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Torah Sparks

May 16, 2009 – 22 Iyar 5769

Annual: Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34 (Etz Hayim, p. 738; Hertz p. 531)
Triennial: Leviticus 25:39 – 26:46 (Etz Hayim, p. 744; Hertz p. 536)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 763; Hertz p. 551)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God tells Moses to instruct the people about the shemittah, the sabbatical year. Once they had settled in their land, the Israelites were to plant, harvest, and store the produce of their fields for six years. During the seventh year of the cycle, the shemittah, they were not to plant or harvest, or to store produce that grew on its own. However, everyone was free to take and eat whatever did grow on its own.

The 50th year, coming after seven of these seven-year cycles, was designated the yoveil. Not only was farming prohibited then, but all Israelite slaves were to be freed and any land sold during the previous 49 years was to revert to its original owners. In other words, land never actually was sold. It really was leased until the next yoveil.

When a person had to sell all or part of his land due to financial need, his relatives were to redeem what he had sold. Houses in walled cities could be redeemed for a year from the date of sale and then passed permanently to the buyer. Houses outside these walled cities and houses in the cities of the Levites could not be sold permanently - they remained subject to redemption and reverted to the original owners at the yoveil.

When a person became poor, he was to be loaned money at no interest. If this were not enough to allow him to recover financially, he could become an indentured servant who would be set free at the yoveil. Non-Israelite slaves were to be considered permanent possessions.

The commandments not to make or worship idols and to keep Shabbat are restated.

If Israel follows God’s laws and obeys His commandments, they will be blessed with peace and prosperity. However, if Israel chooses not to obey God’s laws, they will be subject to increasingly severe punishments - disease, famine, war, and exile. God promises that even after these terrible things befall the people, He will not completely destroy Israel but will remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and welcome Israel’s teshuvah.

God tells Moses to instruct the people about the fulfillment of vows. Specific amounts are listed for paying a vow of the equivalent of a human being. Details are given for paying or redeeming vows of animals, houses, and land.

First-born animals are not subject to vows - they are automatically consecrated to God. First-born kosher animals are to be brought for sacrifice and first-born impure animals must be redeemed for money. Tithes of produce and animals are described.

1. How Much is Enough?

Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land. (Leviticus 26:5)

  1. One shall eat a little, and it will be blessed inside him. (Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), 1040-1105, France)
  2. You shall eat your fill of bread: So that you will be healthy and strong. And your souls will eat their fill, for what good is an abundance of produce if they are unable to eat, and even if they are healthy and they have much produce, what good is it if they must eat it in fear and trembling - therefore it is said, “and dwell securely in your land.” (Bechor Shor (Rabbi Yosef of Orleans), 1140-1190, France)
  3. Though you eat you shall not be satisfied (Vayikra 26:26): Because the rations are inadequate. Alternatively, the meaning is that although you eat a lot of it, it will not satisfy because a curse rests on the bread. (Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, Rashi’s grandson), 1080-1158, France)
  4. People never leave the world with even half their desires fulfilled. Somebody who has a hundred wants to turn it into two hundred; and somebody who has two hundred wants to turn it into four hundred. (Kohelet Rabbah 1:13)
  5. There are many people who would really feel satisfied with what they themselves already have. But because they see others have more, they feel envious of those people. They actually feel pain when they see that someone else has what they do not. But when a person feels sincere love for someone else he is not envious of that person and it does not bother him if that person has more than he does. Therefore the only way for people to really experience a total blessing with what the Almighty has given them is for there to be true peace among people. This is the peace in which people feel love for one another and are happy for their good fortune. (K’tav Sofer (Rabbi Abraham Samuel Benjamin Schreiber), 1815-1875, Hungary, cited in “Growth Through Torah,” Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, p. 301)

Sparks for Discussion

The simple meaning of “you shall eat your fill of bread” is that having an abundance of food, or even enough of it, is a blessing. However, Rashbam suggests that it is not how much we have but our attitude toward it - the ability to be satisfied with what we have – that is a great blessing. Our commentators point out that some people will never be satisfied, no matter how much they have. Do you agree? Why do people feel this way? Is it envy, greed, or something else? Do economic hard times make people more grateful for what they have?

2. Whose Torah Is It, Anyway?

I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land. (Leviticus 26:6)

  1. After the Torah has stipulated that you shall “dwell securely in your land,” why does it have to add “I will grant peace in the land”? The reference here, then, is to internal peace, between yourselves, between one another, between one party and another, between one faction and another. (Various sources, cited in Itturei Torah, Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
  2. It is precisely the multiplicity of opinions that derive from variegated souls and backgrounds that enriches wisdom and brings about its enlargement. In the end all matters will be properly understood and it will be recognized that it was impossible for the structure of peace to be built without those trends that appeared to be in conflict. (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, 1865-1935, Lithuania and Palestine)
  3. Rabbi Abba said in the name of Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel, the one asserting “The law is according to our views,” and the other asserting “The law is according to our views.” Then a divine voice went forth and said, “The utterances of the one and those of the other are both the words of the living God, but the law is according to the school of Hillel.” Since both are the words of the living God, what entitled the school of Hillel to have the law fixed according to its rulings? Because they were kindly and humble; they taught their own rulings as well as those of the school of Shammai. And even more, they taught the rulings of the school of Shammai before their own. (Talmud Eruvin 13b)

Sparks for Discussion

Do you think that peace between and among the Jewish people and our many factions, movements, and parties is possible? Is it desirable? Do you see any downside or danger in a lack of conflict? Are there particular issues on which we must all speak with one voice? Why do our halakhic texts record and preserve rejected arguments? What does the passage from Eruvin want us to learn about disagreements?

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