Aliya-by-Aliya Parashat B'har 5760

Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.

Kohen - first Aliya - 13 p'sukim - 25:1-13

One of the most famous sedra openers in the Torah: "And G-d spoke to Moshe AT HAR SINAI saying...".

The unusual nature of the pasuk is based on the rare additional words in the otherwise very familiar pasuk: And G-d spoke to Moshe saying. The mitzvot that follow deal with Shmita, the Sabbatical year. A basic element of our belief is that the whole Torah was revealed by G-d to Moshe (and by him to us) at Sinai (and not just the Ten Commandments, as many people - Jews and non-Jews - would claim). Why then mention the location of this particular set of commands? One of the principles by which the Talmud teaches us the Oral Torah is "when one issue is singled out for special treatment, the teaching not only applies to the one issue, but to the whole group from which it came". Here the teaching is this: Just as Shmita with its details was given at Sinai (it says so specifically right here), so too were all mitzvot given at Sinai with their details (and not just "Chapter- headings"). This idea is an important feature of the Chain of Tradition, and is an essential component of "Emunat Chachamim", the trust, faith, and confidence we must have in each link of the chain.

On another level we still can ask the question: "why was this particular set of mitzvot chosen by G-d, so to speak, to teach us the general rule?" One commentator offers the following insight: The mitzva of Shmita teaches us (among other things) that G-d in concerned with the mundane things of this world. He cares about us and our earthly fields and trees. And He exists, not only in the lofty realm of the heavens, but His Essence fills the world. G-d's choice of lowly Har Sinai as the venue for giving us the Torah, was meant to teach us the same idea. How appropriate that the Torah tells us that it was at Sinai that G-d commanded us the laws of Shmita. See lead tidbit for more.

"When you come to the Land..." The Land is to be rested each seventh year. For 6 years one works the fields, and on the seventh there is to be a Shabbat to HaShem for the Land; neither land [326] nor trees [327] may be worked. Even that which grows on its own, may not be harvested (in a normal manner) from the land [328] or trees [329]. (The Torah uses the term "vineyard", but means to include all trees. ) Shmita year is for all to benefit from the land (without the usual sharp distinction between landowner and others); and for the animals. (Shmita gives the land a chance to restore itself, and gives us a chance to put our relationship with the environment and with the other creatures who share the Earth with us, in perspective. It helps us get our priorities straight.) Shmita reminds us of who created and still rules.


Note that there are four prohibitions here in Bhar pertaining to Shmita, and there is a positive command to rest the land in the seventh year, from Parshat Mishpatim. It is noteworthy, though not that unusual, that an area of Jewish Law is presented to us by the Torah in this way - with both positive mitzvot and prohibitions (and not necessarily from the same portion of text). Shabbat, Shmita, Yom Kippur, Yom Tov, kashrut (to an extent), etc. all are heavily sprinkled with serious prohibitions. As such, we are duty- bound to "toe the mark" lest we violate G-d's Law. Our motivation would tend to be "fear of heaven", fear of sin, fear of punishment. Strong motivations, but not as beautiful and powerful as the motivation of "Love of G-d" that is at play when one strives to scrupulously fulfill G-d's commands. One should not see Shmita merely as a series of "don't do this", don't do that". We should rejoice in the opportunity to serve G-d, demonstrate our faith and confidence in Him, be freer to study His Torah and perform mitzvot. Observing Shmita is not just avoiding the prohibitions. It is a positive statement of our belief in the Creator and Master of the World.

(When the majority of Jews are in Israel and the infrastructure of Torah life in Israel is intact,) the Sanhedrin is required to count seven successive seven-year cycles - 49 years [330]. On the Yom Kippur of the 50th year, the Shofar is to be sounded (as we do each year on Rosh HaShana, and as we do in symbolic fashion at the conclusion of Ne'ila each year) [331]. This 50th year is to be proclaimed "kodesh" as Yovel - the Jubilee year [332]. Farming the land is forbidden [333] (as during Shmita), as are harvesting that which grows on its own [334] and gathering the fruit of the trees in a normal manner [331]. Yovel is holy; we "eat of the land". During Yovel one returns to his estate.

Although we might consider the yearly blowing of the Shofar as the main fulfillment of the mitzva of Shofar, and the once in 50 years blowing of the Shofar on the Yom Kippur of Yovel year as something less - the fact of the matter is that we learn much about the blowing of Shofar on Rosh HaShana from that of Yovel. Most significantly, the word SHOFAR is not used in the Torah in the context of Rosh HaShana. Rosh HaShana is to be a T'RU'A DAY, but we would really have a difficult time knowing what to do on Rosh HaShana had it not been for the parallels to Yom Kippur of Yovel. Comparing the texts of the two days, we find a Tishrei-Tishrei match and a T'RU'A-T'RU'A match. The Gemara teaches us that we answer the question as to how to make a T'RU'A in Tishrei (Rosh HaShana), by doing it the same way as the other Tishrei T'ru'a is produced - with a Shofar. This method of learning Rosh HaShana from Yom Kippur of Yovel is known as a G'ZEIRA SHAVA. It is one of the methods by which the Written Word and the Oral Law are linked. G-Sh is part of the Tradition passed down through the generations.

Levi - second Aliya - 5 p'sukim - 25:14-18

In business with others, one must deal ethically [336]; it is forbidden to cheat in business [337] (since land returns to its original owners with Yovel, real estate purchases are only for a specific period. Prices therefore, should reflect the number of years remaining until the next Yovel. This is the context of the general mitzvot regarding proper business practices.)

Mitzva Watch

Here is yet another example of an area replete with prohibitions of a wide variety with a positive mitzva commanding us to conduct ourselves in accordance with the letter and spirit of halacha. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the positive mitzva in these areas. Technically, the positive command is "unnecessary", since avoidance of all the prohibitions would already bring us to compliance with G-d's Will. The positive mitzva, then, can be understood as requiring us to put our hearts into what we are doing, not even violate the spirit of the law, and be prepared to go "beyond the call of duty" (lifnim mishurat hadin). Furthermore, it is through the positive mitzva that we can attain higher levels of sanctity, as we are challenged with K'doshim T'h'yu.

Rambam describes certain situations in business in which one can technically get away with something, but he is considered not to have acted in "a proper Jewish manner". Perhaps the positive commandment also comes to teach us not to take advantage of the technical loopholes, but rather to conduct ourselves with the highest standards of business ethics.

There is more than one way of explaining what a positive command adds to our observance of mitzvot, when the prohibition(s) are already on the books. This was one explanation.

More... Let's say that an art dealer passes off a good-quality fake as an original master. To be sure, the art dealer has violated the halacha against cheating in business. But whose law has been violated? Do we consider this type of cheating to be a rabbinic prohibition inspired by the Torah's statements regarding the particular example of cheating vis-a-vis the years remaining until Yovel. No. We say more. We say that our Oral Tradition teaches us that Yovel is the particular context for a wide category of prohibition. In other words, in this case, we are not dealing with Torah-inspired rabbinic extension of Torah Law. We are dealing with Talmudic DEFINITION of Torah Law. These are not the same; the distinction between them is significant to our keeping things in proper perspective.

Not only must one not take unfair advantage of his fellow in money- matters, he must be careful not to "oppress" or deceive others with words [338]. This prohibition is very serious, as evidenced by the link the pasuk makes between it and the mitzva to revere (fear) HaShem. Safeguard and obey the statutes and laws of the Torah and dwell in security on the Land. (This link between observance of Torah and continued peaceful, secure living in Israel, is an oft- repeated theme, one that must be kept in mind in modern Israel.)

Sh'lishi - third Aliya - 6 p'sukim - 25:19-24

The Land will yield its bounty and we will eat our fill and dwell in the Land in security. No one should question where food will come from (with two years in a row of Shmita restrictions). G-d promises to bless the land during the sixth year (two years before Yovel) so that the land will yield enough for three years; the planting of the year after Yovel will supply our needs thereafter.

[SDT] One commentator says that the pasuk states that if someone were to ask what are we going to eat..., then G-d will command His blessing to give us an abundant yield. However, one should not ask. If we are completely faithful and believe without reservation or question that G- d will provide for us, then He won't have to command the blessing to come; it will happen as a natural reaction to that faith.

The land must not be sold forever [339] since it is to return to its original owners during Yovel [340].


Rambam defines the prohibition against selling the land "forever" in the context we find the prohibition. The basis here is that land returns to its original owners in Yovel. An owner isn't really an owner; he's a guardian of the property until Yovel. So here's a person who ATTEMPTS tyo sell a piece of land forever. Intending that it should not revert to its original owners. Guess what? That cannot be done. The land goes back to its original owners regardless of the transaction to the contrary. The ISUR here is really "attempted" selling of land in E.Y. forever. It cannot actually be done. Rambam.

Ramban takes the mitzva out of its context and explains the ban as forbidding the selling of land in Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews, who we can assume will not abide by the Yovel rule of reversion of ownership.

Should I say that what the current government of Israel is doing and is trying to do is clearly a violation of the Torah? If I say it, some people will send me emails and letters about my not politicizing Torah Tidbits. Some will actually declare their disgust and announce that they are now former readers of TT. Many (as past experience has shown) will express their agreement with what I say. But I'm not going to say it this time. Too obvious. A cheap shot. It's like saying that you are not allowed to eat on Yom Kippur. Obvious too. But Piku'ach Nefesh allows - no, requires - one to eat. Of course it's forbidden under normal circumstances, but...

So let me ask one question. If there is a seriously ill person on Yom Kippur, and one doctor says that he must eat or he'll die, and another - equally competent doctor says that if he eats he will die (not just that he would die if he fasts), what does the patient do on Yom Kippur?

R'vi'i - fourth Aliya - 4 p'sukim - 25:25-28

If a person were forced to sell off hereditary land because of poverty, he or a relative may redeem the land by paying a proportional amount (depending upon how many years remain until Yovel). If not redeemed before Yovel, the land reverts to its hereditary owners with Yovel.

Chamishi- fifth Aliya - 10 p'sukim - 25:29-38

If someone sells a house in a walled city (walled, that is, from the time of Yehoshua, i.e. original conquest), he has up to one year to redeem it; if not, it remains the new owner's forever. Redemption during the year is by returning the full amount paid, i.e. no deduction for the time that the buyer lived there. (This is technically an exemption from the Torah's ban against interest.) Redemption of a house in a walled city is a mitzva [341]. On the other hand, houses in non-walled cities have the same rules as land - viz., redemption is possible until Yovel, at which time the house reverts to its original hereditary owners. Houses in Levite cities (even walled cities) are redeemable beyond the one-year limit, and do revert to the Levi at Yovel. The Levi has hereditary rights to those special (42+6) cities. It is forbidden to alter the areas around those cities by selling off parts of the land on a permanent basis [342].

We are obligated to help our fellow who has fallen on hard times. We may not take interest for personal loans made to help him out [343]. "I Am G-d Who took you out of Egypt, to bring you to the Land, to be your G-d."

(This is definitely NOT a non sequitur - it emphasizes G-d's desire, so to speak, for His People to care about each other. It's as if G-d says to us: Look and remember what I did for you. Now you be nice to your fellows.)

[SDT] The pasuk says that YOU SHOULD NOT LEND YOUR MONEY WITH INTEREST. The word here is B'NESHECH, which also means WITH A BITE. A Jew who lends money to his fellow should do it with an open heart and a pleasant disposition, and not be snappy or curt with the recipient.

The Torah repeatedly shows us the compassion that G-d has for the down-trodden. He wants us to emulate those feelings. Giving is good. Helping others is good. But it must be with a pleasantness that will not hurt the feelings of the already disadvantaged.

There is even one more step. Not only do our actions have to be proper, and not only do we have to speak pleasantly (and that would include no dirty looks, raising of eye brows, gestures, etc., but we also must have proper thoughts. To lend a poor person money he needs, and even to behave properly, but to harbor a resentment or a condescending attitude in our minds, is improper. It might even be the worst part of the offense, since it is born of an incomplete belief that G-d is the Boss and calls the shots.

Shishi- sixth Aliya - 8 p'sukim - 25:39-46

If a Jew sells himself into servitude because of poverty (or any other reason), his master may not treat him contemptibly [344]. He shall be treated like an employee, and stays with his master only until Yovel. (This is the maximum; under normal circumstances, the Jewish manservant goes free much sooner.) At Yovel, he and his family return to their hereditary land. We are servants of G-d (and should not be subservient to other people); no Jew shall be sold in the degrading way of the slave market [345]. Do not subject him to hard, spirit-breaking labor [346].

Jews (according to Torah law) may own non-Jewish slaves, such slaves becoming hereditary property. These slaves are not released at Yovel, but remain the permanent property of their owners [347].

Sh'vi'i - 7th Aliya - 11 p'sukim - 25:47-26:2

If a Jew becomes a slave to a non- Jewish master, we may not permit him to remain so [348]. Redemption should be by his close relatives, or himself if he obtains the means. Equitable calculation should be made for compensating his master. We must not let his master break his spirit. All this is because Israel is subservient to G-d, Who redeemed us from Egyptian slavery. We are to be committed to Him; we may not make false gods nor idols or sacred pillars; nor may we kneel on a "decorated stone" [349].

"Keep My Shabbat and revere My sanctuary, I Am G-d. It is most likely that Shabbat here refers to Sh'mita. If so, it makes a matched bookend with the beginning of the sedra.

Haftara - 22 p'sukim - Yechezkeil 32:6-27

Yirmiyahu spent most of his prophecy "career" warning the people of the upcoming destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. In a move geared to encourage the people, as a sign that after exile the people will return to Eretz Yisrael, the prophet arranges for the purchase/redemption of a plot of land that he was "related to" (had the right of redemption). The redemption is done in an overly demonstrative manner, so that all can see what was going on. This is one of the topics from Parshat B'har, hence the choice of Haftara.