Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Rosh Hashanah 5775: Shmittah Year!

As we go into Rosh Hashanah this year we need to be aware that this year is shmittah year. What is the shmittah year? In the Torah the it was commanded that the land would be worked for 6 years and in the 7th year it must be left alone, hefker, ownerless! Anyone was allowed to come and pick from what gre whtere. The owner could not cultivate it or fence it off to prevent others from entering. What grew in the field that year was there for anyone to come and take.

Think about what a massive act of faith this entailed! A farmer has to accept that when he grew in year 6 must sustain him and his family not only in year 6, but also in year 7 and also in year 1 of the next cycle until new food was grown! If there was insufficient the farmer would have to buy from non-Jews or from those outside of the area in which the law applied (the land given to the Jews when leaving Israel) or ask others to sustain him and his family until he had his own food. For us in the modern era we do not really appreciate the sacrifice involved. Modern farmers have fertilisers, machines and the yield of their farms is far in excess of their needs. In the times of the Temple the majority of farmers were subsistence farmers, their land small and yields barely large enough to sustain them over the period.

For many years these laws were like the other agricultural laws and laws relating to the Temple- held in abeyance until a majority of Jews dwelled in Israel (the laws for sacrifices and the Temple needing the additional condition that the Temple needs to be rebuilt.) Now, we have reached thathret shold and the lenient rulings of past years that allowed us to not have to observe this and other agricultural laws are a subject of debate: are they back in force or can we rely on the heterim of previous generations?

To the great merit of some farmers in Israel, they have chosen to let their fields lie fallow and to observe this incredible mitzvah! They put themselves and their livelihoods at risk in order to observe this mitzvah! Organisations have grown up to help sustain them over this period, but how great it is that once again we are seeing the laws of shmittah being observed in Israel!

We need to look at ourselves, examine ourselves as we prepare to go into Rosh Hashanah and ask ourselves if we are able to show the same leap of faith that G-d will sustain us! Its easy for us to say it, easy for us to think we would, but how many of us would really take that step and put our businesses and livelihoods on hold for a year because the Torah commands us?

We can take this a step further and look at it in a more esoteric way: Many people know the oft cited teaching that the seve days of creation are a remez (hint) to the world to come, the six days referring to the creation of the world, Shabbat to the world to come. The SHLAH (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz) in his book Shnei Luchot HaBris (Toldos Adam) teaches that on the first six days the Torah states “It was evening it was morning, day X”, not so for Shabbos- it just refers to the Seventh day and Shabbos- Shabbos is a complete unit, something complete, not in parts, not referred to except as a single unit. He applies the same idea to the years- comparing the six years to the six days of creation and thus to this world, with the shmittah year being about the world to come, about connecting to G-d, putting work aside and relying on G-d to sustain us. The farmers in Israel today choosing to rely on G-d, choosing to follow the Torah commandments show this commitment and elevate us all by this!

I challenge everyogn to think on this as they prepare for Rosh Hashnah, as they consider their deeds and actions of the last year. Where do you stand? With the farmers who put aside the year and trust in G-d to provide a parnassah or with those who choose to rather rely on their machines and fertilsers, those who stick by sound business principles and ignore the spiritual call of the shmittah?

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosh Hashanah 5770- Some thoughts as the day approaches

A few people here know me in real life, and know that I act as the Rabbi in a small local community (and I just can’t get them to stop calling me Rabbi! It makes me uncomfortable since I do not have smicha but they insist since I fill the role…)  The community, while Orthodox, has many that are not shomrei Torah u’mitzvos, so this Shabbos I searched for some interesting mussar to think about prior to Rosh Hashanah.  Luckily for me, parshas Nitzavim provided a fantastic drosha, which I will use here hoping that it will hopefully provide some insight for others as they prepare to Rosh Hashanah.

The Parsha this week starts with the following verses:

You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel,   ט. אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל:
10. your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers,   י. טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ

Rashi points out the word “Niztavim” comes from the word for pillar “Matzevah”, showing that the peopel were standing straight and upright before Moshe and Yehoshua.  haRav haGaon Moshe Feinstein in Darash Moshe raises an interesting question on this.  “A matzeivah is a type of altar that we are commanded to destroy.  The Torah commands us to destroy them, along with the asheirim and other forms of idol worship when we come into the land of Israel, the land Hashem promised us.  As such, it seems inappropriate to utilise them as an image when discussing Bnei Yisrael!  So, what is the Torah saying here?  To understand this- we need to understand why a pillar is hated as an altar by Hashem:  it is hated because it represents a static state- a pillar cannot grow;it cannot go up, on the contrary it can be cur short and decrease.  A pillar represents a static spiritual state, or worse, a decreasing one.  So why is the image appropriate here?  Rav Moshe points out that Moshe is saying to Yehoshua:  “I am no longer the leader, I will not be the one to teach and to raise the peoples spirituality, I have taken them as far as I can.  For me, they are a pillar, they have reached a fixed spiritual state.  You, however, as the new leader, have the task of seeing to their spiritual needs, of making sure they grow and improve on themselves from where they are now.”

What is the lesson in this for us as we approach Rosh Hashanah?  Look at what it says- ALL of Bnei Yisrael were standing there; all of them, from the most learned sages and mightiest leaders, to the most humble servants.  They all stood there and affirmed the covenant, yet each one of them stood at a different spiritual level.  Moshe did not say look at the pillar of Israe, look at them as whole and find a spiritual level they must all get to; rather he said- “look at them as individuals, each one holding at a different place, each one with a different potential.”  The call here is for each person to grow according to their potential, not according to the potential of Moshe or Yehoshua!

The parsha pouts this lesson in different terms later on as well:

Chapter 30

11. For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.   יא. כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא:
12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?”   יב. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
13. Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?”   יג. וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
14. Rather,[this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.   יד. כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ:

The Torah is not far, it is not impossible for anyone to reach.  Yes, for all of us there are things we cannot yet grasp or do properly, but for all of us, there is at least one element in it that is close to us!  It might be somethin simple and what you preceive as a light prohibition or a minor mitzvah; it does not matter, what does matter is the fact that we take the opportunity to bring that bit into our lives- to turn towards the bit that is close to us and incorporate it into our lives.  That is the lesson for this week:  as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, for the writing of our fate for the next year as Hashem sits in judgement, let is find that one thing that is close to us.  The one element from the Torah that we can incorporate into our lives, improve ourselves and elevate ourselves s[piritually through it.  Let us use these last few days to find how we can improve ourselves, not to be like Moshe or Aharon, or the Avot, but to be more ourselves and more in tune with ourselves and Hashem

To all my readers: Shana Tovah u’metukah vgar ktivah v’chatima tovah

Note:  As always, comments, corrections and discussion are welcomed and encouraged.  Hebrew text and translations are from the online Judaica Press Tanakh at

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Chagim, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An apology for my lack of attention and a bit on Parshas shoftim

I have been sadly remiss in keeping up to date with posting here.  My apologies, and I will enedeavor to do better!  My excuse?  I have taken up laining for a shul and the time I would have spent on posting and preparing something on the Parsha has been taken up with preparing the laining each weak.  So, I am coming to gips with the load and find myself having time available.

Last week, I lained for a small community where they struggle for a minyan and the person that normally runs services etc was away.  This meant that it wasn’t nly laining required, but also being the shaliach tzibur and giveng a couple of droshas.  What I spoke about on Shabbos morning is something that has always fascinated me- the Eglah Arufah.  For thos ewho don’t know what I am tlaking about- here is a short summary of the Eglah Arufah:  A body is found dead in the fields.  Who killed him is unknown and there is no way fo finding out who the killer is.  The members of the Sanhedrin come down from Jerusalem, and together with the elders and judges form the nearby towns measure the distance to the closest town.  The elders from that town then sacrifice an unblemished calf that has never done any work, in a valley in an area that has never been worked, and make the declaration “Our eyes did not see this deed, our hands did not do this deed.  Let this calf be an atonement for Yisrael”

What I find so fascinating with this is the fact that there is no one who actually suspects the elders/judges from that city.  Yet the Sanhedrin comes down to oversee the process.  IN the Talmud, Masechta Sotah the debate is over how many members of the Sanhedrin come down- the entire 70 members or only a few necessary experts.  Clearly what is happening here is a dramatic event!  One way to look at it is to think of the opening of each chapter in Masechta Avot  (Pirkei Avot):  “All of Israel is responsible one for each other.”  What is going on here is that the elders. judges, the Sanhedrin are essentially stating that they have done their duty- they have not neglected teaching the people their responsibilities in ensuring that the populace understands this important lesson.  The elders of the city are saying that if they had seen the person, he would have been welcomed and looked after- if they had had the opportunity, they would have sent peopel to escort him and thus help to avoid the danger of robbers on the road that would be looking out for single travellers leaving their cities to target.  The Sanhedrin is declaring their concern and showing how mportant this mitzvah is for all of us.

It can hardly be coincidental that we read this in Elul.  Here we are- looking at ourselves, at improving ourselves and elevating ourselves.  We al know how to be ntrospective and to lok for our failings.  We all know to go to friends, neighbors, colleagues etc and seek forgiveness for any wrong doing- but how much do we focus on the community on Tikkun Olam?  Th eglah arufah is a stark reminder that our responsibility to the community is important- the entire workings of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem would come to a halt for however long it took then to travel, measure the distances, and carry out the sacrifice.  Thus the entirety of the Jewish Nation would be affected by the death of this one individual.  An important lesson on how we need to value each and every soul in the community- and to consider them, and how we can have a positive impact on our communities as we prepare for the Yamim Noraim.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Parshah | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment