Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Behar
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

Sh'mita and Mt. Sinai

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

וידבר ד‘ אל משה בהר סיני לאמר. דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לד‘: (Lv 25:1-2)
The previous parasha ends with the incident of the blasphemer. Now God instructs Moshe to tell the People of Israel that, when they inherit the Land of Israel, they must observe a Sabbath for the land.

Chazal explain the juxtaposition of the reference to Mt. Sinai/הר סיני, with the rules of the Sabbatical year/שנת שמיטה: Just as all the detailed laws concerning שמיטה are revealed here, so, too, the details of all Torah laws were revealed at Mt. Sinai.

However, there is a different question of juxtaposition which arises here: How do the extensive details of the laws of שמיטה relate to the immediately preceding incident, in which Moshe does not know the law relating to the punishment of a blasphemer/מגדף?

The word הר is from the root ה-ר-ר "to protrude in isolation." The word שמיטה is from the root ש-מ-ט "to release." Both land and debts are released in the seventh year. The word מגדף is from the root ג-ד-ף "to scorn and defame."

According to the Torah, Moshe did not know how to deal with someone who cursed God; he received no guidance as to an appropriate punishment. As a result, the blasphemer is incarcerated until Moshe asks God how to deal with this particular sin. However, the incident of the מגדף seems to contradict the explanation of Chazal that all of the laws given at Sinai were conveyed in all of their detail. If that was the case, why does Moshe need to request that God reveal the punishment for this sin?

It seems incomprehensible that there were no laws dealing with cursing God, one of the most serious sins imaginable. In addition, it is the kind of act that can be committed at any time, in any place, by any person. And yet, the Torah clearly indicates that no established protocol existed for dealing with a blasphemer until Moshe seeks God’s special instructions!

Contrast this with שמיטה, the laws of which are minutely detailed. Yet, the שמיטה laws should not have been a priority in the desert. The practical observance of שמיטה would not begin until the Jews entered the land of Israel/כי תבואו אל הארץ. In fact, it was not until the fifteenth year after coming to the land that the first cycle ofשמיטה began. Chazal tell us that it took seven years to conquer the land and another seven years to apportion and settle it. The first שבת of the land was observed in the twenty-first year after the Jewish people entered the land.

The word תבואו is from the root ב-ו-א "to come to an attractive place." The word שבת is from the root ש-ב-ת "to cease activity before completion."

How can one explain why the Torah sets forth the details of שמיטה, while the laws of מגדף were utterly disregarded? The answer is a psychological one. The sin of blasphemy is such a terrible act that the Torah did not want even to mention it as a possibility. To enumerate the details would acknowledge that it is possible for a Jew to commit such a sin. Instead, God waited until the act was actually committed (Chazal tell us, by a renegade half-Egyptian, half-Jew) whereupon the specific rules of punishment were detailed to Moshe.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
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