Parshas Behar:
The Mountain's Lesson

By Ari Cohen

    This week’s Sidrah begins with the mitzvah of Shmittah. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct Bnai Yisroel that every seventh year they must refrain from working the land. The Torah emphasizes that HaShem informed Moshe of this halacha - on Mt. Sinai. In one of Rashi’s most famous commentaries on Chumash, Rashi, quoting the Toras Kohanim, asks Ma Inyan Shmitah Etzel Har Sinai, why was it necessary for the Torah to state Har Sinai, the obvious geographic location where the laws of shmittah were taught. We know that all the commandments were taught at Mt. Sinai. (Rashi’s phraseology has become a popular expression, implying the irrelevance of a particular fact to a given context.)

    It is interesting to note that while the question that Rashi asks is commonly expressed and even correctly applied, the seemingly simple meaning of Rashi’s answer is actually quite puzzling. Rashi, quoting the Medrash, answers that the reason that the Torah identified Mt. Sinai as the place where the laws of shmittah were commanded, teaches us that just as all of the laws of Shmittah were taught at Mt. Sinai including their general guidelines and specifications, in this manner all the laws of the Torah were instructed. Thorough consideration of this answer reveals that Rashi’s original question does not seem to have been addressed. The question remains: What is the connection between Shmittah and Mt. Sinai? According to Rashi’s answer, it would seem that any other Mitzvah could have been associated with Mt. Sinai to teach us the same principle.

    The Kli Chemdah offers a beautiful explanation to teach a fundamental belief in Judaism, the eternity of the Torah. Generations come and go, times change but the laws of the Torah(which were written by G-d, Whose existence is beyond time,) are not bound by time and not subject to change. For this reason, the Torah stressed that Shmittah was taught at Mt. Sinai. In the middle of the desert, to a generation that would never fulfill this mitzvah, HaShem chose to elaborate on the laws of Shmittah and include even their finest details to demonstrate the eternal nature of the Torah. Additionally, the main lesson of Shmittah, that sacrificing ourselves to keep mitzvos will guarantee a life of blessing and prosperity is one that is particularly appropriate for all generations.

    Perhaps, this is the meaning of the answer given by Rashi. If even the laws of Shmittah, despite the fact that they would not be fulfilled by the generation to whom they were taught, were nonetheless expounded upon with all their intricacies, because they would be applicable in the future, so too every mitzvah, especially those that would need to be followed immediately, were transmitted with all their details at Mt. Sinai.

    To develop this point one step further,    the Kli Chemdah suggests, that the reason that the Torah was given in the desert in the first place was for the very same reason. Since their sustenance was provided through the manna and therefore they were relieved of financial pressures, many of the complex financial laws should not have been relevant to them. This further demonstrates that HaShem wanted to teach them as well as us that the laws of the Torah are not bound by time and are indeed eternal.

    Point to Ponder: The Kli Chemda’s statement that the B’nai Yisroel would not have found the complex financial laws relevant while they were in the desert bears investigation. The verses at the beginning of Parshas Yisro imply that on the contrary, there were so many financial disputes that Moshe found it necessary to set up a judicial system since he was unable to judge all the cases himself.


1997 by the Chicago Community Kollel

Published Thursday May 22, 1997

    If you have any suggestions to resolve this question or any comments    please write the author, an alumnus of the Kollel Ari Cohen.



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