Weekly Reading Insights: 



From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


"…but the seventh year is a Shabbat unto the Eternal.." [25:2]

Now here [in the Torat Kohanim mentioned above, the Rabbis] have roused our attention to one of the great secrets of the Torah. Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra has already given us a hint of it when he wrote: "The meaning of a Shabbat unto the Eternal is like that of the Shabbat day. The secret of the years of the world is alluded to in this place" [Thus far is Ibn Ezra's comment]

Bend now your ear to understand that which I am permitted to inform you about it in the words that I will cause you to hear, and if you will be worthy, you will contemplate them [and understand them]. I have already written in Seder Bereshit that the six days of creation represent [all] the days of the world, and the seventh day is a Shabbat unto the Eternal the G-d, for on it will be the Shabbat to the Great Name, just as we have been taught [in a Mishnah]: "On the seventh day what psalm did the Levites sing [in the "Sanctuary? They sang] A Psalm, a Song. For the Shabbat-day - [a song] for the World to Come, which will be wholly a Shabbat. And rest for life everlasting." Thus the [seven] days [of the week] allude to that which He created in the process of creation, and the [seven] years [of the Sabbatical cycle] refer to that which will occur during the creation of all "the days" of the world. It is for this reason that Scripture was more stringent regarding [the transgression of the laws of] the Sabbatical year than with respect to those guilty of transgressing all other negative commandments, and made it punishable with exile, just as He was stringent with respect to forbidden sexual relations [for which the punishment of the people, as opposed to that of the individual, is also exile]; as it is said, Then shall the Land be paid her Shabbats, and He repeated this matter many times: As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, and it is further said, And the Land shall lie forsaken without them, and shall be paid her Shabbats. "And so we have been taught [in a Mishnah]: "Exile comes for the delaying of justice, and for the perversion of justice, and for [the neglect of] the year of rest for the Land." [This stringency of punishment is] because whoever denies it [i.e., the law of the Sabbatical year], does not acknowledge the work of creation and [life in] the World to Come.
Similarly the prophet [Jeremiah] was stringent, and decreed exile for neglecting to send [Hebrew] servants to freedom in the seventh year [of their service], as it is said, I made a covenant with your fathers…At the beginning of seven years you shall let go every man his brother etc., for in the case of a servant the seventh year is also [at the very beginning of the Torah] - from 'Bereshit' (In the Beginning) to 'Vayechulu' (And there were finished) (In other words, in the Scriptural account of the creation - commencing with the verse, In the beginning…and concluding with 'Vayechulu' [and there were finished] the secret of the Jubilee is already hinted at, namely, "that all things, that came into existence in the beginning of time will be finished in the era of the Jubilee [Beiur Ha'lvush to Ricanti who quotes the language of Ramban.]) - intimating that in the Jubilee everything is to return [to its origin], every man unto his possession, and every man unto his family. For it is a sure foundation, and he that believes shall keep silence. This is what is meant in saying, 'v'shavtah ha'aretz shabbath' (and 'the Land' shall keep a Shabbat); and you shall proclaim liberty 'ba'aretz' (throughout 'the land'), for the reference here is to "the land of eternal life" which is alluded to in the first verse [of the Torah], and of which it is said, 'v'ha'aretz ezkor' (and I will remember 'the land'). I have already mentioned this several times. Perhaps it is to this that our Rabbis alluded in saying: "Fifty gates [degrees] of understanding were created in the world, and all were transmitted to Moses with one exception." For each cycle of seven years constitutes "the gate of the house" [creation], and thus He informed him of all existence from beginning to end, with the exception of the holy Jubilee.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"…and the land will observe a rest for the Lord." [26:2]

A kabbalistic approach: The words "and the land will observe a rest for the Lord" do not refer to individual parcels of land belonging to individual farmers but refer to the earth as a whole and are an allusion to the seventh millennium following the six thousand years when our terrestrial universe functions normally. They are a reference to the 1000-year transitional period when the earth will be desolate, unfit as a habitat for living creatures (compare Rosh HaShana 31). That millennium is once described as "eternal rest" (Tamid 7:4), a reference to the world to come after physical resurrection has occurred.

According to this concept the shemittah discussed in our verse would be a cessation of agricultural activity which is not voluntary but imposed by the conditions prevailing in the universe at that time. This does not replace the normal meaning of the verses 3-8 which speak about what happens every seven years. It only explains the halachically unnecessary words that "the land shall observe rests for Hashem" (verse 2).

The observance of a bird's eye view of what will be in the future, i.e. what we may term a "miniature" shemittah, is intended for us to focus on the eventual meaning of the concept. All the severe penalties connected with failure to observe the legislation of shemittah and yovel, especially the fact that non-observance is the cause of our losing our homeland and going into exile, is all due to the fact that this legislation is to give us an inkling of a much grander concept G-d has in mind for the existence of the physical universe and the message that an imperfect terrestrial universe is eventually to metamorphose into a perfect terrestrial universe.



"When your brother becomes impoversihed and loses the ability to support himself, etc." (25:35)

Torah exhorts the well-to-do not to abandon those who have become poor. 'When he becomes weak with you': in relation to you it appears that he has been despised, but not in relation to Me, says G-d. I command you to do all to strengthen him. (If he were not valuable in My eyes would I command you to undo what appears to be his deserved fate?)

The Talmud (Eiruvin 86) puts it like this: David asked G-d why he had created the poor, instead of granting equal economic standing to all. G-d replied (Psalms 61:8): 'If he is to dwell before G-d permanently, who would exercise kindness and truth?' If all men were equally independent economically, good characteristics such as charitability could not be practiced. It follows that G-d created inequality in order to give the wealthy a chance to show their good traits. Surely G-d could have subjected the poor to some other tribulations instead. The rich therefore should grasp the which G-d presented him, and display his good heart when dealing with his impoverished fellow Jew and "strengthen him.' Should you think this law applies only to those who are literally your kin, your brother, the Torah continues ger vetoshav (full converts and partial converts). Even not-full converts such as resident strangers are included in this imperative.

Umata yado, if his hand has become unsteady, you are to assist your brother as soon as his position becomes unstable, not wait until he collapses. You shall assist him, maintain his position. The emphasis is on the Ta at the end of the word ve-hechezakta, do not say that there are many others upon whom this duty devolves also, but consider it your personal duty.



"If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his hereditay land, etc." (23:25)

Rashi explains that one must not sell one's land in the Land of Israel unless one has absolutely no other choice. If one sells for, say, speculative reasons, one may find oneself impoverished.

This rule of owning Gentile (i.e. Canaanite) slaves (as opposed to Jewish servants), is rooted in the status of Canaan as a slave since the days of Noah. The status was conferred upon Canaan in retribution for his having uncovered the nakedness of Noah, his grandfather. The curse is connected with the original pollutant introduced into Eve by the serpent having conjoined with her. If one has been raised in an environment that was hostile to Torah, one is not nearly as blameworthy…

Having been created in the image of G-d, Jews are called brothers.

The Zohar (Sullam edition, page 7) explains that when Israel performs G-d's laws, G-d considers them as if they had created G-d Himself, so to speak.

A person must set aside a specific place for his Torah study and prayers, etc. He should not let this become a matter of chance.

The Torah distinguishes between wicked people who are the children of wicked parents and those who did not see such wicked examples while growing up. The latter deserve to be punished much more harshly than those who have never had a model of proper conduct. Similarly, if one has been raised in an environment that was hostile to Torah, one is not nearly as blameworthy for not following the dictates of the Torah as one is if one had the good fortune to be raised in a community of Torah observant Jews.

G-d remembers that we had the advantage of having the patriarchs as role models. We also had the advantage of having been given the Holy Land. In spite of these benefits, we breached the holy covenant with G-d. The Torah, therefore, exhorts us to consider our additional responsibility.


Ohr HaChayim

"You shall not give him your money upon interest" [25:37]

Here the Torah explains what the words neshech umarbit (interest) are all about; they darken the divine light G-d provides.

The word "your money" refers to the material things man yearns for in this world believing them to be of real value though their value is totally illusory. "You shall not give him your money upon interest": when man fulfills his animalistic instincts and thereby tries to gratify his spiritual needs his spirit is actually "bitten" - neshoch and the poison of sin is absorbed by that person's ruach. The Torah continues: "and you must not give him your food in return for increase." The Torah means that even your food, i.e. something that is certainly permissible for you to eat you must not consume to excess, i.e. marbit.

When a person follows the needs of his palate he gradually increases his appetite for more food than is needed to sustain him. This is turn also leads to the divine light G-d has granted us by means of our pure soul being gradually more and more "blacked out."

The stronger the physical in man the weaker his spiritual capacity. Encouraging the body to grow stronger through gratifying its appetites therefore is sinful. This is why Proverbs 13:25 teaches us "the righteous eats only to satisfy the needs of his life-force, nefesh."

Solomon says this to remind us that it is not our palate, which should dictate the quantity or quality of our food-intake. When the Torah continues Ani HaShem (verse 38) this means that although G-d has taken us out of Egypt in order to give us the land of Canaan, the purpose was not in order for the Jewish people to stuff themselves on the good fruit of the land but in order for Him to be our G-d, something that requires the land of Israel. Our sages in Torat Kohanim say that anyone who merely lives in the land of Israel is as if he had accepted for himself G-d's sovereignty.



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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