In late breaking news, we are pleased to announce a very special and heartful mazel tov to our friends Bonnie and Heshie Schertz upon the very recent engagement of their beautiful daughter Jennifer (whom we know since birth mamish), to Rafi Neuberger of Teaneck New Jersey. Rafi is the son of Rabbi Yaakov and Peshi Neuberger. A big mazel tov shout out to Grandmother Gloria Schertz, the Jennifer’s siblings, her uncles, aunts, cousins and entire mishpocho. As well a big mazel tov to Rafi’s siblings and to the entire Neuberger family. May Jennifer and Rafi be zoiche to decades and decades of blissful marriage.
Let’s begin with several tidbits, all very recent, all 100% emes.
“Az men libet, derlibt men” is an old Yiddish expression which translated onto English means if you live long enough, you’ll see everything. And this week, after flying over 45 years I experienced two things for the first time. Firstly, I arrived to and left from the very same gate at the airport. And if that weren’t enough to send me into shock, my designated gate which is typically the very last gate in the airport and likely in a different zip code than the rest of the airport- was not more than five feet from security clearance. Will wonder never cease?
This past shabbis, the heylige Ois attended a shul where for the very first time since the pandemic began and since shuls have reopened, masks were optional. And they taka were. Of the 100 plus people in attendance, only two were donning masks. Nice. Ober the rules left me somewhat confused. While masks were now but optional inside the sanctuary which –as mentioned above- had over 100 and mistama closer to 125, the rules were not so should one have to leave the sanctuary to use the bathroom or stam azoy walk thru the hallway. Let’s chazir: inside the shul itself surrounded by more that 100+ = no mask, ober, inside the bathroom with no one in sight, masks remain mandatory. Someone please explain. The bottom line: corona has seemingly had an effect –hopefully not forever- on policy makers. Veyter.
A few weeks back the heylige Ois attended a levaya where he ran into a woman he had not seen in some time. Though two decades -more or less- have gone by, she took the opportunity to thank me for a loan I extended her. Nice story ober what is its relevance to the parsha? We shall address that soon, ober back to the story for a moment (or more). As I schmoozed with her, I was reminded that during the time the loan was outstanding, she called to remind me that that Shmita (the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle) was approaching. So what? We shall return with an answer to the story soon.
And one last tidbit before we get into this week’s parshas. Last year I called a gentleman who owes me money for over 20 years. I asked if he was ready to repay the loan. The numbers are not small. He answered in Yiddish, azoy: “alta choivis tzult men nist; naya choivis lust men veren alt. In English: old debts don’t get paid; newer debts, well, we let them get old! And shoin, once again, I hung up knowing that monies were not forthcoming. A few Shmitas have come and gone.
Welcome to Parshas Behar a relatively small parsha -57 pisukim in total, which this year, and in many others –efsher most- is coupled with its sister parsha of Bichukoisai. We have previously discussed why certain parshas are paired and when. Ober one reason not discussed -nor reduced to writing- may be the most logical: there simply isn’t enough time for people to talk to one another and discuss inyonay di’yoima (hot topics) to include the market, local gossip, the latest in the ongoing Vaad, Chimichurri, Five Fifty saga, stam azoy loshoin horo – a must during laining- and other vichtige gossip. What to do? Our sages of yore, geniuses that they were, decided to couple it with Bichukoisai, and since most have no interest in hearing any of the 47 different curses the RBSO has in mind for most of us for our abhorrent and despicable behavior, we have more time to talk –bein gavra ligavra of course. Bein Gavra Legavra (between aliyos) last shabbis, another chaver admitted that he hadn’t yet finished reading the Toirah. When asked why, he had the temerity to admit that he fell asleep while reading it, say it’s not so (rachmono litzlon). Which begs the following question: has the Ois’s parsha reviews gone so mainstream that one can fall asleep as if one were reading a blatt of the heylige Gemora?
That being said, the Ois knows well that his readers -most- want to read the parsha reviews, and not the way their rebbe’s taught them in yeshiva. They have little interest in reviewing the rules of sefiras ho-oimer for the 50th time. Besides, how many of you are still counting the oimer with the brocho? Or at all? They want to learn what the rebbe either forgot to, or didn’t want to teach. Nu, with that intro, let‘s take a look at Parshas Behar/Bichukoisai.
This week’s doubleheader closes out Sefer Vayikra. Next week, we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar where we learn of the many foibels the Yiddin committed while trekking through the midbar for forty years. Kimat de gantze parsha of Behar is dedicated to Shmita and Yoivel. Who are they you ask? Nu it’s taka a shanda and a bizoyoin (shame and disgraceful) to hear the question and only an oisvorf would taka dare. Shmita and Yoivel are concepts – mitzvois, heylige ones, the RBSO Himself gave over (apparently) at Har Sinai. So why repeat them here? Efsher the Yiddin were so mesmerized with the thunder sound and light show or perhaps they were too shocked to hear the five loi sah-says that day, they mamish weren’t paying attention when the RBSO himself told them about the laws of Shmita and Yoivel. As a service to my readers, who have long forgotten, or never knew, let’s do a quick review. The Parsha also talks about what happens to slaves during Yoivel and how we should treat poor people. In today’s times, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few lessons.
Nu, let’s meet Shmita and Yoivel. Says the heylige Toirah: “And Hashem spoke to Moishe b’Har Sinai (at Mount Sinai) saying… the land shall rest as a Sabbatical to Hashem as it says. “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a Shabbis to G-d. Ober, does land get so tired that it needs to rest? Are we farmers? How are we to internalize such information? The bottom line: if the RBSO says it’s so, who are we to argue? Veyter.
“For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a Sabbath of Sabbaths for the land. It is G-d’s Shabbis during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards.” The sabbatical year of Shmita is called a “Shabbis,” and indeed, just as Shabbis is a day of rest after six weekdays, Shmita is a year of rest after six years of work. Got that? Veyter. And no matter where in the world you are, the seventh day of the week is Shabbis. One more point: Shmita is a mitzvah unique to the land of Israel. In other words, the land does not get tired outside of Israel. Why land tires only in Israel, ver veyst? Veyter.
Now that you’re all Shmita experts, let’s move on to another amazing concept: Yoivel! The Yoivel mitzvah follows immediately after Shmita and is explained as follows. Yoivel means Jubilee and the yoivel year is known as the jubilee year. Says the heylige Toirah: “You shall count seven sabbatical years, that is, seven times seven. The period of the seven sabbatical cycles shall thus be 49 years … You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, declaring in the land an emancipation [of slaves] for the entire populace. This is your jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family”. Got that? No? Noch a mol.
During Yoivel, the land may not be worked; crops are not harvested; and produce is shared by all. Moreover, the heylige Toirah (elsewhere) describes two additional aspects of Yoivel. Ershtens (firstly), the land reverts back to its original owner. Who might that be? What if he’s no longer alive? Nu, in that event, the land reverts back to its ancestral owners. And who are they? All the land in Israel is redistributed to the descendants of those who initially conquered and possessed it. Mistama we’ll have to dig them up! Mistama also, for most of you, this particular halocho is not a major concern, nor to most real estate investors, but should it be ignored? Also, on Yoivel, the slaves go free.
As you can imagine, volumes are written about these quite amazing pisukim in the Toirah and avada there’s plenty of discourse as to what they mean. And before you get all bent out of shape, the heylige Gemorah (Ayrichin 32b) suggests that Yoivel is only in effect when the (entirety) of the Yiddin is there in the land. In other words, Yoivel is only declared if all the Yiddin are living in the land of Israel. If they’re not, no Yoivel. Seemingly, yet another mitzvah no longer relevant. Adds the Rambam and a majority of other commentators: this is true for the previously stated mitzvah of Shmita as well. The bottom line: if this pshat is true, and if the rabbis of our generation agree, there is no shmita and no yoivel today. (Laws of Shmita and Yoivel 10:8-9). Of course, there is no such concept of ‘rabbis agreeing’ on anything. Ober (but) mistama for business purposes, bazman hazeh (in today’s times) we understand this to mean that only a majority of the world’s Yiddin need to live there. And even though fewer than 50% of the Yiddin live there and even though min haToirah (biblically), there is no mitzvah of Shmita or Yoivel for that matter, nonetheless, and as suggested earlier, for reasons that are unknown to us but of course known to the Rabbis that declared it to be otherwise, they do enforce shmita in Israel today. What does enforcement entail? We shall cover that below.
Ok- now that you learned what Shmita and Yoivel are, efsher you’re klerring (thinking) azoy: what do these concepts have to do with you and me? Are we farmers or slave masters? Are any of our friends? Are you planning to buy a farm or a slave anytime soon? Isn’t it a fact that the only farming you taka know, understand, and actively participate in, if you chap, are plowing, fertilizing and seeding? Oy vey! Mistama you’re anxious to be done with this parsha and move right along to its sister parsha (which in most years we taka read together), ober raboyseyee let me warn you: you’re not at all going to be happy when you hear what Bechukoisai has in store for us. The Ois would suggest we stick to Shmita and Yoivel because in reality this parsha gave birth to two of the bigger legal loopholes we enjoy -ad hayoim hazeh- in the entire Jewish religion. And what’s the gantza religion without loopholes? Would we and could we survive without loopholes? What? We have loopholes and they’re sanctioned, mamish legal? Yes! and now that I have your attention, let’s taka introduce them. Ober first, let’s listen to this additional halocho of Shmita.
Shmita nullifies any outstanding debts. Come again! Yes, at the end of a Shmita year, all loans or debts between Jewish people (men or women) that are due before Rosh Hashono, are cancelled. What? Did you just read that you can borrow money from your friend, wait seven years (less if you borrowed funds closer to Shmita), and then tell him you’re not repaying because the loan expired due to Shmita? Indeed, you did. This is called Shimitas Kisaofim (a debt wipe-out, if you will). Moreover, there is also a loi-sah-say (negative prohibition) violated if someone requests payment after Shmita for loans initiated before the Shmita year and this includes debts resulting from monetary loans as well as those incurred from borrowing items that have been consumed. In other words: not just aren’t you getting paid; you are rewarded with an aveyro mamish for having the chutzpah gidoila (huge amount) of asking the borrower to repay your loans. The bottom line: why Jews rush to their local rabbi seeking to become ba’al tshuvas, ver veyst?
The bottom line: shmita is no joke as it mamish wipes out loans that you gave in good faith hoping to be repaid. And why shouldn’t it? Where is it written that just because you were nice enough to advance a chaver much needed funds, that you’re entitled to get repaid? Don’t you know that no good deed goes unpunished? And listen to this: this idea of not repaying isn’t just a minhag (custom), it’s the law! Want more? Bazman Hazeh (in our times), even when the laws of Yoivel are not applicable, (according to most Halachic authorities), the mitzvah of Shemitas Kesofim (Rabbinic only) remains in effect. And taka why? Says the heylige Gemora that this was instituted so that these laws would not be forgotten from Israel. Does this make sense to you? Believe me that if you lend out money and the person does not repay the loan and then tells you that you will burn in hell just for asking because shmita has come and gone, that you won’t ever forget these laws! You will be pissed off for years to come. Moreover, this Mitzvah applies in Israel and in chutz Lo’oretz (here), since it is an obligation dependent on the person (gavrah) and not on the land (adamah). This too feels like a loophole.
Nu, what to do about this halacha? How do we operate? Would people lend money -even for interest (a topic we will not cover today)- in year six (or earlier) if they understood that such loans are subject to being wiped out in year seven? Avada nisht! Ober not to worry because the RBSO chapped that Toirah is also about business. And our rabbis of today and our sages of yore – may the RBSO bless them, most of them- understood that business is business and that the halochos of shmita and loan cancellation would mamish shut down the money lending business and efsher the gantze (entire) economy. And if you thought the economy came to somewhat of a halt during corona this past year, can you imagine a world where loans are not extended? Oy vey. Who would support their local shuls and rabbis if they weren’t getting their loans repaid and couldn’t collect interest? Nu, when the Rabbi’s parnoso (livelihood) is potentially affected, they came up with one of the cleverer loopholes ever created and named it the Pruzbil. And Chasdei Hashem (through the kindness of the RBSO), halocho makes use of ‘loophole evasions’ of the law in various different realms. Ober, before we explain how it works, where is it written that one has to lend money to those in need? Where? In the heylige Toirah (Sefer Devorim 15:2; 9-10) where all else is reduced to writing we find azoy:
הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֡ פֶּן־יִהְיֶ֣ה דָבָר֩ עִם־לְבָבְךָ֨ בְלִיַּ֜עַל לֵאמֹ֗ר קָֽרְבָ֣ה שְׁנַֽת־הַשֶּׁבַע֮ שְׁנַ֣ת הַשְּׁמִטָּה֒ וְרָעָ֣ה עֵֽינְךָ֗ בְּאָחִ֙יךָ֙ הָֽאֶבְי֔וֹן וְלֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן ל֑וֹ וְקָרָ֤א עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה וְהָיָ֥ה בְךָ֖ חֵֽטְא׃
Beware lest you harbor the base thought, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching,” so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give him nothing. He will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will incur guilt.
נָת֤וֹן תִּתֵּן֙ ל֔וֹ וְלֹא־יֵרַ֥ע לְבָבְךָ֖ בְּתִתְּךָ֣ ל֑וֹ כִּ֞י בִּגְלַ֣ל ׀ הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה יְבָרֶכְךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָֽל־מַעֲשֶׂ֔ךָ וּבְכֹ֖ל מִשְׁלַ֥ח יָדֶֽךָ׃
Give to him readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the LORD your G-d will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.
Nu, as you can see, the RBSO was worried about us having unfaithful base thoughts, even about money issues. Says the heylige Gemora in Gittin: about a century before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash (Temple) a man named Hillel the Zoken (the elderly) came up with mamish a givaldige loophole, one of many that allow us Yiddin to survive on a daily basis. After all, the heylige Toirah does state Vochai Bohem (and you shall live by them) and avada we translate that to mean that if a law makes life so unbearable, we may find a way around it. Anyway, Hillel saw that people were avoiding lending, and because he didn’t want them to commit the avayro of not lending to those who needed help (a sin mamish described above) as the shmita year approached, he came up with this brilliant chap (novel idea).
How does it work? Like a loophole should! The Toirah tells us that only private debts are cancelled by shmita: “He shall not exact from his friend or his brother.” Read those words again. One cannot make a claim to his buddy; one cannot ask the friend to repay the loan. Ober, if however, one owes the court (i.e., the community) money, shmita does not affect the loan. Based on the wording of the Toirah, Hillel instituted the “pruzbil“: a mechanism by which debts are magically transferred from the individual to a Beis Din (religious court). By making a pruzbil, one makes his private debts public – and therefore redeemable. Public? Shoin without an SEC filing, without an IPO, and even without a SPAC filing, one’s private debts go public. The rather simple one-page Pruzbil does the trick. The monies borrowed are now owned by the religious court. Exactly how the funds are collected by the Beis Din and how they are repatriated to the original lender, nu, this I don’t know, but I imagine that after the proper vig is given to Beis Din, the rest makes its way back somehow. Actually, as the heylige Ois understands the mechanics, once you declare that the funds belong to the beis din (with the pruzbil), you can actually collect it yourself. And as to why Hillel was allowed to enact this loophole, we are taught that there was a pressing need. Mistama a concept similar to hefsed meruba (big losses) which now allows schnorrers to carry mobile credit card devices on chol hamoed, and will soon allow shuls to swipe your credit cards on Shabbis following appeals or even an aliya. Can a Sefer Toirah which only opens upon the credit card swipe be very far behind?
Who empowered Hillel to go against what the heylige Toirah demands? as you can only imagine, the Gemora has lots to say on this inyan. And not just the Gemora, for generations since, they’re still discussing Hillel’s bold move, the issues and its mechanics. Says Toisfis (a commentator on the heylige Gemora) that there was mamish no concept of Shmita or Yoivel during the 2nd Beis Hamikdash because a majority of the Yiddin were living outside of Israel, a concept we covered earlier. Hence Hillel did nothing wrong. Others says Hillel was not the creator of this loophole altogether and that he was merely given credit because he publicized an already existing loophole in the Toirah which allowed private debt to be converted into court debt. In other words: Hillel, mistama the first Jew in that position, was acting like the Federal Reserve during a crisis. In order to allow the banking system to work for the Yiddin, he sprang into action. He knew the economy would need to be stimulated; stimulus is helpful at times of need, if you chap. At others, it’s mamish a prerequisite, if you chap again. Hillel acted prudently. Who should such loopholes work for, the goyim? Efsher you’re now wondering what will happen if, and when the Moshiach arrives? Will we need loopholes if they bring back Shmita and Yoivel? Is Hillel coming back? Ver veyst?
And we close by going back to the woman I met at the levaya recently and the loan I once extended. Because shmita was approaching, because she was a religious woman, because she remembered learning Parshas Behar and the halochis of Shmita and how loans get wiped out with shmita, she called me several times to make sure that I filed the loan document known as the Pruzbil. And shoin, back in the year 1994, the heylige Ois presented himself to the Young Israel where the rabbi issued the Pruzbil. By chance, only in the last few weeks, as the heylige Ois was -after 30 years of nagging from the eishes chayil- rummaging thru and throwing out boxes of no longer relevant junk, he came across the original Pruzbil. Here it is.
The heylige Toirah and its mitzivs -some of them anyway- remain alive and well even today here in golus.
Chazak, chazak, vinischazake
A gitten shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv