G‑d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying . . . (Leviticus 25:1)

What has the Sabbatical year to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all commandments given on Sinai? But the verse wishes to tell us: just as with the Sabbatical year both its general principle and its minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai, so, too, was it with all the commandments—their general principles as well as their minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai.

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)

Rabbi Ishmael says: The general principles of the Torah were given at Sinai, and the details [when G‑d spoke to Moses] in the Tent of Meeting.

Rabbi Akiva says: The general principles and the details were given at Sinai. They were then repeated in the Tent of Meeting, and enjoined a third time in the Plains of Moab (i.e., in Moses’ narrative in the book of Deuteronomy).

(Talmud, Shabbat 6a)


When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall rest a sabbath unto G‑d (25:2)

Taken on its own, this verse seems to imply that “a sabbath unto G‑d” is to be observed immediately upon entering the Land. But in practice, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel they first worked the land for six years, and only then observed the seventh year as the Shemittah (sabbatical year)—as, indeed, the Torah clearly instructs in the following verses.

The Torah is telling us that a Shemittah is to both precede and follow our six years of labor: to follow it on the calendar, but to also precede it—if not in actuality, then conceptually.

We find a similar duality in regard to the weekly seven-day cycle. The weekly Shabbat has a twofold role: a) It is the day “from which all successive days are blessed”—the source of material and spiritual sustenance for the week to follow. b) It is the “culmination” of the week—the day on which the week’s labors and efforts are harvested and sublimated, and their inner spiritual significance is realized and brought to light.

But if every week must have a Shabbat to “bless” it, what about the week of creation itself? In actuality, G‑d began His creation of existence—including the creation of time—on Sunday, which is therefore called the “First Day.” But our sages tell us that there was a primordial Shabbat which preceded creation—a Shabbat existing not in time but in the mind of G‑d, as a vision of a completed and perfected world.

Therein lies an important lesson in how we are to approach the mundane involvements of life. True, we begin with the material, for in a world governed by cause and effect, the means inevitably precede the end. But what is first in actuality need not be first in mind. In mind and consciousness, the end must precede the means, for without a clear vision of their purpose to guide them, the means may begin to see themselves as the end.

The spiritual harvest of a Shabbat or Shemittah can be achieved only after a “work-week” of dealing with the material world and developing its resources. But it must be preceded and predicated upon “a sabbath unto G‑d” that occupies the fore of our consciousness and pervades our every deed.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


If you sell aught to your fellow . . . (25:14)

Rabbi Yosei the son of Rabbi Chanina said: Come and see how harsh are the results of [violating the provisions of] the seventh year. A man who trades in seventh-year produce must eventually sell his movables, for it is said, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return every man unto his possession,” and immediately after it says: “If you sell aught to your fellow.” If he disregards this, he eventually sells his estates, since following that it is said: “If your brother becomes poor, and sells some of his estate.” Before he knows it, he is selling his house, for next it is written: “If a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city” . . . Before he knows it, he is compelled to borrow on interest, for next it is written: “If your brother becomes poor, and his hand fail with you . . . take no usury of him.” And before he knows it, he is selling himself, as it is said, “If your brother becomes poor with you and sells himself to you” . . .

(Talmud, Kiddushin 20a)


If you sell aught to your fellow, or buy aught from your fellow’s hand, you shall not defraud one another (25:14) . . . You shall not defraud one another; but you shall fear your G‑d (25:17)

The first verse refers to financial fraud. The second verse forbids verbal fraud—speaking hurtful words or giving bad advice. That is why the second verse adds “but you shall fear your G‑d,” lest a person say: Who will know that my intention was to do him evil?

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)


You shall not defraud one another (25:14)

Legally, it is only forbidden to defraud one’s fellow. But a chassid must go beyond the letter of the law, and take care not to delude himself, either.

(Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)


If you shall say: What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce! But I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years . . . (25:20–21)

The question “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” is even more pressing in light of the fact that, the land having been depleted by five years of planting, the sixth year’s yield is naturally less than average. Yet G‑d promises that it will provide not only for a full year’s sustenance, but also for the seventh year and beyond.

Our sages tell us that the seven-year Shemittah cycle corresponds to the seven millennia of history. For six thousand years man labors in the fields of the material world, in preparation for the seventh millennium—a millennium that is “wholly Sabbath and tranquility, for life everlasting,” the era of Moshiach.

Thus, the question “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” can be asked on the historical plane as well. If the spiritual giants of earlier generations—the patriarchs and the matriarchs, the prophets, the sages of the Talmud—failed to bring about a perfect world, what can be expected of us? If the first five millennia of history could not provide for the universal Sabbath, what can be expected of us, we of the “sixth year,” exhausted and depleted of spirit?

Yet the sixth year will be the one to yield and sustain the seventh. Precisely because our resources are so meager, our every trial and achievement is so much more meaningful, so much more precious to G‑d. He therefore promises to command His blessing to our efforts, so that they shall nourish the sabbatical millennium and beyond.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


For they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt; they cannot be sold into slavery (25:42)

At the time of the Exodus, G‑d made freedom the inherent and eternal state of the Jew. From that point on, no power or force on earth can subvert our intrinsic freedom.

(Maharal)


If you walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)

The word “if” is to be understood as a plea on the part of G‑d: “If only you would follow My statutes . . .”

(Talmud, Avodah Zarah 5a)


If you walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)

The word chok (“statute” or “decree”), which gives the Parshah of Bechukotai its name, literally means “engraved.”

The Torah comes in two forms: written and engraved. On the last day of his life, Moses inscribed the Torah on parchment scrolls. But this written Torah was preceded by an engraved Torah: the divine law was first given to us encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, which were etched by the hand of G‑d in two tablets of stone.

When something is written, the substance of the letters that express it—the ink—remains a separate entity from the substance upon which they have been set—the parchment. On the other hand, letters engraved in stone are forged in it: the words are stone and the stone is words.

By the same token, there is an aspect of Torah that is “inked” on our soul: we understand it, our emotions are roused by it; it becomes our “lifestyle” or even our “personality”; but it remains something additional to ourselves. But there is a dimension of Torah that is chok, engraved in our being. There is a dimension of Torah which expresses a bond with G‑d that is of the very essence of the Jewish soul.

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

A rabbi once offered the following analogy: “Every Jew is a letter in the Torah. But a letter may, at times, grow somewhat faded. It is our sacred duty to mend these faded letters and make G‑d’s Torah whole again.”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch heard this, and objected: “No, the identity of the Jew cannot be compared to erasable ink on parchment. Every Jew is indeed a letter in G‑d’s Torah, but a letter carved in stone. At times, the dust and dirt may accumulate and distort—or even completely conceal—the letter’s true form; but underneath it all, the letter remains whole. We need only sweep away the surface grime, and the letter, in all its perfection and beauty, will come to light.”

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If you walk in My statutes . . . I will give your rain in due season (26:3)

Rabbi Jacob said: There is no reward for the mitzvot in this world . . .

[What is the proof for this?] In connection with the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents it is written, “In order that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). In reference to the mitzvah of “dismissal of the nest” (to chase away the mother bird before taking the young) it is written, “That it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days” (ibid. 22:7). Now, what if a person’s father says to him, “Ascend to the loft and bring me young birds,” and he ascends to the loft, dismisses the mother and takes the young, and on his return falls and is killed—where is this man’s wellbeing, and where is this man’s long days? But “in order that it may be well with you” means on the day that is wholly good; and “in order that thy days may be long,” on the day that is wholly long.

Perhaps such things don’t happen? Rabbi Jacob saw an actual occurrence.

(Talmud, Kiddushin 39b)

Since we know that the reward for the mitzvot, and the good which we shall merit if we keep the way of G‑d written in the Torah, is solely in the life of the world to come . . . and the retribution exacted from the wicked who abandon the ways of righteousness written in the Torah is the cutting off [of the soul] . . . why does it say throughout the Torah, “If you obey, you will receive such-and-such; if you do not obey, it shall happen to you such-and-such”—things that are of the present world, such as plenty and hunger, war and peace, sovereignty and subjugation, inhabitancy of the land and exile, success and failure, and the like?

All that is true, and did, and will, come to pass. When we fulfill all the commandments of the Torah, all the good things of this world will come to us; and when we transgress them, the evils mentioned in the Torah will happen to us. Nevertheless, those good things are not the ultimate reward of the mitzvot, nor are those evils the ultimate punishment for transgressing them.

The explanation of the matter is thus: G‑d gave us this Torah; it is a tree of life, and whoever observes all that is written in it and knows it with a complete knowledge merits thereby the life of the world to come. . . . Yet G‑d also promised us in the Torah that if we observe it with joy . . . He will remove from us all things that may prevent us from fulfilling it, such as illness, war, hunger, and the like, and He will bestow upon us all blessings that bolster our hand to observe the Torah, such as abundant food, peace, and much gold and silver, in order that we should not need to preoccupy ourselves all our days with our material needs, but be free to learn the wisdom and observe the commandments by which we shall merit the life of the world to come . . .

(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 9:1)

Maimonides’ concept of the “reward” for mitzvot in this world has a parallel in Torah law. The law states that farm workers must be allowed to eat of the food they are working with; even an animal may not be “muzzled as it threshes.” This is not payment for their work—their wages they receive later, after their work is done—but a special provision that says that they must be allowed to eat from the produce they are working with.

By the same token, we are employed by G‑d to develop and elevate His world through the performing of mitzvot. The actual reward for our work will come later, in the world to come, after our task is completed; but G‑d is also “obligated” to allow us to enjoy the material blessings of this world, which is the object of our toil.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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If you walk in My statutes . . . I will give your rain in due season (26:3)

Doubtless, the religions of those times—as do the religions of our times—all promised rewards destined for the soul after its departure from the body, so as to distance the proof of their claims. Because they are not in possession of the truth, they cannot promise an imminent and tangible sign. . . . But our Torah makes promises that can be confirmed in the here and now—something that no other teaching can do.

(Ran)


I will give your rain in due season (26:3)

At times when people do not usually go out, like the eve of Shabbat.

(Talmud; Rashi)


And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit (26:3)

In the days of Moshiach, every species of tree will bear edible fruit.

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)


I will give peace in the land (26:6)

There may be food, there may be drink, but if there is no peace, there is nothing.

(Rashi)


Neither shall the sword pass through your land (26:6)

That there will not be war goes without saying; the sword will not even pass through your land on the way to another country.

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)


Five of you shall pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight (26:8)

But is this the right proportion? It should have stated only “and a hundred of you shall pursue two thousand.” But the explanation is: a few who fulfill the commandments of the Torah cannot compare with many who fulfill the commandments of the Torah.

(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)


I have broken the bars of your yoke, and made you walk upright (26:13)

An animal walks with its face to the earth, for earthiness and materiality is all that it knows. Man walks upright, for man was born to gaze upon and aspire to the heavens.

(Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch)


But if you will not hearken to Me . . . (26:14)

There are different opinions among the Kabbalists in regard to the rewards and punishments that the Torah predicts for the observance or non-observance of the mitzvot. Nachmanides is of the opinion that “the rewards that befall a person for the doing of a mitzvah, or the punishments that come because of a transgression, come about only by supra-natural means. Were a person to be left to his nature and natural fate, the righteousness of his deeds would not give anything to him nor take anything from him. Rather, the Torah’s rewards and punishments in this world are all miracles. They come hidden, for the one who observes them thinks them to have occurred by the normal conduct of the world; but they are in truth divinely ordained rewards and punishments to the person.”

Other Kabbalists, however, maintain that this is a natural process. In the words of Shaloh: “The supernal worlds respond to the actions of the lower world, and from there the blessing spreads to those who caused it. To one who understands this truth, it is not a miracle, but the nature of the avodah (man’s life’s work to serve G‑d).” In other words, punishment for wrongdoing is no more G‑d’s “revenge” than falling to the ground is divine retribution for jumping out the window. Just as the Creator established certain laws of cause and effect that define the natural behavior of the physical universe, so too did He establish a spiritual-moral “nature,” by which doing good results in a good and fulfilling life, and doing evil results in negative and strifeful experiences.

A third approach sees the suffering associated with sin as the byproduct of G‑d’s rehabilitation of the iniquitous soul. The analogy is the removal of an infective splinter from a person’s body: the pain that is experienced is not a “punishment” as such for the person’s carelessness, but an inevitable part of the healing process itself. The fact that a foreign body has become embedded in living flesh and has caused its decay makes its removal a painful experience. By the same token, when something alien to the soul’s bond with G‑d has become embedded within it, the extraction of this alien body, and the healing of the bond, is experienced as painful to both body and soul.

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If you will not hearken to Me, and walk casually with Me, I too will act casually with you . . . (26:28)

All sins derive from the sin of insignificance: when a person ceases to be sensitive to the paramount importance which G‑d attaches to his life and deeds. “I don’t really matter” is not humility—it is the ultimate arrogance. It really means: “I can do what I want.”

The most terrible of punishments is for G‑d to indulge the sinner this vanity. For G‑d to say: “All right, have it your way; what happens to you is of no significance”—for G‑d to act toward him as if He really does not care what happens to him.

(The Chassidic Masters)

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I will punish you, I too (26:28)

When a father punishes his child, the suffering he inflicts on himself is greater than anything experienced by the child. So it is with G‑d: His pain is greater than our pain.

(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)


I will cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols (26:30)

It was told of Elijah the Righteous that while searching for those who were languishing with hunger in Jerusalem, he once found a child faint with hunger lying upon a dungheap.

“Of what family are you?” he asked him. “I belong to this-and-this family,” the child replied. He asked: “Are any of that family left?” and he answered, “None, excepting myself.”

Thereupon he asked: “If I teach you something by which you will live, will you learn?” He replied, “Yes.” “Then,” said he, “recite every day: “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one.” But the child retorted: “Be silent, for one must not make mention of the name of G‑d”—for so his father and mother had taught him—and straightaway he brought forth an idol from his bosom, embracing and kissing it, until his stomach burst, his idol fell to the earth, and he upon it, thus fulfilling the verse, “I shall cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols.”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 63b)


I shall lay desolate your holy places (26:31)

Even in their desolation, they retain their holiness.

(Talmud, Megillah 28a)


I shall make desolate the land; and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it (26:32)

This is actually a blessing for Israel—that their enemies will derive no satisfaction from the land, for it shall remain desolate as long as the people of Israel are exiled from it.

(Rashi)


And you I shall scatter amongst the nations (26:33)

G‑d did a kindness to the people of Israel, that He scattered them amongst the nations. For if they were concentrated in one place, the heathens would make war on them; but since they are dispersed, they cannot be destroyed.

(Talmud, Pesachim 87b; Midrash Lekach Tov)


And you I shall scatter amongst the nations (26:33)

The people of Israel were exiled among the nations only in order that converts should be added to them.

(Talmud, ibid.)

The “converts” that the Talmud speaks of are the “sparks of holiness” contained within the material resources of the world, which are redeemed and elevated when we use these resources in our service of G‑d.

(The Chassidic Masters)


Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away (26:44)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of G‑d, in that to every place to which they were exiled the Shechinah (Divine Presence) went with them. They were exiled to Egypt and the Shechinah was with them, as it says, “Did I reveal myself unto the house of your father when they were in Egypt” (I Samuel 2:27). They were exiled to Babylon and the Shechinah was with them, as it says, “For your sake I was sent to Babylon” (Isaiah 43:14). And when they will be redeemed in the future, the Shechinah will be with them, as it says, “Then the L‑rd your G‑d will return with your captivity” (Deuteronomy 30:3)

(Talmud, Megillah 29a)

Rabbi Isaac ben Samuel says in the name of Rav: The night has three watches, and at each watch the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and roars like a lion and says: Woe to the children on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burnt My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world . . . Woe to the father who has banished his children, and woe to the children who have been banished from the table of their father!

(Talmud, Berachot 3a)


He shall not exchange it nor substitute another for it (27:33)

Every person was born to a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively their own. No one—not even the greatest of souls—can take his or her place. No person who ever lived or who ever will live can fulfill that particular aspect of G‑d’s purpose in creation in his stead.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

This point is illustrated by a story told by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn:

A wealthy businessman and his coachman arrived in a city one Friday afternoon. After the rich man was settled at the best hotel in town, the coachman went off to his humble lodgings.

Both washed and dressed for Shabbat, and then set out for the synagogue for the evening prayers. On his way to shul, the businessman came across a wagon which had swerved off the road and was stuck in a ditch. Rushing to help a fellow in need, he climbed down into the ditch and began pushing and pulling at the wagon together with its hapless driver. But for all his good intentions, the businessman was hopelessly out of his depth. After struggling for an hour in the knee-deep mud, he succeeded only in ruining his best suit of Shabbat clothes and getting the wagon even more hopelessly embedded in the mud. Finally, he dragged his bruised and aching body to the synagogue, arriving a scant minute before the start of Shabbat.

Meanwhile, the coachman arrived early to the synagogue and sat down to recite a few chapters of Psalms. At the synagogue he found a group of wandering paupers, and being blessed with a most generous nature, invited them all to share his meal. When the synagogue sexton approached the paupers to arrange meal placements at the town’s householders, as is customary in Jewish communities, he received the same reply from them all: “Thank you, but I have already been invited for the Shabbat meal.”

Unfortunately, however, the coachman’s means were unequal to his generous heart, and his dozen guests left his table with but a shadow of a meal in their hungry stomachs.

Thus the coachman, with his twenty years of experience in extracting wagons from mudholes, took it upon himself to feed a small army, while the wealthy businessman, whose Shabbat meal leftovers could easily have fed every hungry man within a ten-mile radius, floundered about in a ditch.

“Every soul,” said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in conclusion, “is entrusted with a mission unique to her alone, and is granted the specific aptitudes, talents and resources necessary to excel in her ordained role. One most take care not to become one of those ‘lost souls’ who wander through life trying their hand at every field of endeavor except for what is truly and inherently their own.”