shemittah demonstrates that Eretz Yisrael operates supernaturally. This is because every agrarian knows that it's healthier for the land to rest every other year or every third year. This allows the land to rejuvenate and produce more and better produce.
However, we work Eretz Yisrael like a dog for six straight years! This is called "overkill." Not only that, but in the sixth year there is a bumper crop which supplies enough produce for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years! Shemittah makes it pretty clear that we place our trust in Hashem and not in our strength and might of our hands (Kli Yakar, Parshas Behar 25:2; Eikev, 8:17; Rabbi Ephraim Lunshitz, 1550-1619, Prague), because the whole Land operates on a higher frequency of Supernatural guidance.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is the reason why God gave us Eretz Yisrael specifically in the merit of observing the mitzva of Shemittah. It is because Eretz Yisrael is a beautiful, physical gift that God gave us in this world. After all, Eretz Yisrael contains streams of water and springs, and it produces wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and date honey. Its stones are made of iron and its mountains are made of copper. It is a land in which we lack nothing! (Parshas Eikev, 8:7-9).
This gift is problematic because the Gemara above already said that Hashem does not reward us with gifts in this world. How, then, does Hashem gift us with Eretz Yisrael in this world? The answer is that we deserve Eretz Yisrael only because of observing Shemittah. Shemittah is a demonstration of our faith in God. Therefore, Shemittah is also included in the first two of the Ten Commandments which we were commanded by God directly. Therefore, we can receive reward for Shemittah even in this world. That reward is the gift of Eretz Yisrael.
This is why Eretz Yisrael is taken away from us if we do not observe Shemittah. It is because desecrating Shmittah displays our loss our faith in Hashem and thereby we lose the right to be rewarded in this world.
As a means of a practical application of this teaching, perhaps we could suggest three things that we could do this Shabbos:
1) Before Kiddush on Friday night, announce that the Name Havayah is going to be hinted to in the opening sentence, reminding us of the verse in Tehillim which speaks about being happy Above and below on account of our faith in Hashem demonstrated by our Shabbos observance. This will help us direct our thoughts throughout Shabbos by concentrating on our Emuna in Hashem.
2) During the meal, while we are fulfilling Oneg Shabbos, by eating the special delicacies, announce that we benefit the reward of these physical pleasures even in this world by keeping Shabbos which represents our faith in God.
3) Ask the participants around the table for their ideas on how we can strengthen ourselves in Emuna. This brainstorming may prove to be very insightful.
So, may we all be blessed to internalize the message of Shabbos and Shmittah by strengthening ourselves in Emuna and Bitachon, and thus be forgiven for any sins, and benefit from God's abundant bounty, not only in the Next World but even in this world, all together in Eretz Yisrael.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg