Friday, May 09, 2014

R' Tzadok haKohen on "Mah inyan shemitah eitzel Har Sinai?"

VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe b’Har Sinai leimor…”  Rashi famously asks on the first pasuk in our parsha, “Mah inyan shemita eitzel Har Sinai?  Why does the Torah need to mention that this mitzvah was given at Har Sinai?  All mitzvos were given at Sinai!  Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim’s answer: we learn from here that even the details of all mitzvos were given at Sinai.  Why single out shemitah as the mitzvah to use to convey that lesson?   Rashi explains that the halachos of shemitah were never repeated in Devarim, where other halachos were taught and reviewed.  The only source we have for shemitah is Sinai.  Shemitah serves as the exception that proves the rule, namely, that all mitzvos, even those reviewed in Devarim, were explicated fully at Sinai.

Other meforshim offer other explanations along these same lines of shemitah being an exception that proves some rule regarding mitzvos in general.  Chasam Sofer sees shemitah singled out demonstrating the Divine authorship of all mitzvos, as the promise of a bumper crop in the sixth year before shemitah can only come from G-d.  Ksav Sofer writes that observance of shemitah is possible only if one has faith that G-d will provide food for the seventh year and only if Klal Yisrael bands together to help those farmers who have no means of making a living that year.  Shemitah is the paradigm of emunah and ahavas yisrael, qualities that are basic to a fulfillment of the rest of Torah.

The assumption of all these approaches is that shemitah is no different than any other mitzvah; there should be no reason to suspect it should not have been given at Sinai, and no need for the pasuk to mention that fact.  R’ Tzadok haKohen with his unique perspective forces us to rethink those assumptions .  It’s clear from Rashi that there are two “sugyos” in Chumash where Torah was given to Klal Yisrael: 1) Sinai; 2) Arvos Moav, as recounted in Sefer Devarim.  It’s not just 40 years of time that separate these events, but rather the two parshiyos address different generations with different goals and different needs.  The generation that stood at Sinai looked forward to a life of consuming mon, of studying Torah at the feet of Moshe Rabeinu, a life surrounded by miracles, of living in Eretz Yisrael with the final geulah realized.  We know that was not to be.  The generation that stood at Arvos Moav forty years later looked to Yehoshua for leadership, looked toward dealing with the challenge of the physical conquest of Eretz Yisrael, of toil in the fields and hard work to simply have food to eat and secure homes. 

Who does the mitzvah of shemitah speak to?  It addresses itself to the farmer who works the soil year after year and now must stop to recharge and remember that his parnasa is really b’ydei shamayim.  The generation that stood at Sinai and anticipated a life living on mon didn’t need this mitzvah; it’s the generation that stood at Arvos Moav and would become farmers who needed this mitzvah.  Mah inyan shemitah eitzel Har Sinai?”  The mitzvah was given to the wrong generation! 

The lesson here, as R’ Tzadok sees it, is that even as Klal Yisrael was on the highest and most lofty levels, standing at Sinai, the Torah acknowledged human frailty and was addressing itself to the challenges of those farmers who would live 40 years later.  Even as a person grows and climbs to greater and greater heights, he must not lose sight of his own shortcomings, of the potential to fall and to fail.  Even while standing on Sinai, we need to have in mind mitzvos like shemitah.

9 comments:

  1. "The generation that stood at Sinai and anticipated a life living on mon didn’t need this mitzvah". As they stood at Sinai, didn't all Jews anticipate a speedy entry into Eretz Yisrael? Even the egel incident hadn't happened yet, much less that of the meraglim.

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    1. Even without getting into whether mitzvos b'teilos l'asid lavo b'zman hageulah, on a practical level every year would have been like shemitah -- everyone would be sitting and learning, not farming in fields.

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    2. Are you saying that our condition would have been like Adam HaRishon before his sin made tilling the land necessary?

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    3. unnecessary (I assume that's what you meant)

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  2. I meant that the sin made tilling necessary, as I wrote.

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  3. Excellent dvar Torah! I especially enjoyed this thought: "Even while standing on Sinai, we need to have in mind mitzvos like shemitah." How true! I know of a bunch of yidden who'll be keeping shemitah from America. They buy land in Eretz Yisroel from Shomrei Shvi'it, and the land is left to lie fallow during the shemitah year.

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  4. You can use r dessler for this too, that dor hamon that didn't do hishtadlus is great. But the bigger nisayon is working the land, doing hishtadlus and knowing it's useless and hkbh is the only cause and effect. so really it's for the dor matan Torah!

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  5. You can use r dessler for this too, that dor hamon that didn't do hishtadlus is great. But the bigger nisayon is working the land, doing hishtadlus and knowing it's useless and hkbh is the only cause and effect. so really it's for the dor matan Torah!

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  6. Where does the Chatam Sofer state that shemita proves divine authorship of the Torah? I'm looking at his commentary on Parshat Behar, and do not see it. So I assume the statement must appear somewhere else.

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