SALT - Sunday, 7 Iyar 5776, Omer 22 - May 15, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Behar begins with the mitzva of shemita – refraining from agricultural work every seventh year – and the opening verse famously indicates that God presented this law to Moshe atop Mount Sinai (“Va-yedaber Hashem el Moshe be-har Sinai…).  Rashi, citing Chazal, comments that in truth, all the Torah’s commands were conveyed at Mount Sinai.  Accordingly, many writers and darshanim throughout the ages have suggested possible reasons for the particular connection implied here between the mitzva of shemitta and the fact that God’s laws were presented at Mount Sinai.

            The Klausenberger Rebbe (Shefa Chayim, vol. 15) cited in this context the Gemara’s well-known comment in Masekhet Shabbat (89a) associating the name “Sinai” with the word sin’a (hatred, or hostility).  The mountain was named “Sinai,” the Gemara writes, “she-mi’sham yatza sin’a le-umot ha-olam” – “because from there hostility emerged to the nations of the world.”  Meaning, the other nations’ hostility to Am Yisrael began at Mount Sinai, with our acceptance of the Torah.  The Gemara here points to the fact that Am Yisrael accepted the Torah, and its special status that came with it, knowing full well that this would set our nation apart from the rest of the world, and thus be an ongoing source of tension and resentment throughout our history.  This was the sacrifice we were prepared to make in order to commit ourselves to the Torah and form a special relationship with the Almighty.

            On this basis, the Klausenberger Rebbe suggested a possible explanation for why Mount Sinai is mentioned in the context of the mitzva of shemitta.  This mitzva reflects a different kind of sacrifice which we must be prepared to make for the sake of mitzvot, namely, financial sacrifice.  Just as we accepted the Torah despite the “sin’a,” the hostility to which we would frequently be exposed as a result of our unique practices and customs, we likewise recognize the need to sacrifice our material standards for the sake of fulfilling God’s commands.  We are reminded that  Torah observance poses numerous different challenges and entails numerous different sacrifices, but that we must be fully prepared to confront these challenges and make these sacrifices in order to enjoy the great benefits of forging a unique, eternal relationship with our Creator.