“And G-d spoke unto Moses at Mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the Children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to Hashem…”
This opening triggered the (famous) expression, ma inyan shmita lehar sinai – what does the Sabbatical year have to do with Sinai, a phrase used whenever two seemingly unrelated topics are presented together. The rabbis found it peculiar and meaningful for the Torah to state the location of the giving of this mitzvah. Indeed, why should it mention Sinai? Weren’t all the commandments given at Sinai? The answers (of course) vary. Some discuss the emphasis on the location lest we think the mitzvah of Shmita was given later due to convenience or because of an agricultural arrangement, we should know that even this commandment, was given at Sinai. We can then conclude that if this mitzvah, which discusses a very specified behavior which would be relevant only later in the Land of Israel and not in the desert, was given in Sinai, then kal vachomer (all the more so), the other mitzvot. We can also conclude that the importance of the Sabbatical year and the miraculous connection with the Land of Israel is a physical expression of a deep spiritual connection, rather than a mere farming deal. Thus begins Parashat Be’har.
Wait. Be’har?? Isn’t that towards the end of Leviticus? Aren’t we this week in the beginning of Exodus? Yes. So why talk about it now?
Because this week’s parasha also introduces a mitzvah by telling us the location where it was given first:
“And G-d spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying”…
This intro is followed by the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, as a people. Up until now, commandments were given to all humanity (“be fruitful and multiply”), to one human being personally (“go to the land that I show you”), or stated as a definite conclusion (“therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the sinew at the back part of the [kosher] animal”). Even circumcision was given to Abraham and his children, thus making it a custom among Jews and Muslims alike. Most everything else until now, are customs we collected, created and were told along the way: how to dress, how to name our children, how to treat guests, how to deal with death of a loved one. Now, all of a sudden, a mitzvah! Finally, a commandment to the whole nation! Why mention where it was given? I mean, if every word is meaningful, why the extra “in the land of Egypt”?
Perhaps we should find out first, what is that commandment. What is that “first” thing to do? Or, alternatively, when building a new nation, if we now starting a new religious, a new way of life, a new organization, what would be the first thing we’d instruct our people to hold, do, and keep? And why this particular belief or act? Then we can go back and rethink, why mentioning the location might matter.
To find out more, join us this upcoming Shabbat for our monthly Chamin & Chavruta (lunch & learn). RSVP appreciated. Hope to see you!