We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Behar #1
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land will lie fallow, a Shabbos for Hashem” (Vayikra 25:2).
Parshas Behar begins with the mitzvah of Shemittah. In Eretz Yisrael, every seventh year is Shemittah, a Sabbatical Year. During Shemittah the land must be allowed to lie fallow, and that year’s produce is considered ownerless – anyone can take it. For those who make their living from agriculture, this is a mitzvah which demands enormous faith and inner strength. Even now, those who keep Shemittah are truly heroes.
Chazal teach that the passuk, “those who are mighty and strong (gibborei koach), who obey His word” (Tehillim 103:20) refers to people who keep Shemittah. They describe the heroism of the farmer that year, as he overcomes his obvious desire to protest when he sees others taking over his property and the products of his labor: “He sees that his field is considered ownerless, and his trees are considered ownerless, and the fences [surrounding them] are breached. He watches as his fruits are eaten [by others], and he conquers his inclination and says nothing.” This farmer has triumphed over his natural tendencies in fulfillment of the mitzvah, demonstrating great strength and fortitude. Farmers who keep Shemittah are gibborei koach; as we learn in Avos (4:1), “Who is mighty? One who conquers his [evil] inclination” (Tanchuma, Vayikra 1).
Chazal provide further insight into the great heroism of the farmer who keeps Shemittah. Ordinarily, one fulfills a mitzvah for a day, or a week, or a month – but the Shemittah observer remains committed to this difficult mitzvah for an entire year (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 860).
Tehila, an eighth-grader from Teaneck, New Jersey, invested years of independent study which eventually brought her to Jerusalem for the 2015 International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Contest). For three years, in addition to her regular schoolwork, Tehila studied Tanach daily, both on her own and with the help of coaches. She began getting up at 5:45 every morning to study, working her way up to six hours of extra study a day! In seventh grade she won first place in the United States Chidon for middle school students. The following year she was a United States representative at the International Chidon in Jerusalem. The youngest competitor among the top sixteen, she placed tenth among over seventy participants from around the world.
What helped her maintain motivation, and keep studying? As Tehila put it, it was having a goal in mind; first taking a moment to appreciate the significance of what she was doing; setting short term checkpoints along the way; and finding something new every time she studied, so that it was not just repetition.
Parshas Behar #2
“If your fellowman becomes poor and his means diminish, with you nearby, you will support him, [also] the convert and the resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35).
A number of the mitzvos in Parshas Behar concern our dealings with others, including the obligation to come to the aid of those who are poor and struggling. With the mitzvah of v’hechezakta bo (“you will support him”), the Torah also teaches us the right time to step in and provide assistance: before the problem turns into a crisis.
Rashi, citing Toras Kohanim, writes that we should not wait until a fellow Jew hits bottom, and only then intervene. As soon as we become aware that he is having difficulties, we should offer to help. It is much easier to get him back on his feet at this early stage, than when the crash is total. Rashi compares it to attempting to lift an overloaded donkey. When the donkey first begins to stumble, one man on his own can still support it. Once it has collapsed, even five men working together will not be able to hoist the same donkey back up.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch discusses another dimension of the mitzvah of v’hechezakta bo, providing help and support to those in need. He writes that the basic obligation is supplying the poor with financial assistance. However, there are people who do not lack for money or food; their needs are spiritual or emotional. For example, they may be heartbroken because they are not successful in learning, or the like.
He cites an insight from Rav Avraham of Sochotchov, renowned as the Avnei Nezer. The Jews in the desert had everything: their food literally fell from Heaven, and all their needs were miraculously provided. How, then, could they have fulfilled theTorah’s commandments to give tzedakah and do chesed? No one needed any help! The Avnei Nezer writes that they fulfilled the mitzvah by teaching one another Torah, surely no less important than giving charity in the form of money.
Today as well, writes Rav Sternbuch, students who are not as bright and capable as their friends can feel disheartened, even hopeless. It is a great mitzvah to help a fellow Jew who is faltering spiritually. This type of assistance fulfills both the mitzvos of tzedakah and of v’hechezakta bo (Taam V’Daas, Vayikra, p. 162, “u’matah yado”).
“Gabi,” the CFO of a high-tech company in Northern Israel, was our guest for a Shabbos meal as part of an Aish HaTorah outreach program for secular Israeli adults from Ramat Hasharon.
He told us about his background: “My grandfather grew up in a chassidic home in Europe, but his relationship with his family fell apart when he gave up religious observance. When my father was born, he was given a totally secular upbringing, and of course, so was I. Ironically, because my grandfather’s mother tongue was Yiddish, I can still speak the language fluently.”
Gabi’s contact with the religious side of the family was limited, and not very pleasant. “They were critical of our choice of ‘secular’ names, dress, and lifestyle. When my father passed away after an extended illness, they only came to the funeral to make sure that it was conducted in keeping with Jewish law. I was left with the impression that strictly Orthodox Jews really want nothing to do with Jews who are not observant.”
Gabi repeatedly described his Shabbos meal with us as a “nechamah” (consolation). For the first time, he saw that frum people are not only human, but that they do care about secular Jews, and want to bring them into their lives.
Inspired by the divrei Torah, including those given by the children, he expressed interest in some basic halachic topics. I told him that he could take along two sefarim of mine to learn more – on the condition that he would use them. The parashah that week was Behar. On the day that we read about the mitzvah of v’hechezakta bo, we were privileged to introduce a fellow Jew to Shabbos and other concepts in halachah.
Question for Discussion:
The Mizrachi writes that “help” consists of whatever the individual needs. The mitzvah of v’hechezakta bo is not limited to financial assistance. When have you seen others offer help to those in need?
David, originally from the United States, now living in Jerusalem:One erev Shabbos I went to visit Berel, a cardiology patient in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital. While I was there, a young student from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav High School stepped inside the room and asked Berel if he and his friends could come in and, as he put it, “dance for you, to bring you some joy.”
After Berel agreed, the youngster approached the other two patients sharing the room, asking their permission as well. When all three had agreed, a group of twelve boys filed in and threw themselves into singing and dancing to cheer up these three men. This is how they had chosen to spend their free time on erev Shabbos: going from room to room in a hospital, to brighten up the day for the patients. Watching their enthusiasm, I was reminded of Dovid HaMelech’s heartfelt dance in honor of the Aron Hashem; his own kingly dignity meant nothing to him when it came to a mitzvah (II Shmuel 6:14-22). Equally inspiring was their gentle tact in first asking each patient separately if they were welcome before they entered.