Thursday, May 8, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          In one of the European shtetlach (villages) in days of yore, there was one particularly rambunctious youth who was causing an uproar in his cheder (school). He was a sharp child but he was also vivacious and impulsive, with little interest in listening to what his melamed (school-teacher) was teaching. Finally, in desperation, the young boy was brought before the sagacious Dayan (judge) of the town.
The Dayan began by giving the young boy a harangue about the importance of time, the holiness and immeasurable value of Torah study, and the detriment of not studying adequately. The Dayan quickly noticed that his words were falling on deaf ears and he would have to utilize a novel approach if he had any hope of imparting any message to the boy.
“You know, I am the Dayan of this town,” he began again, “and I would like to solicit your advice about a pending case awaiting my adjudication.” When the young boy heard that the Dayan wanted his opinion he perked up. The Dayan continued, “It’s a most unusual case. The litigants are the shoes of the village versus the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). Not too long ago the shoes approached me and voiced a strong complaint. They explained that there were a group of ten cows who were raised together on a farm. All the cows ate the same food and engaged in the same labor. There was absolutely no difference in value, robustness, or quality between any of the ten. Then one day, a distinguished looking Rabbi with a long coat and a sparkling white beard appeared on the farm. The Rabbi informed the farmer that he wished to purchase five cows; he needed their hide so that he could produce parchment in order to write a Sefer Torah.
“The first five cows were selected to go along with the Rabbi. After a few months they were indeed transformed into Torah scrolls. From that point onward they led a regal life. When they would enter a room, every person would jump to his feet and stand with silent reverence. The people would kiss the Torah as it was lovingly carried to the special lectern made for its reading. For decades to come people will embrace it, occasionally even sing and dance with it, according it the utmost respect. Then when it falls into disrepair it will be laid to rest respectfully.
“The remaining five cows however, were purchased by a shoemaker. They were sliced into bits of leather and made into shoes. They are trampled on and they wallow in the mud and debris of the streets. When people arrive at home, they throw off the smelly shoes at the door and leave them there until it is time for their next excursion. When the shoes wear out they are haphazardly cast into the garbage.
“The shoes complained that they had the same right to become Sifrei Torah as their comrades. It was unfair that they had become lowly shoes while their friends had been elevated into holy scrolls.”
          As he concluded his narrative, the Dayan asked the young boy how he would rule in this case?
The young boy quickly responded that he ruled in favor of the shoes. “Their complaint is justified. Collect all the shoes and transform them into Torahs and transform the Torahs into shoes!”
The Dayan gently replied, “I hear what you are saying. But as the Dayan of this city I want to tell you how I ruled. I explained to the shoes that although perhaps they have the same right to become Torah Scrolls, they must understand the arduous process involved in creating Torah Scrolls. When the hide is stripped off the cow it is beaten repeatedly until it becomes a relatively thin sheet. The different parts of the hide have different names, statuses, and laws (e.g. duchsusya, klaf, etc.) When the hide has been sufficiently processed and prepared the scribe uses a razor to painstakingly etch thin lines across every single column. The laws of the writing are extremely complex and it is a slow meticulous process before the Torah is finally completed.
“I told the shoes that they can become Sifrei Torah if they are willing to endure the travails and pain necessary for that transformation to occur!”
The Dayan smiled, “When the shoes heard my proposition they rescinded their argument. They agreed that it was far easier for them to remain lowly shoes than to have to suffer through the process of becoming holy Torah scrolls.”
The Dayan looked poignantly into the eyes of the youngster sitting enraptured before him. “You – my young friend - must decide what you want to become in life. Do you want to take the path of least resistance and become a pair of shoes, or are you ready to undergo the process necessary to transform yourself into a living Sefer Torah?!”
The young boy was so moved by the Dayan’s innovative message that he dedicated himself to his studies with incredible gusto and enthusiasm. He later became a beloved Rebbe in the noted Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim for over sixty years.

The Torah instructs that every seventh year “shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for G-d; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.” This requirement to observe the laws of shemitah - the sabbatical year - is challenging, to say the least. For a farmer whose chief livelihood comes from the production of his land, to allow his fields to remain fallow and uncultivated for an entire year requires tremendous conviction.
The Torah prefaces its directive regarding shemitah by stating that, “G-d spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai[1]. Rashi wonders why the Torah points out that this commandment was issued on Mount Sinai. “What is the connection between shemitah and Mount Sinai; weren’t all the mitzvos commanded at Sinai? (This reference teaches us that) just as the general laws as well as the finer details regarding the laws of shemitah were instructed at Sinai, so too all of the general laws as well as the finer details of all the mitzvos were instructed at Sinai.”
What is the inherent lesson of shemitah? Why was shemitah chosen as the mitzvah that represents this vital concept that, not only the general commandment, but even the details involving every commandment, were instructed at Sinai?
The Medrash[2] quotes the verse “The mighty ones with strength who fulfill His Word”[3], and offers two explanations: “To what is this verse referring? Rabbi Yitzchok said it refers to those who observe shemitah.” The Medrash explains that most mitzvos entail performing an action for a day, a week, or a month. But shemitah is a far greater challenge. The farmer must not work his field for an entire year. His protective fences must be left open and he must overcome his natural tendency to say anything in protestation to those trampling his field and freely taking its produce.
The second explanation of the verse is quoted in the name of Rav Huna b’shem Rabbi Eliezer. “(To what is this verse referring?) To Klal Yisroel at the time that they stood at Sinai and prefaced “doing” to “hearing”, i.e. when they stated una voce, “All that G-d has commanded we will do and we will hear.”[4] [This was an unprecedented declaration of obedience and subjugation. In effect, they agreed to “do” whatever was demanded of them, even before “hearing” the explanation and the reason for it.]
Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr zt’l explained that according to the Medrash the most salient aspect of shemitah involved the self-control of the farmer. It particularly refers to the farmer’s silence as he watched others aimlessly parading across his field.
Rabbi Schorr adds that the Medrash does not refer to a farmer who watches agonizingly while biting his lip. Rather, it refers to the farmer who is completely calm and collected, at peace with the entire situation. The fact that he has allowed the source of his livelihood to be open to all does not faze him. It is the Sabbatical of G-d and he has complete faith that G-d will compensate and provide all his needs.
The purpose of Shemitah was to infuse the farmer with this sense of faith that would carry over to the other years as well. The message of Shemitah had to resonate within the farmer so that his faith in G-d would never waver.
How could a farmer be expected to reach such an incredible level of faith? That ability was infused into every Jew at the time of the revelation of Sinai! At the moment when Klal Yisroel unflinchingly and devotedly agreed to accept the Torah sine qua non, they displayed an unprecedented level of desire to connect with G-d. They understood that accepting the Torah entailed accepting a rigid way of life, replete with laws and higher expectations. Yet, they were excited to undertake the yoke of Torah in order to become the elite Nation of G-d.
          This is the meaning of the two explanations of the Medrash. “The mighty ones with strength who fulfill His Word” refers to Klal Yisroel at Sinai as well as to the farmer who observes Shemittah. Both required a certain level of self-abnegation and a desire to place the Will of G-d before personal desires. This is also what Rashi refers to when he explains the inextricable connection between Shemittah and Sinai. Sinai represents the epitome of spiritual strength, overcoming personal motives and desires, and complete subjugation to G-d’s Word. The observance of Shemittah is only possible if the farmer is able to draw inspiration from the example set by his forbearers at Sinai. To fulfill not only the general law, but also all the details and minutiae associated with the mitzvah, required unyielding devotion.

          Pesach Sheni was the day when the second offering of the Korbon Pesach was offered in the Bais Hamikdash. Those who were ritually impure when the Korbon Pesach was offered just prior to the holiday of Pesach were granted an opportunity to offer it thirty days later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.
          Rabbi Yaakov Emden zt’l (Siddur Ya’avetz) explains why the second offering of the Korbon Pesach was specifically offered on the fourteenth of Iyar. “It was revealed to me from the heavens that on this day the matzos which the Jews had baked as they were departing Egypt were used up”. He explains that the spiritual light that emanated at the time of the miracles of the exodus continued to be palpable until then. When the original supply of matzoh was depleted it symbolized that the “spiritual light” of the miracles of the exodus and the holiday of Pesach had faded as well. Therefore, at that point, those who had been unable the first time were able to bring the Korobon Pesach and, so-to-speak, reawaken the “spiritual light” of the holiday again.
          Why did the inspiration from the miracles of Pesach only last thirty days?
          The Shem MiShmuel, quoting his father, the Avnei Nezer, explains that the official time period for preparation for the holiday of Pesach begins thirty days prior.[5]
The effect of something is equal to the magnitude of preparation done beforehand. The more one readies himself and prepares himself for any event, the more he will appreciate the event and the longer it will continue to resonate within him. Since the preparation for Pesach is thirty days, the effect of the holiday lingers for thirty days as well.

          In this world nothing of value can be achieved without sweat, effort, and toil. A healthy marriage, positive relationships, raising good children, being good at a trade, the ability to educate others, and most importantly, becoming a Torah scholar and a Servant of G-d, requires consistent devotion and dedication. The more one invests the more he will reap its benefits.
          The mitzvah of Shemittah - which symbolizes all the mitzvos given at Sinai - serves as a reminder that accepting the yoke of Torah requires self-sacrifice and a genuine desire to fulfill the word of G-d.
“A pair of shoes…or a living Sefer Torah”
“All were instructed at Sinai”

[1] Vayikra 25:1
[2] Vayikra 1:1
[3] Tehillim 103:20
[4] Shemos 24:3
[5] The law is that one commences the study of the laws of every holiday thirty days before the holiday.


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