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Parashat BeHar 10 Iyar 5774 May 10, 2014 Vol. 23 No. 31
Breaking Down the Barriers
By Beni Krohn 
Approximately 20 years ago, Rav Mordechai Willig, a Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshivah University, wrote an article for the
YU Commentator
 in which he described his own personal experience of the very first time Jews were allowed back to the Kotel, following the Six Day War: Shavuot 5727, about 5:00 in the morning in Heichal
Shlomo, Yerushalayim. All of the Kerem B’Yavneh Talmidim
 who were not in the army had spent the night learning Torah in the traditional Mishmar. Exactly one week before, the Old City came under Jewish control for the first time in nearly 1900 years. At dawn, after a frantic effort to clear mines and other obsta
cles, the Kotel HaMa’aravi was opened to the
 Jewish public for the first time in 19 years. After a Mishmar, Shacharit KeVatikin, and Kriat HaTorah, we stepped into Rechov King George. To our amazement, the street was completely filled at 5 A.M. We walked past the old border, into what was no-m
s-land. Police barricades were used for crowd control, allowing only so many people at a time to enter the narrow safe zone.
 Just two months earlier, the Yeshiva’s Tiyul guide, Zev
Vilnai, had described all the gates of the city to us from afar. We never dreamt we would be entering through them so soon.
As we approached Sha’ar Yafo, the crowd began to
dance. As soon as a police barricade was removed, we danced to the sounds of Nigunim until we reached the next  barricade and had to pause. The central theme of Parashat BeHar is the Mitzvah with which it begins, the Mitzvah of Shemitah. Hashem tells Klal Yisrael that once every seven years all agricultural production is to stop
no one may work his own land. In addition, any
produce that may grow in one’s land is ownerless, and all loans
are forgiven. Various Meforashim offer explanations for this peculiar Mitzvah. Rav Yitzchak Arama, in his commentary Akeidat Yitzchak, compares the Shemitah year to Shabbat. Shabbat provides a break once every seven days to remind us that no matter how much effort we put in, Hashem is the true source of our success. Similarly, we are told to take a break once every seven years to
us that the land is not ours
t is Hashem’s creation. Thus,
the Torah refers to Shemitah over and over as a Shabbat HaAretz, a Sabbath for the land. Our observance of the Shemitah year is our declaration of faith that any material wealth or success we may achieve only comes by way of Hashem. I
n the introduction to his Sefer, Shabbat Ha’Are
tz, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook also focuses on the comparison between Shabbat and Shemitah but from a different perspective. He explains that the Halachot of Shabbat are designed to free a person from involvement in mundane, day-to-day tasks and concerns of life in order to allow him to reflect on his higher, spiritual purpose as an individual. In a similar vein, Shemitah, with its removal of material competition, provides the ideal atmosphere for Klal Yisrael as a nation to focus on its higher spiritual purpose. Without the ability to work towards making a living, Klal Yisrael is free to pursue its communal spiritual goals. The Keli Yakar
offers a unique approach to the Mitzvah of Shemitah. In life, we separate ourselves from each other for a myriad of reasons, and socioeconomic factors play a central role in that segregation. There is a wall that separates those who come from different economic strata, but when the Shemitah year arrives, those barriers are removed. My land becomes your land. My produce becomes your produce. All loans are forgiven. For one year, everyone shares the same financial standing. The demolition of social and economic barriers is even more profound during Yovel, the next Mitzvah found in the Parashah. Yovel is the ultimate Shemitah, which comes at the end of seven cycles of seven years. In addition to the regular laws of the Shemitah year, all slaves, even those who had decided to remain with their masters, are released. During Shemitah and Yovel, everyone is equally free
 both physically and financially. Allowing everyone to live as equals promotes a peace that would be otherwise impossible. For one year, everyone is in equal standing in his or her pursuit of financial gain, and, as a result, jealousy and resentment fall by the wayside. We reflect on whether we are using the material wealth that Hashem gives us to promote Shalom, peace, and Achdut, unity, among Bnei Yisrael.
The  Jewish economic system does not operate like this perpetually;
rather, Hashem asks that once every seven years we pause, strip away so many of the significant factors that lead to disunity, and hope that the effects will linger into the future as well. As Bnei Yisrael were later commanded, at the end of the Shemitah year, there is a mitzvah of Hakheil. Every man, woman and child is commanded to gather with the rest of the Jewish people in Yerushalayim, where the king would read the Torah. There is a profound connection between the theme of unity promoted by Shemitah and the circumstances of Hakheil. There is a fascinating Midrash found in BeReishit Rabbah (56:10)
regarding how the city of Yerushalayim received its name. During Akeidat Yitzchak, when Avraham was standing at Har HaMoriah, the future site of the Beit HaMikdash, he named the place,
Hashem Yir’eh
God will be seen.
 Malkitzedek, identified as Sheim, the son of Noach, was the King of a city he referred to as Shaleim. The only problem, as the Midrash points out, is that
 both of these locations are the same
 Hashem, therefore, was presented with a dilemma. If he were to call it like Avraham did, Hashem Yireh, He would insult the honor of Malkitzedek. On the other hand, if He called it Shaleim, the honor of Avraham would be offended. Therefore, he compromised and named it Yerushaleim in order to offend neither. Tehillim (122:3)
says about Yerushalayim, ‚Yerushalayim HaBenuyah KeIr SheChubrah Lah Yachdav, ‚Yerushalayim that is built as a
compact city brings people close together.
The Talmud Yerushalmi says in Massechet Chagigah (79b)
that Yerushalayim
is an, ‚Ir SheHi Oseh Kol Yisrael Chaveirim,‛
‚A city that makes all of Israel friends.‛
 It is clear that the purpose of Yerushalayim is to unite us as a nation
 both through its name and its role. As such, it makes perfect sense that we have a year designed to promote unity, and to conclude it, we unite in a city built around unity.
Rav Willig concludes his article as he describes
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the ascent to the Kotel itself. The scene was unforgettable. Jews of all persuasions danced shoulder to shoulder into the Old City. On one side of me was a man in a Streimel and white stockings. On the other was a non-observant Jew with a camera. Incredibly, all barriers disappeared. I saw with my own eyes the fulfillment
of Chazal’s wor
ds on the Pasuk we were singing:
asu Chaveirim Zeh LaZeh.
 Through Yerushalayim, they became friends with each other.
Every tribe of Israel was represented in force [as] [s]ome 250,000 Jews came on that day of Shavuot.
We Davened Mussaf
In the shadow of the Har HaBayit. We poured out our hearts. For the first time in our lives and the lives of most people there, we were as close as one may come to the site of the Beit HaMikdash. We hoped and prayed for its imminent rebuilding
B’nei Baitecha Ke
Vatchilah. As we learn the laws of Shemitah this Shabbat and find ourselves only days after
Yom Ha’atzmaut and a few
weeks from Yom Yerushalayim, let us remind ourselves that the goal of the Mitzvah of Shemitah and the city of Yerushalayim is one and the same
to break down  barriers and allow us to become Chaveirim Z
Shemitah: The Least Relevant Mitzvah
by Yehuda Feman ( 
Parashat BeHar begins with the laws of Shemitah by first stating that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai. The Pesukim then go on to list the various laws with regards to Shemitah and Yovel. Rashi asks the obvious question: What is the importance of stressing that these laws were given at Har Sinai? Rashi answers by saying that this teaches us that just as the laws of Shemitah were given at Sinai, all other Mitzvot were also taught at Sinai. However, Rashi
’s answer
tell us why Shemitah was chosen out of all Mitzvot in the Torah to teach us this principle. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that out of all the Mitzvot given to the Jewish people, the prohibition of working the ground during the Shemitah period is one of the last precepts to be implemented. Since this Mitzvah is an agricultural Mitzvah, it came into effect only after the  Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, forty years after the giving of the Torah. Even then, many of the laws pertaining to the land did not fully come into effect until the land was completely conquered and occupied by Bnei Yisrael, fourteen years after entering the land. Even at that point, Shemitah would take place only seven years later, since it occurs only after six years of work. Therefore, when the Torah was given at Har Sinai, one can imagine the significance of the Mitavah of Shemitah in the minds of Bnei Yisrael. This Mitzvah was, at the time, one of the least relevant Mitzvot to Bnei Yisrael. The Torah is trying to teach us a valuable lesson. It is because of this very point that the Torah teaches us that Shemitah was said at Har Sinai; since if Shemitah, the least relevant Mitzvah, was taught on Sinai, then obviously the other more relevant Mitzvot were also taught. There remains, however, one small problem with the answer given above: Why not use Hakheil, the gathering of the entire nation to hear the Melech read portions of Sefer Devarim, which was to be done the year after Shemitah, as the precept to convey this principle? If the Torah selects the least relevant Mitzvah in terms of how much time it would be until the Mitzvah takes effect, why not use Hakheil? There is a major difference between Hakheil and Shemitah. Although it is true that Hakheil is further away than Shemitah with regards to the chronological relevance of the Mitzvah, conceptually, Hakheil is much closer. One of the reasons for Hakheil, as stated by Rambam (Laws of Festival offering 3:6), is to remind us of when we gathered at Har Sinai. Therefore, despite Hakheil being distant with regards to time, it is actually very close in terms of its connection to Har Sinai. This is contrary to Shemitah, which is both distant in time and concept. The fact that the Mitzvah of Shemitah, which was far away not only in time,  but also in concept, was taught at Har Sinai, shows that surely all other Mitzvot would have been presented there as well.
Give A Little Tzedakah
by Josh Schwartz (’14) 
In this week’s Parashah, we are commanded to assist another
 Jew who is st
ruggling financially as the Torah states, ‚
VeChi Yamuch Achicha, UMatah Yado Imach,
VeHechezakta Bo,”
your brother becomes impoverished and loses the ability to
support himself in the community, you must come to his aid.
 (VaYikra 25:35). This same idea of helping a fellow Jew is
expressed when the Torah states, ‚
Im Kesef Talveh Et Ami,
thou lend money to any of My people‛
 (Shemot 22:24; and see Rashi ad. loc.), implying that we should lend money to those who are in need. We live in a time when, unfortunately, financial struggle has  become a way of life for many. Throughout Jewish history, there have always been those who give and those who take, but today, with the ever widening chasm between the rich and the poor, there are more who are relegated to take and fewer who are prepared to give. However, the Jewish people have always risen
to their appellation of being merciful people and Ba’alei Chesed.
This compassion is highlighted in the Gemara in Yevamot (79b) which lists that eagerness to help
others, even beyond one’s
means in some cases, is a defining characteristic of a Jew. Rashi (VaYikra 25:35 s.v.
VeHechezakta Bo
) presents an analogy to better understand the obligation of helping Jews.
When a donkey’s heavy load begins to slip off its bac
k, even one person can fix it and prevent the donkey from falling. Once the donkey has fallen, however, even a pool of people cannot stand it up again. Similarly, once a fellow Jew has been bogged down in severe debt, it is exceedingly difficult to raise him up; therefore, we must help him when he is faltering. In fact, the highest level of Tzedakah is not giving a large sum of money to a poor person per se, but giving money to a person who will subsequently have no need for Tzedakah and will be financially independent. The Alshich (ad loc.) notes that the preceding Pesukim speak in the plural while this Pasuk employs Lashon Yachid, singular
form, when it uses the word ‚Achicha,‛ meaning your one
 brother. He explains that the Torah takes a pragmatic approach towards financial assistance and, and as a result, factors in the  bystander effect. How often do we direct the fellow in need to see someone else? We always know the address of our well-to-do neighbors and we are always too happy to give it out. We do everything but offer our own help; but what about our own responsibility to offer assistance? Therefore, the Torah turns to
every individual and explicitly states: ‚You must help. You have
an obligation. Do not shirk your responsibility and place it upon your friend. He will do his part, but you must also do
 HaRav Shlomo MeiKarlin goes even further in his
interpretation of the Torah’s demand that we help our impoverished brother, and focuses on the phrase, ‚VeHechezakta Bo.‛ If you want to help a Jew who has fallen into the mud, get
down on the ground. It is necessary sometimes to get down on the ground with him and raise him up. We do not pull him up,
Embarrassment with Good Intentions
Gavriel Epstein ('15)
The Mitzvah of Ona’at Devarim, a prohibition against
deceiving, humiliating, or antagonizing another, appears in Parashat BeHar:
“VeLo Tonu Ish Et Amito,”
a man shall not
wrong his fellow‛ (VaYikra 25:17). One illustration of the
absolute importance of this Mitzvah can be found in Shmuel
Aleph, when Chanah was praying for a son. Peninah
antagonized her
 not out of spite
 but simply to stimulate
more prayer,
“ULeSheim Shamayim Nitkavnah,”
‚and she had
good intentions‛ (Rashi Shmuel I 1:6). Nonetheless, many of
Peninah’s sons died as a punishment. This shows the
importance of Ona’at Devarim, and the severity of the
consequences, should this Mitzvah be transgressed. On the other
hand, there is a concept of ‚
ach Tochi
’ach Et Amitecha,”
‚You shall rebuke your fellow‛ (
 VaYikra 19:17). This Pasuk
identifies a sin that one may or may not be aware of
accomplishing, and it is punishable by the transgressor bearing
that fellow’s sin. One who refrains from preventing another
from sinning is treated as if he had committed the sin himself.
Thus, it is essential to assess every situation with great care to
determine whether Hochei
ach Tochi
ach is necessary, or whether it is simply a violation of
Ona’at Devarim.
 but rather we lift him up. It is easy to write a check, but what about getting our hands dirty and personally doing something about our friend in need and putting effort into his troubling affairs? The Midrash explains that when a mendicant comes to a
person’s door asking for assistance, Has
hem stands to his right
side, as the Pasuk states, ‚
Ki Ya’amod Limin Evyon,
Because He
stands at the right hand of the needy‛
 (Tehillim 109:31). If one does not give the beggar what he needs, he should remember
what is written in Tehillim (41:2): ‚
 Ashrei Maskil El Dal BeYom
Ra’ah Yi’malteihu
Happy is he that considers the poor;
Hashem will deliver him in the day of evil.‛
 But what does it
mean to be ‚Maskil El Dal?‛ How should one consider the plight
of the poor man? The Chafetz Chaim paints a scenario to answer this question. A person lives his life in this world and one day he is summoned to his eternal rest. He now has to give an accounting for his deeds and stands before the Heavenly Tribunal holding a Sefer Torah as he is questioned in regard to each Mitzvah in the very Torah that is in his arms. Of course he will be
queried in regard to ‚VeHechezakta‛ and the Tribunal will
refresh his memory of the night when the poor man came for help  but was turned away dejected, depressed, and brokenhearted. The Tribunal enlightens him regarding how the beggar felt when he came to beg for money and was not given any:
‚The decision to see you did
not occur overnight. He spoke it over with his wife and they felt that, while it is not easy to go to a man of means and beg, they had no other alternative. He gathered up his courage and came to your house and  begged, yet you refused. Do you know how he cried that night, the tears that flowed in his house? Do you have any idea how his children must have felt when he came home empty-handed? They lost hope, and it was all because of you. Stand here and accept responsibility for your actions
the pain you caused the poor man, his family, and Hashem, who listened to their inconsolable weeping. As you had no compassion on the beggar, the heavenly Tribunal will
have no compassion on you!‛
 This powerful story teaches us the importance of the Mitzvah of assisting a fellow impoverished Jew. There are infinite  justifications for closing our pockets, but in the end, Tzedakah is contingent upon the contributor. Tzedakah is a Mitzvah of paramount importance
the most difficult according to some
 and carries severe consequences when a person is thoughtless. On the other hand, Tzedakah provides incomparable reward when performed properly.
Rabi Akiva and His Talmidim
 A Fresh Perspective: Part One
by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Chazal’s recounting of the story of the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s
twenty-four thousand Talmidim is well-known. However, a careful examination of this story yields many questions. The answers to these questions, though, present a compelling new perspective on this decisive event in Jewish life that has many implications for our contemporary challenges as individuals and as a community.
 A Classic Talmudic Story
The Gemara (Yevamot 62b) relates: It was said that Rabi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gevet to Antipatris, and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabi Meir, Rabi Yehudah, Rabi Yosei, Rabi Shimon [Bar Yochai] and Rabi Elazar ben Shamua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: "All of them died between Pesach and Shavuot." Rav Hama ben Abba or, it might be said, Rav Chiya ben Avin said: "All of them died a cruel death." Specifically what was it? Rav Nachman replied: "Croup." Four glaring questions spring forth from the text. First, why
describe the number of Rabi Akiva’s Talmidim
with the
cumbersome phrase, ‚12,000 pairs,‛ instead of the more
straightforward 24,000 students? Next, why is it significant that the Talmidim died in the period between Pesach and Shavuot
? Third, Rabi Akiva is well-known for emphasizing VeAhavta
LeRei’acha K
amocha, love your neighbor as yourself (VaYikra 19:18), which he classifies as a Kelal Gadol BaTorah, a central pillar of Torah values. With such a Rebbe, how is it possible
that Rabi Akiva’s Talmidim
failed to show respect for each other? The final question stems from the fundamental Torah principle that Hashem is fair.
Thrice daily we recite, ‚
Tzaddik Hashem BeChol Derachav,
‚Hashem is righteous in all His ways‛ (Tehillim 145:17),
teaching that, simply put, Hashem is fair. When Hashem punishes, He does so in a reasonable and proportionate manner. Chazal often phrase
Hashem’s method of punishment as
 Middah KeNegged Middah
 , that the punishment matches the sin (see Mishnah Sotah 1:7, for example). In our story, does the lack of respect merit the horrific deaths suffered by the 24,000 Talmidim of Rabi Akiva?
The Attraction of Talmidim to Rabi Akiva
Before these students died, Rabi Akiva headed a Torah learning enterprise of massive proportions - tens of thousands of Talmidim situated at many locations. Of course, students flocked to Rabi Akiva in unprecedented numbers due to his unparalleled
1 The Gemara presents stories in an exceedingly terse manner. A story that could easily fill a full length novel is often described by Chazal in  but a few sentences. Thus, the inclusion of any detail in the exceedingly terse prose of the Gemara is significant and does not simply serve as literary embellishment. If we seek to read between the lines of the story and discover the deeper lessons of these stories, an explanation must be given for importance of the seemingly unnecessary details presented by the Gemara.

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