In today’s fast-moving and changing world, attention spans are shrinking more rapidly than the polar cap under global warming. We are adopting the failures of society and failing to concentrate on what is important for more than a few seconds. We skim instead of read, and we surmise without bothering to educate ourselves. With little thought, we forward news, hock and jokes at supersonic speeds.
We act irresponsibly, either because we don’t realize the impact of our actions, or we think we won’t get caught. Our illiteracy and lack of knowledge lead us to desecrate our own names, as well as those of our people and, most importantly, Hashem. Everything, including our learning, our words, our honesty, our diligence and our interpersonal relationships, becomes superficial.
As we prepare for Shavuos, it would behoove us to slow down and think about what we are doing and whether it helps or hinders us. We are meant to act with determination and be disciplined in seeking and pursuing excellence.
Parshas Behar begins by stating that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai. The parsha then immediately turns to the laws of Shmittah. Rashi asks the classic question invoked when two matters seemingly unconnected are linked together: “Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai?” loosely translated as, “What does Shmittah have to do with Har Sinai?”
Rashi answers that the Torah juxtaposes the two pesukim to teach that just as all the minutia of the laws of Shmittah were expounded at Har Sinai, the myriad details of all the mitzvos were likewise taught at that time.
The Torah discusses the laws of Shmittah and then guarantees the blessings reserved for those who honor these laws, allowing their land to lie fallow every seventh year as a testament to their belief in Hashem.
Perhaps another reason for the linkage of Shmittah and Har Sinai might be to teach us that a person who seeks the brachos promised to shomrei Shevi’is should not delude himself into thinking that those blessings come for observing only one component of the mitzvos of Har Sinai.
“Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai” teaches us that in order to merit the rewards of keeping Shmittah, a Jew must do far more than observe the laws of Shmittah. He must follow all the halachos and dinim that were handed down at Sinai.
This approach might explain an inconsistency at the end of the parsha. The last posuk of Parshas Behar states, “Es shabbsosai tishmoru umikdoshi tira’u, ani Hashem.” The Baal Haturim points out that in this posuk, the word “tishmoru” comes after the word “Shabbos,” whereas in Devorim, the command of shamor precedes the word “Shabbos” in the posuk of “Shamor es yom haShabbos.”
The Baal Haturim quotes the Mechilta to explain that this is to teach that Shabbos requires shemirah both before and after the exact time of the holy day. That is, one must extend the day at the beginning and at the end, transforming chol to kodesh.
Perhaps we can explain that the posuk is implying that for one to be a shomer Torah umitzvos, it is not sufficient to only observe the 24-hour period that comprises Shabbos. One must also observe the many commandments governing life during the rest of the week. The kedusha of Shabbos demands shemirah lefonov ule’acharov.
It is common to describe a frum Jew as a shomer Shabbos. This is because in order to be considered a shomer Shabbos, you must also observe the other commandments. A shomer Shabbos Jew dresses differently, speaks differently, and eats differently, not only on Shabbos, but during the entire week. A shomer Shabbos Jew conducts himself with aidelkeit and ehrlichkeit, not only on Shabbos, but throughout the week as well. A shomer Shabbos Jew adds to the holiness of Shabbos by sanctifying the days before Shabbos and the days after it.
A shomer Shabbos Jew spreads kedushas Shabbos to everything he does from Shabbos to Shabbos. He anticipates and plans for Shabbos from Sunday onwards, as he specifies each day in relation to Shabbos, saying, “Hayom yom rishon b’Shabbos, Hayom yom sheini b’Shabbos, etc.”
And so it is with a shomer Shmittah. It is very difficult for a person who lives off of the land to wake up one day and decide that although he has been lax in his observance of the other mitzvos, he will observe Shmittah. It is only the person who, after faithfully observing all the halachos during the other six years, can meet the great test of faith and leave his ground untouched during the seventh year.
The person who is fastidious about his observance of maaser and terumah, and leket, shikchah and pe’ah, observes Shmittah with complete faith. The one who ensures that his animals do not run wild and damage other people’s property, and the one who makes sure that there are no michsholim on the paths that cut through his property, will be scrupulous with the dinim given on Har Sinai.
The person who conducts his business with emunah and bitachon and does not resort to chicanery and thievery to make his living is one who has the strength to let go when Shmittah arrives and depend upon Hakadosh Boruch Hu to sustain him.
A shomer Shabbos knows that life is not all fun and games. There are halachos and traditions to follow. He knows that his actions are viewed by others and he cannot engage in conduct that causes chillul Hashem. He knows that what the world considers cool and chic is not always all it’s cracked up to be.
A shomer Shabbos knows that he cannot act hypocritically and cannot be in places where he doesn’t belong. He comports himself with intelligence and dignity, like a gentleman.
“Vetzivisi es birchasi lochem.” Hashem promises His blessings to those who observe Shmittah, because those people are the ones who observe the laws handed down on Har Sinai daily and not only on isolated occasions.
At the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim to explain the posuk of “Im bechukosai teileichu.” Rashi says that it means “shetihiyu ameilim baTorah.” The way to achieve holiness and perfection is by expending much energy to study and understand the Torah. The way to show that we are serious about following the path of Hashem and observing His mitzvos is by delving deeply and persistently into the difficult passages of the Torah.
The Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah writes that the Torah does not make a permanent impact on one who takes a lackadaisical approach to its study, nor on one who learns while indulging in earthly excess, or while satiated by food and drink.
The Torah belongs to the one who knocks himself out, so to speak, working to understand it and refraining from sleep in order to learn and understand the word of Hashem.
That is why a rebbi is obligated to teach the same passage to his student several times until the student understands it. The rebbi is not permitted to become angered, but has to patiently explain it until its meaning is grasped. Torah is for all, and a lack of comprehension necessitates added effort and deeper concentration, for that is the way Torah is acquired. The task of the rebbi is to make the Gemara come alive, to convey gravitas and importance to the give and take, so the student not only repeats by rote, but becomes enraptured with understanding Torah and enveloped in its glory.
Therefore, as well, a student should not be uncomfortable when he doesn’t understand the Torah that is being taught. There is no embarrassment in asking to have it explained repeatedly until he understands it. Greatness in Torah requires total dedication and much effort. One who is consumed by ambition for spiritual greatness forgoes much to grow in Torah.
Greatness is not inbred. It doesn’t come from learning once a week. It isn’t accomplished overnight. It takes years of persistence and perseverance. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of growth to reach the pinnacle.
The world around us is in turmoil. We must do all we can to produce a new generation of leaders and giants to deal with the complex issues facing us. They must be respectful, responsible and decent. They have to engage in activities that bring achdus and love between Jews, not those that cause us to be divided. Everything they do should bring others to respect our people, as Chazal say, “sheyihei sheim Shomayim misaheiv al yodcha.”
Our ambition and drive must be to excel in Torah and avodah. We have to value excellence and appreciate it in others. We should demand the best of ourselves when it comes to spiritual matters and not easily compromise when it comes to what is really important in life. We must become ameilim baTorah in a literal sense.
Our chinuch system must teach our children to appreciate the gift of Torah they have been given. They need to realize that they are the Chosen People, selected to live a life of kedusha and tahara, of simcha and sasson, and that these are not mutually exclusive concepts. Torah breathes life into those who follow its ways. A Torah life is a blessing. One who understands that, will happily dedicate his life to ameilus baTorah.
Children who appreciate the full picture of Yiddishkeit and know that ehrlichkeit and middos tovos are an integral part of their being, understand that fidelity to a value system is their birthright.
Jews who are reminded from a young age onward that shemiras Shabbos involves more than observing the lamed tes melachos live on a higher level the whole week and recognize that by doing so they are among the luckiest people alive.
Despite all the temptations thrown at them by society, and no matter what pressures and inducements they face, they will remain steadfast, focused, honest and upstanding. They will bring us all much nachas.
The Torah promises that if we are ameilim baTorah, if we work according to the Torah and concentrate our main efforts on Torah study and observance, we will be blessed and successful in all we do.
The Torah is what gives us our identity and what defines us. As we stand in the Sefirah period, we commemorate that we were freed from Mitzrayim so that we could accept the Torah on Har Sinai.
We count towards Shavuos, the day that marks our receiving of the Torah, to demonstrate that we are striving and reaching upward. Each day of the count, we seek to improve ourselves so that we better appreciate the gift that is the Torah.
We don’t count the way one would normally count down to an anticipated date. We count upward. We are each saying, “I am not the same person I was yesterday. I am better. I have progressed yet another day and have taken another step towards my goal. I am on the way to realizing that the most important thing I can do is accept the Torah, study it, and follow it with devotion.”
If we want to excel in our lives as Torah Jews, we have to realize what those successful people described above realize. The key to success, both spiritual and material, is to be devoted to the task with all our strength and talent.
Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein zt”l was just such a person. His life was Torah and his talmidim. There was nothing else. He labored in the study of Torah since his youth and emerged as a brilliant talmid chochom who was viewed as a gadol b’Yisroel and a leader of our people.
His soul departed this world this past Motzoei Shabbos, leaving a huge vacuum. Rav Shmuel Yaakov represented the purity and majesty of Torah. He personified the gentility and stateliness of one who has climbed the ladder of Torah greatness. His shiurim were enlightening and his seforim contain brilliant insights. Those who met him saw the kindliness and character fostered by spending days and nights, for decades, immersed in the Yam Hatalmud.
Rav Shmuel Yaakov was relatively young, passing away at the age of 70. The Torah world viewed Rav Shmuel Yaakov as a leading rosh yeshiva who would continue to guide bnei Torah for years to come. We are left bereft, though inspired to follow in his ways and emulate his total devotion to limud haTorah and avodas Hashem.
We have to take ourselves and our responsibilities seriously. We have to take pride in our mission, so that we can succeed in being good Jews and good people. It won’t happen with a haphazard, lackadaisical approach, or by going through the motions perfunctorily. It demands a lifetime of ameilus coupled with discipline and determination.
Let us devote ourselves to our task and merit the brachos that the parsha reserves for those who are ameil in Torah.