This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (5764)
This week's double section begins with the commandment of 'Shmita'.
This means that farmers in Israel can work the land only six years in a row and then must stop in the seventh 'Shmita' year.
Something like the commandment to rest on the Shabbat; first we work six days then on the seventh we rest.
But here it seems to be written in the wrong order!
Our portion begins with G-d saying. "When you come to the land that I gave you, the land must rest for G-d." And then in the next sentence it says; "Six years you can plant you field and six years you can work in your vineyard and gather produce." !!
In other words, the seventh (Shmita) year is written BEFORE the first six!
And in fact, if you look at Exodus 20:8, 9 you will find the same stange thing in the Ten Commandments:
First it says, "Keep the Shabbat." 20:8
And THEN, "Six days toil and do all your work." 20:9
Why does the Torah write them in the opposite order that they occur?
Perhaps we can answer with this story.
Once, about one hundred and fifty years ago in Russia there lived a certain once-rich Jew, let's call him Mr. Feld that had made his fortune in the fish business. But after a few bad business deals and a few strokes of bad luck before he knew it the poor fellow lost everything including his house and furniture.
His wife and children moved temporarily to her parent's home while he spent most of his time loitering around the synagogue.
No one had any solution for his problem; he was too proud to accept charity, not fit for manual labor and no one had enough money to get him back on his feet. So he just sat there and mourned.
It so happened that there were a few Chabad Chassidim that occasionally frequented that Synagogue and when they noticed what was happening one of them suggested that he travel to the Lubavitcher Rebbe (at that time Rebbe Menachem Mendel nicknamed the 'Tzemach Tzedik')
So our pauper made his way to Lubavitch (with his last pennies) figuring that it certainly couldn't hurt and maybe the Rebbe would help.
And sure enough! The Rebbe told him, "Go to Berlin and HaShem will help."
But he did not go to Berlin. As soon as he thought about it he realized it was foolish. First of all he had no money for travel or lodging. Secondly, he knew no one in Berlin, what would he do there? And third, he didn't really believe that this Rebbe had any idea about business anyway. So he returned home.
But as soon as the Chassidim there heard what had happened they gathered enough money to hold him over in Berlin for a few weeks plus travel expenses and put him on the train.
He arrived and immediatly found a cheap hotel room and began to aimlessly wander the streets, hoping for something, naturally gravitating to the fish stores but with no results. No one even spoke to him. He had no money to invest anyway. And, frankly, he was beggining to get really depressed.
Another day passed, then another. People were rushing and busily working all around him while he just dragged dreamily around like an old bum.
Several days later he was standing before a fish store idly gazing in the window when the owner came out and said to him in a gruff German. "You understand fish? Want to buy carp? I'll give it to you cheap; one hundred barrels for ten marks a barrel. Where do you live? I can have it delivered tomorrow, pay me on delivery. Pay me in a week if you want. Maybe you can get rid of them. I have nothing to do with them. What do you say? Nu… come have a look? What is your name?"
Mr. Feld snapped out of his reverie, followed the German to the back room of the store like a zombi, saw the barrels and started to come alive. He even opened one and had a look…. Finally he was doing something.
The German took his hand and began shaking it saying, 'Look, I'll give them to you for nine marks a barrel. Just sign here and I'll have them delivered tomorrow afternoon. And here's your copy… I'll sign it here. You sign this one."
Mr. Feld, more from boredom than anything else, signed, took the copy that the German signed and left the store.
It really was quite an amazing coincidence. Who knows, maybe this is why the Rebbe sent him? If he could find way to get rid of these fish, even though he didn't have a penny to his name, he could make some money. He touched the bill of sale a few times just to be sure he wasn't dreaming and went to his hotel room.
At twelve o'clock the next afternoon he heard knocking loudly on his door and someone yelling, "Herr Feld? Halloo, Mr. Feld, are you here?" He figured it must be the delivery, the fish barrels are here.
He opened up and saw four men that he immediately could see were fish salesmen.
"Mr. Feld? Ahhh, our pleasure" One of them stuck out his hand while the others smiled and nodded warmly. "We understand you bought a hundred barrels from Heinz, you know … carp from Heinz's fish store. Is that right?"
Feld nodded yes.
Well, listen, there is no carp on the market and we need that carp. We wanted to buy from him but he said he already signed with you. Here… we will give ninety marks a barrel." He said as he pulled out a large wad of bills.
Feld was stunned.
"Okay, make it a hundred… take a hundred marks a barrel" he said as he nodded to the man standing next to him who produced the remaining money.
He nodded, took the money and gave them the bill that Heinz signed. They, then, produced their bill of purchace which he gladly signed and beaming with joy, they took turns shaking his hand and bid him goodbye.
Later that day he returned to the fish store, paid the nine hundred Marks to Heinz and returned home a rich man. The Rebbe's blessing worked.
This answers our questions. The Torah precedes Shmita (and Shabbat) to the six years (and six days) that it really follows to answer a very difficult question:
The Jewish people are very small in number (and the religious ones even smaller). The entire world seems to be against us; we are surrounded and outnumbered by hostile nations, religions and philosophies a thousand to one! How is it really possible to live a life completely according to Torah against such impossible odds and in such unfriendly environments?
Therefore the Torah tells us that the FIRST thing on our mind should be the Shmita and the Shabbat: First we must remember that G-d is the boss. He alone creates the entire universe every instant and He alone controls EVERYTHING that happens in it.
Like in our story, Mr. Feld had to learn to want only what HaShem wants. That is the power that has kept Judaism alive since Abraham, four thousand years ago.
And in case a person might come to the mistaken conclusion that this world is nothing more than a big obstacle and the main thing is the spiritual Shmita at the end, the Torah follows with 'working six years (and six days)' to tell us that the PURPOSE of this spiritual devotion of Shmita (and Shabbat) is only to have the proper attitude in order to effect the WORLD.
Just as Mr. Feld finally became RICH … but in a holy way.
The main lesson to us then is: by listening to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's words and doing ALL we can to bring Moshiach, without caring about ourselves, soon we will all experience the greatest RICHNESS possible: the revelation of the true ONEness of the Creator, world peace, brotherhood and joy! With………
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