Misery Loves Company
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi
Yissochar Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah
portion: Tape # 416, Supporting Jewish Merchants. Good Shabbos!
Parshas Behar contains both the mitzvah of the Shmitah [Sabbatical] year
and the mitzvah of the Yovel [Jubilee] year. The Yovel year follows seven
of the seven-year Shmitah cycles. This 50th year was basically an extra
year of Shmitah, an extra year of "rest" for the land.
In addition to the standard agricultural restrictions of Shmitah, there is
a positive command to blow a "Tekiah" blast from the Shofar on the Yom
Kippur (10 Tishrei) of the Yovel year. This shofar blast announces: "You
shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land
for all its inhabitants; it is a yovel year for you, and you shall return,
each man to his ancestral heritage and you shall return, each man to his
family." [Vayikra 25:10].
The halachik import of this last pasuk [verse] (which happens to be
inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) is that all Hebrew
indentured servants go free during the Yovel year. When the Shofar was
sounded on Yom Kippur of the 50th year, it signaled the time for all the
indentured servants to leave their masters and return to their homes.
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 331) offers a psychological reason for the
blowing of the shofar on this occasion. The Sefer HaChinuch writes that it
was very hard for the owners to give up their long-time servants. Imagine
a business owner who has a dedicated worker who has been with the company
for many years or decades. All of a sudden, he must let the worker go. It
is not so easy to do.
It is common for a close attachment to develop with a maid or nanny who is
with a family for many years. Sometimes we go to a Bar Mitzvah or wedding
and we see someone there who does not look like part of the crowd, for
obvious reasons. It's the nanny! She knew the kid when he was born. Now, 20
years later, he's getting married. Of course she'll be invited to the
wedding -- she's part of the family!
Picture the situation with the Hebrew servant. He might have been part of
the family for forty-nine years -- since right after the last Yovel. Now
he has to be let go. It is very difficult for the master to send him away.
Therefore, writes the Chinuch, to arouse the owners concerning the
importance of the matter and to give them strength of conviction to do
what needs to be done, the Torah requires universal blowing of the shofar
on that Yom Kippur. This will help the masters realize that their
sacrifice is something that they are sharing with other masters throughout
the land. The knowledge that everyone else is experiencing the same
financial and emotional self-sacrifice is a powerful psychological aid in
arousing a person to do what he is required to do.
If I recognize that everybody is in the same boat, that everyone has to
give up their servants, their trusted employees, then it is much easier
for me to handle my own need to give up my servant. Tzaras rabim, chatzi
nechama. [The problems of the masses are half a measure of consolation.]
Perhaps we can better appreciate this idea if we think about the
difficulties of "making Pesach". Preparing for Passover is one of the most
difficult challenges of an observant Jewish household. The house has to be
cleaned, things have to be koshered, the kitchen has to be changed over,
and meals have to be prepared. It is tremendously stressful, tiring and
As one stands there cleaning his oven, his nails are raw, his back is
sore, and he thinks to himself "this is crazy!" But what does he then
think to himself? "At least we are all crazy together! Everyone needs to
do this!" [Of course, it's not that we are all crazy -- we are faithful
Torah observant Jews!]
This is the meaning of the Chinuch. When one hears the shofar on Yovel, he
realizes that everyone is in the same boat regarding freeing his servants,
and that makes it easier.
Everyone faces challenges at different stages of life. Some people have
money challenges. Some people have health problems. Some people have
problems with their children. That is life. Life is unfortunately a series
of challenges or problems, and how we deal with them and cope with them.
Many times we think to ourselves, "Boy, do I have problems! No one else has
challenges like mine!" We look around at others and see that they are
happy.They look fine. They act fine. We think "only I have problems".
We have to remember the sound of the silent shofar that isn't sounded but
should be sounded: Everybody is in the same boat. The next person may not
be facing the same type of problems, but we should not fool ourselves into
thinking that we are so unique. Life is full of a myriad of problems, but
the universality of challenges and problems can be half the consolation.
G-d Provides Extra Attention To Those Who Need It
The Torah teaches: "The land will give its fruit and you will eat to
satisfaction; and will dwell securely upon it. If you will say: What will
we eat in the seventh year? -- behold! We will not sow and we will not
gather our crop! I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and
it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years." [Vayikra 25: 19-21].
The Sforno infers that G-d only promises to bestow the blessing on the land
following the question "What will we eat?" This implies that when this
question is not asked, the blessing is not forthcoming.
The Sforno comments that there are two types of Jews. The first kind of
Jew is the Jew who knows that Shmitah and yovel are approaching. He knows
that he will not be planting any seed for two whole years, but he doesn't
ask any questions. He does not fret "What's going to be? How will we
survive?" The Sforno says that for such a Jew, the supernatural bountiful
crop will not be provided on the year preceding Shmitah. Rather, a
different type of miracle will occur -- he will not need more than is
provided by the regular sixth year crop.
Some people can live on $50,000 a year. Some people need $100,000 a year
to live. The amount that a person needs depends on his expenses. The
Sforno says that the Jew who is the real believer and who does not ask the
question "How will we ever be able to manage?" will not need the bountiful
crop. To use the Sforno's own expression, that which he does receive "will
be blessed within his bowels." He will not need the money. His landlord
will come to him and say "Guess what? Don't bother paying me the rent this
month -- you are such a nice guy!" The bank will suddenly lower his
mortgage rate; instead of paying 8 percent, he will be paying 2 percent.
It will happen like that. He will not receive any more income. The crops
will not miraculously triple, but he will manage financially. The miracle
will not be triple the income; it will be one-third the expenses!
However, says the Sforno, the second type of Jew does not have that level
of trust in G-d. He is frightened by the idea that he will not be able to
plant in the seventh year and in the Jubilee year. A miracle will occur
for him in the sixth year to calm his anxiety. G-d will perform a miracle
for him and hold his hand, so to speak, so that he will not be a nervous
wreck for the next two years.
This scenario of the Sforno, however, does not seem fair. We would think
that the bigger Tzaddik is the person who does not question. He should be
the one deserving of the more open miracle up front. Why does the one who
is lacking in faith receive the bumper crop in the sixth year? Why should
only the questioner deserve G-d's special treatment?
I saw a very interesting insight on this question from Rabbi Zev Leff:
just like we have different children, some of whom need a little more help
and attention and soothing and encouragement than the others, so it is
with G-d and His children.
G-d looks at His nation and He looks at his children and says "this kid
needs a little more." The Jew who does not ask any questions will
certainly be taken care of. But he is on a higher level. He does not need
the "tender loving care" that is needed by the frightened Jew who does not
understand how he will possibly survive if he keeps the Torah. "This is
the child who always needs the 'arm around the shoulder.'" He needs a
little extra attention. He has to sit on My lap a little longer than the
other children. I will provide that attention for him, even though he is
not on the level of the other child. Since he NEEDS it, I will provide
The lesson to derive from this is the following: G-d has an infinite
amount of patience with us. Even though we are not on the level that we
should be on, and even though we should be beyond this, G-d takes care of
us. So too, we should emulate G-d in the way that we treat our spouses and
our children and even ourselves (Mah Hu, af ata). Even if he or she or
they or we should be "beyond this," we must have patience and provide
whatever care and attention and endurance the situation might require.
This write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher
Frand's Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah Portion. The
halachic topics covered for the current week's portion in this series are:
Tape # 011 - Rationing Medical Care
Tape # 012 - Can Teachers Strike?
Tape # 054 - Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
Tape # 055 - Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
Tape # 097 - "Ribis" Problems of Interest for the Jew in a
Tape # 098 - "Cheremei Tzibur": A Ban on Living in Germany?
Tape # 145 - Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
Tape # 192 - Making Shabbos Early
Tape # 282 - The Physician's Obligation to Heal
Tape # 328 - Sh'mita and the Heter Mechira
Tape # 372 - Using Shuls As A Shortcut
Tape # 416 - Supporting Jewish Merchants
Tape # 460 - The Obligation of Checking One's Teffilin
Tape # 504 - Lag B'Omer
Tape # 548 - Marrying for Money
Tape # 592 - Ribis and the Non-Jew
Tape # 636 - The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
Tape # 680 - Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
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Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
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