Thursday, May 23, 2024

Parshat Behar - The Restraint of Shemittah


Every seventh year, it is forbidden to plow and harvest the land as usual. Instead, the land is left hefker, meaning free for all. Everyone is allowed to eat from the produce, and you are not allowed to act like a ba’al habayit (landowner). As Rashi explains, during the sabbatical year, you should not behave as if you own the land or have any advantage over others regarding its produce.

The purpose of this is to remind every Jew that the land is not theirs. You work the land for six years, and the seventh year is meant to remind you that everything belongs to Hashem, and you are dependent on Him. The famous question then arises: what do you eat during this year? Hashem answers, “veTziviti et birchati,” meaning “I will command my blessing in the sixth year,” ensuring an abundance of produce to cover even the seventh year.

Rashi also points out that during the Jubilee year, the 50th year, which is also a sabbatical, the sixth year must produce enough for both the seventh year (the 49th year of the seven-year cycle) and the 50th year, the Jubilee. The Torah, along with Rashi’s commentary, emphasizes the severe punishment for not keeping the laws of Shemittah. Rashi explains that because the Jews did not observe Shemittah, they were exiled from the land. The 70 years of exile between the first destruction and the rebuilding of the second temple were a punishment for the 70 Shemittah years not observed over 490 years.

This raises two questions. First, why didn’t the Jews observe Shemittah? Second, why is the punishment for not observing it so severe? Galut (exile) is the consequence of not observing Shemittah. There are other mitzvahs in the Torah that do not result in exile if not observed, yet for Shemittah, the punishment is clearly exile. Why is the failure to let the land rest on the seventh year considered so severe that it results in exile?

We need to look at things in perspective. Imagine a Jew working for six years, plowing the land of Israel. This law applies only in Eretz Yisroel, highlighting the greatness of the land and its produce. The fruits of the Holy Land possess a unique dimension of holiness, power, and energy. This special status is reflected in the blessings for the seven fruits of the Holy Land. The brachot for wine, grapes, figs, dates, pomegranates, and olives from Eretz Yisroel have a different ending, acknowledging their special status.

The sabbatical cycle of six years leading to the seventh, and ultimately the Jubilee, underscores the distinctiveness of working the land in the Holy Land. The aim is to absorb a level of spirituality unavailable in the diaspora, reaching endless levels of holiness. Eretz Yisroel is exceptionally special. The Tcheriner Rav, Rav Nachman Goldstein, a prominent Breslover and disciple of Reb Noson, wrote a commentary on Likutey Moharan called Zimrat Ha'Aretz. In his commentary on Lesson 24, he explains that the Holy Land is a place where a Jew can connect to the Infinite Light more effectively than anywhere else.

When Jews work the land and consume its produce, the spirituality and energy generated are meant to elevate them to the highest levels of spirituality, enabling them to perceive the Infinite Light. However, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in Lesson 24, reaching the highest levels of spirituality involves a process. This process includes a momentum of spiritual ascent followed by a setback, referred to as “batash”.

When a person is pushed backward and accepts it properly, they build the capacity to receive the light. This is a crucial life lesson: to advance spiritually, one must face setbacks and know how to accept them with joy (simcha). This pushback provides a glimpse of what lies beyond. If you accept the process with simcha, you become capable of receiving the light.

In the sabbatical cycle, you have six years of working the land, developing produce, and connecting to the spiritual dimension within the Holy Land and its fruit. However, to truly experience that spiritual light, you must observe the seventh year. The seventh year means no more work; you have to stop and learn patience. This was a significant test for the Jews during the time of the first temple.

Imagine the immense energy, light, and holiness present during the first temple period. It’s puzzling how Jews of such high stature could fail to observe Shemittah for 70 cycles—seven times 70 years. How could they not keep Shemittah?

The issue was that after six years of reaping and harvesting the Holy Land’s crops, the spiritual high was so intense that it was challenging to stop in the seventh year. The high from those six years made it incredibly difficult to stop and do nothing. Imagine being on a roll, experiencing a high, and then being told to stop. People naturally resist stopping when they are on a roll.

This difficulty persists in today’s society. People are constantly on the go, overexerted, and overly nervous. They don’t know how to relax, calm down, and wait to reach the next level. The seventh year teaches the importance of stopping and not harvesting the land. If you don’t stop, you’ll eventually crash.

To understand why not observing Shemittah results in such a severe punishment like exile, we need to consider the process. The normal procedure in the Holy Land involves working the land for six years and stopping in the seventh year to absorb the Infinite Light contained within Eretz Yisroel. If you can’t follow this process, you don’t deserve to be in the Holy Land. The land will spit you out because its holiness is meant for those willing to meet the conditions to access the Infinite Light. If you fail to do so, you are expelled from the land.

The Shemittah, the sabbatical year, and the Jubilee, the 50th year, represent cycles of spiritual development. The number 50 symbolizes the highest level, the Keter. In a seven-year cycle, six years of work lead to a level of development, and the seventh year tests one’s patience and ability to stay put. After completing seven cycles, you reach the 50th year, which is a bigger test requiring waiting for two years to connect to the higher level of Infinite Light found in the 50th gate.

This is the essence of the mitzvah of Shemittah and the reason for its severe punishment if not observed.

This year, after reading the laws of Shemittah on Shabbat Parshat Behar, we observe Lag Ba’Omer, the holy day of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai’s passing. How is Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai connected to the theme of observing and not observing Shemittah?

In the next week’s Parsha, Bechukotai, the punishment for not observing the Jubilee is listed. The verses state that once the Jews are exiled, the land will finally rest for all the Shemittah and Jubilee cycles that were not observed. While the Jews are in exile and the land lies barren and unworked, it can take its needed rest.

After describing the punishments and the exile, Hashem says in Parshat Bechukotai, “V’af gam zot biyotam be’eretz oyveyhem lo me’astim ve’lo ge’altim lechalotam ki ani Hashem elokichem – Even while the Jews are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or become disgusted with them to the point of destroying them, for I am Hashem, their God.”

Hashem assures that despite the Jews being in exile, He will not be disgusted with them. He will not be “ma’us” (disgusted) or “ge’ala” (sickened) by them to the point of deciding to destroy them. Even when the Jews have fallen low, with assimilation and lack of Torah observance, Hashem promises not to destroy them out of disgust.

The word “ge’altim (געלתים),” which means to be really sickened and disgusted by someone, adds up to a gematria of 553. This is incredible: “Shimon ben Yochai” also adds up to 553!

What’s the significance of this? Hashem says that even though the Jews will be in exile and punished for not keeping Shemittah, He won’t destroy them. Why? Because of tzaddikim like Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai, whose gematria matches “ge’altim.” When the attribute of judgment demands justice and the destruction of the Jews, Hashem says, “I won’t destroy them.”

He will not be “ge’altim” (disgusted) to the point of destroying them. This restraint is due to the merit of tzaddikim like Shimon ben Yochai, who counterbalance any disgust Hashem might have. Their merit keeps Hashem, so to speak, in check, preventing the destruction of the Jewish people.

Thus, the power of Shemittah teaches people how to advance spiritually and then how to stop and wait. When people fail to stop and then crash, resulting in exile, punishment, and suffering, what can they do? We have the tzaddikim, like Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai, whose gematria matches “ge’altim.” These tzaddikim counter any disgust and frustration Hashem might feel towards us. Their merit protects us even in exile. Hashem says, “Lo me’astim, lo ge’altim,” He won’t be disgusted and fed up with the Jewish people to the point of destroying them. This is due to the merit of tzaddikim like Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai.

We should strive to learn how to prepare for living in the Holy Land, mastering the Shemittah’s lessons. This involves knowing how to advance—working and harvesting the land—while also knowing how to stop and rest in the seventh year. This concept applies to daily struggles and spiritual highs. When you experience a high and then face a crash or waiting period, you need to avoid a complete breakdown. You’re expected to wait, handle the situation, get back on your feet, and continue.

Most people crash totally because they didn’t advance properly. They forget humility and thankfulness, thinking they are on top of the world, which leads to a loss of perspective and a crash. However, when Hashem grants someone light to advance, they should become even more humble, thanking Hashem and recognizing their undeserving nature. By doing this, they can handle the withdrawal of light and avoid a complete crash. Even if they do fall, it’s momentary. They know how to get up and start fresh.

In the merit of tzaddikim like Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, we should have the ability to handle this light and meet the conditions needed to live in the Holy Land. This will help us perceive the Infinite Light within the Holy Land and become vessels to receive the coming of Mashiach, Amen.

This article also appears on the BRI website:

For a video presentation of this article:

To help a family from Jerusalem get to within 4 parasangs of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai's grave in Meron on Lag BaOmer and mentioning your name there, please follow this link. Tizku LeMitzvot.

Shabbat Shalom
Meir Elkabas

"We will do and we will listen" - but how??


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Likutey Halakhot, Orach Chaim, Nefilat Apayim #4 013-2 

Based on Likutey Moharan lesson 24 

Reb Noson asks the famous question regarding "we will do and we will listen" - how can you do before you actually listen and hear what has to be done? However, he says that the answer is in the verse itself, as it begins "whatever Hashem says/spoke we will do and we will listen". But the question remains, if so, then what is all the noise and praise of Israel that they said first we will do and then we will listen? Follow us: 

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Friday, May 17, 2024

Parshat Emor - Drawing the Extra Joy Into the Entire Year


The beginning of the Parsha discusses the laws of the Kohanim, the animals, the purification, and the requirement for the Kohanim to be without blemishes, striving for completeness. Then the Parsha moves on to the festivals, with Sukkot being particularly noteworthy.

Let’s examine a verse about taking the Arba Minim, the four species, on Sukkot. The verse, from Parshat Emor, is chapter 23, verse 40. It reads: “ulakachtem lachem bayom harishon” – “And you shall take for yourselves.” This means it must be personally acquired, not borrowed; it must be something you bought or own. On the first day of Sukkot, you should take “pri etz hadar,” a fruit from a tree called “hadar.” This term literally translates to citrus, but it refers to a special type of citrus fruit, the etrog. “Hadar” means that it dwells on the tree from year to year; you can leave the etrog unharvested and it won’t rot, remaining on the tree.

Next is “kapot temarim,” which refers to palm branches from the date tree, not the actual fruit but the palm branch itself. Then there is “va’anaf etz avot,” which are little branches of hadassim. “Etz avot” means wood, a branch that resembles chains, as the hadassim grow one on top of the other, looking like a chain. Finally, there are “arvei nachal,” the willow branches that grow along the river, known as aravot.

The verse concludes with: “…and you will rejoice before your God for seven days.” The simple meaning suggests that by performing this mitzvah of taking the Arba Minim on the first day, you will be joyful before your God for seven days.

So the question is: – isn’t there a mitzvah to be happy the whole year? This makes it sound like you’ll be happy for these seven days – and other days not? For the rest of the 365 days of the year minus these seven days, am I not supposed to be happy? But I should be happy every day!

The Ramban explains along with other commentaries, that the Simcha here is called Simcha Yeterah – additional joy. All year round we must be happy. This is in line with Rebbe Nachman’s famous saying, “Mitzvah Gedolah Lihyot B’Simcha Tamid” – it’s a big mitzvah to always be happy. This isn’t just for Sukkot; it’s for all 365 days of the year. There is an idea, a concept, and a devotion to being happy all year round. You can’t serve Hashem if you’re not happy.

In Parshat Ki Tavo, there are 98 curses. It says in the middle of the curses that all this will befall you because “tachat asher lo avadeta et Hashem elokecha b’simcha uv’tuv levav” – all this will come to you because you didn’t serve Hashem with joy. The Torah states this clearly. If you don’t serve Hashem with joy, you’ll eventually fall off and get punished because you weren’t joyful in serving Hashem. So we see there’s a matter to be happy all year round.

The verse here, “and you’ll rejoice before your God,” which refers to the Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, means rejoicing in front of Him at the Temple.And “…your Lord, seven days” signifies additional simcha. Thus, all year round, we have a mitzvah to be happy, and the Torah says you’ll be happy for seven days. This additional happiness for those seven days is because you took the four species on the first day (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai established that after the destruction of the Temple, we perform the mitzvah of the lulav all seven days of Sukkot. But in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, it was only on the first day).

The verse is telling us that because you take the four species on the first day, it will lead to the second part of the verse: “usmachtem lifnei Hashem Elokechem” – you take (ulkachtem) the four species on the first day, and as a result, you will be happy before your Lord, your God, for seven days. In other words, taking the four species on the first day causes the effect of simcha for the total seven days.

What’s so special about the four species that they lead to this additional simcha of the seven days? Let’s first address why we need this additional joy on these days. You need additional joy activated at the beginning of the year, starting from Sukkot. This additional joy from the seven days of Sukkot is meant to spread out and support you throughout the entire year. No matter what ups and downs you face, the simcha from Sukkot serves as a reservoir, providing a boost whenever needed. This additional simcha, simcha yeteirah, from the seven days of Sukkot can sustain you for the rest of the year.

What’s so special about these four species? These four species represent four types of mitzvot that you perform throughout the year. There are mitzvot that you do properly and with joy. There are mitzvot that you do properly but without joy. There are mitzvot that you do with joy but not so properly. And there are mitzvot that you do neither properly nor with joy. The important thing is, all four are still mitzvot. Even if you don’t perform a mitzvah properly, there’s still a positive element in it, a nekuda tova, as Rebbe Nachman says in his lesson on Azamra (Likutey Moharan lesson 282). There’s a good point in every mitzvah, even if it’s not done perfectly. Even if it’s a really flawed mitzvah, there’s still some good in it. Even if someone performs a mitzvah incorrectly, their intention can still be good. They recognize they did it wrong, and next time they can improve. The fact that they wanted to do a mitzvah is a good point.

For instance, the Baal Shem Tov faced major opposition in his time. There was a woman from the opposition who saw the Baal Shem Tov passing by and wanted to throw a rock at him. The rock was too heavy for her to lift, but she tried. She prayed, “Hashem, let it be considered as if I threw the stone at him.” When the Baal Shem Tov heard this, he said “You can’t imagine how much delight Heaven received from her prayer.” Despite her wrong intention – to harm the Baal Shem Tov, which could have been lethal and fatal for her – the Baal Shem Tov acknowledged her intent was for the sake of Heaven. Her intent, though misguided, was considered good.

So too, you have people who perform mitzvot that seem totally lifeless, yet there is still a good point hidden within them. Even though we don’t encourage people to continue in this way, there is always room to grow. A person must realize they eventually need to change, but there’s a good point in their actions. Thus, the four species correspond to these four types of mitzvot.

The etrog is beautiful, with a complete physical appearance, a nice smell, and a pleasant taste. The etrog represents mitzvot done properly and with joy.

The lulav represents mitzvot done properly but without joy—there’s no taste, no simcha; it’s a dry mitzvah. There are times we do the mitzvot properly, observing all the stringencies and details perfectly, but there’s no simcha, no taste.

Then you have the hadassim, which symbolizes someone who is very happy in their mitzvot performance but doesn’t do it properly. They might do it a bit wrong, but they are still happy about it. Their actions aren’t perfect, but their joy is greater than the mitzvot themselves.

Next, we have the aravot, which represents a person who is very sad in their mitzvot performance. There’s no simcha, and their actions are heavy and sluggish. They don’t wake up on time for davening, and everything feels burdensome. They’re doing the mitzvot, but not properly.

These four species correspond to the four types of mitzvot performance throughout the entire year. The Torah tells us to take them all together. You can have an etrog on Sukkot, but the mitzvah is not complete unless you join it with the aravot. You can have the etrog, lulav, and hadassim, but if you don’t have the aravot—which represent the dead mitzvot you did during the year—then the mitzvah is incomplete. The four species must all be present. You need one etrog, the lulav, three hadassim, and two aravot. If you’re missing the aravot, it’s as if you’re saying, “Why do I need the aravot?” Without them, there’s no bracha. You need those mitzvot that seem lifeless. They are essential.

So what happens is, the Torah is saying you take, “ul’kachtem,” all four types of mitzvot: those that were perfect, like the etrog; those that were done properly but without joy; those done with happiness but not properly; and those done with neither joy nor proper observance. You take them all together, and the pasuk says, “u’smachtem,” which will bring “simcha yeterah,” the additional joy.

Why do we need this extra joy? You need it for the whole year because throughout the year, you experience ups and downs, a roller coaster of emotions. There are days when you feel out of it. How can you, consciously or subconsciously, awaken simcha? From the mitzvah of the Arba Minim, because taking all four species together teaches that all four types of mitzvot count. Even the seemingly lifeless mitzvot, like the Aravot, count. They are part of the picture. It’s still a mitzvah! Don’t think that just because it wasn’t done properly nor with joy, it doesn’t count. It does count. This understanding activates the simcha for the seven days.

Why seven days? Why not eight or nine days? Seven days so that every day of the week is infused with the energy of the simcha from the first day. So, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Shabbat—no matter what you go through during the upcoming year—any day of the week, if it’s a bad day or you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, there are no excuses. The simcha of the Arba Minim from Sukkot is meant to bring joy for the rest of the year—Simcha Yeterah.

We should merit to be happy all year round and always have reasons to be happy. Even our imperfect mitzvot, Hashem considers them of precious value. 

This article also appears on the BRI website:

Shabbat Shalom
Meir Elkabas

The Running of Emunah


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Alim LiTerufah - Intro to Reb Noson's Letters #30-33 from 1830


If you have been inspired by this class/lecture please share it with your friends. Thank you. Reb Noson wrote the discourse Likutey Halakhot, Even HaEzer, Ishut #4 in the year 1830 in the months of October/November. It is based on Likutey Moharan lesson 24. The historical background of Reb Noson at the time helps better understand the letters he wrote, and how they reflect his practical application of lesson 24.

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