It mamish disgusts me that with over 3,000 recipients of the heylige toirah, only one person chapped a shtikel tous (error) in last week’s toirah. It wasn’t that egregious and efsher didn’t require a shout out like some yichidim (individuals) enjoy doing when the baal koirah (the Torah reader) makes an error, but still. Nu, mistama it’s a siman min hashomayim (sign from heaven) that we need to learn even more, or not.
Bein Gavra Legavra (between aliyos) last shabbis, another chaver admitted that he hadn’t yet finished reading the toirah. When I asked why, he had the chutzpah gedoila (a huge amount) to tell me that he fell asleep while reading, rachmono litzlon (hevan forbid). Which leyda (unfortunately) begs the question: has the Oisvorfer and his toirah gone so mainstream that one can fall asleep as if one were reading a blatt gemorah?
And while I’m klerring (pondering) the issue, I had another scare. Also last shabbis, during kriyas hatoirah, while the people to my left and right were discussing vichtigir inyonuim (important topics), the oisvorfer was busy looking ahead at Parshas Behar, the single parsha we are reading this shabbis and es iz mir gevorin finster far di oigen (metaphorically:a dark cloud appeared before me). Lots of talk about Shmita, Yoivel, slavery, poor people and more but none jumped off the page at me to say- write about me. I was nervous. And in shul Sunday morning, a real Ruv approached to ask how I’m doing for the coming week. Am I set? When I told him about the finsterness (darkness) and how lost I felt for this week’s parsha, he was molay simcha (full of joy). He broke out with a shmaychil (smile) that only a Rabbi can have after delivering a winner of a sermon when he exclaimed “I love it! It’s only Sunday morning and you’re shvitzing (sweating). Welcome to the Rabbinate.” And taka it got me thinking about the pressures our own Rabbi’s are under daily and weekly to come up with a sermon that will keep their constituents at the edge of their seats wanting more and that taka efsher we should cut them some slack once in a while.
Nonetheless, my own choshova readers want to hear the heylige toirah and not the way their Rebbes taught them in yeshiva. They have no interest in hearing the halochois 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 Rebeyim either forgot to or didn’t want to teach. Nu and with that introduction, let‘s take a look at Parshas Behar.
First the good news. Parsha Behar is the 32nd of 54 and next to last in Vayikra. Soon we’ll visit the Yiddin as they trek through the Midbar for 40 years. More good news: it’s a tiny parsha, only 57 pisukkim (5th shortest) barely enough time to have a conversation. And it ranks 8th in number of mitzvois- not too shabby for only 57 pisukkim and you should pay attention!
Kimat di gantze parsha (nearly) the entire parsha is dedicated to Shmita and Yoivel. Who are they you ask? Nu it’s taka a shanda and a bizoyoin (shame and disgraceful) to even hear the question and only an oisvorf would taka dare. Shmita and Yoivel are concepts – mitzvois, heylige ones,that the RBSO himself gave over (apparently) at Har Seenai. So why repeat them here? Efsher the BNY were so mesmerized with the thunder sound and light show or perhaps they were too shocked to hear the 5 loi sah-says that day, that they mamish weren’t paying attention when the RBSO himself told them about the laws of shmita and yoivel. And as a service to my readers, who know taka little to nothing, let’s do a quick review. The Parsha also talks about what happens to slaves during Yoivel and how we should treat poor people and taka in today’s times, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few lessons here.
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 Sabbath to G-d. Am I a farmer? Did I ever have a hava mina (initial thought) that land gets tired? Ober 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 Sabbath 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 ober (but), Shmita is a mitzvah unique to the land of Israel. In other words, the land does not get tired outside of Israel. Shoin!
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 and 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 pisukkim 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 gemorah (Arachin 32b) suggests that Yoivel is only in effect when the (entire) BNY populace is there. In other words, Yoivel is only declared if all the Yiddin are living in the land of Israel. If they’re not, no Yoivel. Adds the Rambam and a majority of other commentators: that this is true for the previously stated mitzvah of Shmita as well. Sounds good to me: no shmita and no yoivel today. (Laws of Shmita and Yoivel 10:8-9). 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 less 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 I 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? Nu, I’ll soon tell you.
Ok- now that you learned what Shmita and Yoivel are, mistama you’re trachting (thinking): what do these concepts have to do with you and me? Are we farmers or slave masters? Are any of our chaverim? Are you planning to buy a farm or a slave anytime soon? Isn’t it a fact that the only farming you taka know and understand is plowing fertilizing and seeding, you chazerrim.
And mistama you’re anxious to get on 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 Bechukoysi has in store for us and I would suggest we stick to Shmita and Yoivel because in reality this parsha gave birth to two of the bigger legal loopholes we taka enjoy in the entire Jewish religion. And what’s the gantza religion without loopholes? Would we, could we survive without loopholes? What? We have loopholes and they’re sanctioned, mamish legal?? Yes! and now that I’ve got your attention – let’s taka introduce them- ober- first….let’s listen to this additional hlocho 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 Hashona, are cancelled. What? Did you just read that you can borrow money from your best friend, wait seven years (less if you borrowed funds closer to Shmita) and then tell him you’re not paying him because his 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) that is 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 but you get an avayra just for asking for your money. Nu, you got to love it. Makes you wonder why people become baal tshuva’s…..
The bottom line is that this 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? Who says that just because you were nice enough to advance a chaver (friend) much needed funds you’re entitled to get repaid? Don’t you know that no good deed goes unpunished? And this isn’t just a minhag (custom) but a din. Want more bad news? Bazman Hazeh (in our times), even when the laws of Yoivel are not applicable, (according to most Halachic authorities), the Mitzvah of Shemittas Kesafim (Rabbinic only) remains in effect. And taka why? Says the gemroah that this was instituted so that these laws would not be forgotten from Israel. Makes perfect sense to me!? 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 (we’ll get to that soon) in year six (or earlier) if they understood that their loans are subject to being wiped out in year seven? Avada nisht! Ober not to worry because toirah/shmoira: the Rabbis understood that business is business and that the halacho of shmita and loan cancellation would mamish shut down the money lending business and efsher the gantze (entire) economy. Who would support their local Rabbis if they weren’t getting their loans repaid and couldn’t collect interest? Nu, when the Rabbi’s parnosa (livelihood) is potentially affected, they came up with one of the more clever loopholes ever created and named it the Pruzbil. And Chadei Hashem (thorugh the kindness of the RBSO), halocho makes use of “evasions” of the law in various different realms,
And who says that one has to lend money to those in need? Nu…the heylige toirah says so in discussing Shmita (Sefer Devorim 15:2; 9-10) and let’s learn the pisukim. And this is the law of the Shemitah; to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because the time of the release for the L‑rd has arrived … Beware, lest there be in your heart an unfaithful thought, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release is approaching,” and you will begrudge your needy brother and not give him… You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this the L‑rd, your G‑d, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.
Nu, as you can see, the RBSO was worried about us having unfaithful thoughts, even about money issues. Says the heylige gemorah in Gittin: about a century before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamkidash (Temple) a man named Hillel the Zoken (the elderly) came up with mamish a gevaldige 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. 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. Shoin no SEC, no IPO- gornisht (nothing). Want to go public? A Simple Pruzbil does the trick. 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 Oisvorfer understands the mechanics- once you declare that it belongs 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 will allow (soon) shuls one day to swipe credit cards on Shabbis following appeals.
Avada you’re totally bewildered at Hillel’s actions for who empowered him to go against what the heylige toirah demands? And as you can only imagine, the gemorah has lots to say on this inyan. And not just the gemorah, for generations since, they’re still discussing Hillel’s bold move, the issues and its mechanics.
In fact Toisfis (a commentator on the gemorah) states 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. Shoin, who should it work for- the goyim?. Of course 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 listen to this vichtiger (important) nikuda (point). There are various types of debts which do not require a pruzbil and can be collected after shmita even without the paperwork. Lemoshol (by way of example), this includes debts which arise as a penalty or fine — such as the money a man must pay his victim for rape or seduction. You see from this that the sages knew that even back then the menner (men) were shlecht (bad boys) and had to make provisions for their victims to be able to collect. Also, a woman’s kesubah (marriage contract) may be enforced. There are a few others but do I expect you to concentrate once I mentioned rape and seduction? Zicher nisht!! . Go look them up. Ginig (enough) on the Pruzbil, let’s cover bikitzur (in short) the next beautiful loophole in this week’s parsha: the famous heter Iska. Yes, you heard that correctly: the Heter Iska.
We learn this week that the RBSO wants us, in fact He exhorts us, to assist other yiddin financially, and prohibits us from charging interest on these loans. Says the Chofetz Chaim that every yid should grant another Jew an interest-free loan, and recommends that each person apportion some tzedakah money for granting such loans. It is perfectly permissible, however, for a person to invest money in a Jewish business, and to share proportionally in whatever profits or losses there may be.
And to accommodate the over 99% of us that can’t/don’t give such loans, nu- it’s time to introduce for a second time – the heter iska. Ny, zog shoin (tell me already) what is it? Today all that is necessary to circumvent the law of not charging interest to another Yid, is to sign a heter iska , some kind of document ‘invented’ by our Rabbis that converts a loan into a business partnership. This is avada very similar to another “rabbinic loophole”, that of mechiras chometz, (selling one’s chometz over Passover), an inyan we’ll discuss again next year im’h.
From what I can gleam, the idea of the heter iska arose way back in the seventeenth century, and expanded to enormous proportions over the last hundred years, despite its inherent halachic difficulties, ober as I said earlier: business is business and seemingly, there was little interest (pun intended) in conducting business without real interest. It works like this.
In a heter iska, the “lender” and the “borrower” turn into “investor” (capitalist) and “businessman.” Thus, it is noted that all the documents mentioning the terms “borrower” and “lender” actually mean “investor” and “businessman.” Shoin: a new title and you’re good to conduct business. The investor gives money to the business, and the businessman is supposed to invest the money in a business that yields profits. The profit and loss derived from the money is divided equally between the investor and the businessman, except for the small salary that the businessman takes for his work. The important point in the agreement is that the investor cannot know exactly how much the businessman profits from the business, and so the parties agree among themselves that the businessman is required to prove the truth of the figures presented by him. If the businessman is unable to prove to the investor how much money he earned, he must pay him demei hitpashrut, at the rate of interest. Practically speaking, the businessman (i.e., the borrower) is unable to prove how much his business profited or lost, and therefore he must pay the investor (the lender) the agreed upon demei hitpashrut. In other words: a gevaldige loophole being used bazman hazeh (in our times) on a daily basis. In fact a bank in Lakewood that recently opened, advertises its heter iska services. No more toasters or corning ware: today with your loan, you get only a heter iska! And I kid you not!
Nu, I ask you: were our sages not mamish brilliant? Did they not sit and ponder and figure out how to make life easy for us back then? What has happened to today’s sages that all they do is sit around and try to figure out how to make life miserable for us?
Nu- A gitten shabbis from the Oisvorfer Ruv-