Posted on | May 7, 2014 | By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz | 3 Comments
What is so awful about charging interest? After all it is the lubricant that greases the gears of commerce universally.
Why must even nirtza slaves, those who chose to stay on with their masters when they had the chance to become free, be liberated on the Jubilee year?
When where and why is it permissible to articulate and explicate the name of G-d?
When you come into the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest interlude, a sabbath for HaShem. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards and gather your crops. But the seventh year shall be a sabbath of sabbaths for the land, it is HaShem’s Sabbath during which you may neither plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards … You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants; This is your jubilee year; when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family … Do not make him [your brother] pay advance interest , nor give him food for which he will have to pay accrued interest … And if your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, you may not work him like a slave. He shall be with you just like a hired servant, or a resident [farm] hand. He shall serve you only until the year of jubilee.
A sabbath to HaShem: For the sake of HaShem, just as is stated of the Sabbath of Creation (i.e the Shabbos we observe on a weekly basis)
—Rashi Vayikra 25:2 from Toras Kohanim 25:7
I.e., just as every seventh day is a holy Sabbath day, acclaiming that G-d Himself rested on the seventh day [after creating for the first six days] and thus confirming that G-d is the Supreme Creator of all that exists, similarly, man must refrain from working the land on the seventh year, for the Glory of G-d, not for the benefit of the land, so that it should gain fertility by lying fallow for a year.
— Sifsei Chachamim ibid
The mekubalim-expositors of the Torah mystical tradition; teach that all that HaShem created exists on the three parallel planes of olam/shanah/nefesh-world/year/soul i.e. in the realms of space, time and spirit. (cp. Sefer Yetzirah) In Parshas Behar the Izhbitzer school explores several applications of this concept. Among our Sidrah’s opening topics we find the Shmittah/Shvi’is-sabbatical year; d’ror avadim-the liberation of slaves; and ribis-the prohibition of charging interest. The Izhbitzer explains the common denominator of these three topics in light of olam/shanah/nefesh.
A ma’amin-one who is theologically correct and believes in the thirteen articles of faith should, in theory, have complete bitachon BaShem- reliance upon G-d. Believing that G-d is Benevolent, Omniscient, Omnipotent and directly controlling of the infinite to the infinitesimal (hashgachah p’ratis) it would be foolish to place ones trust in anyone or anything else. Yet, as the chasm separating our dispassionate beliefs from our heartfelt emotions is vast; people are constantly looking for substitutes for G-d to place their trust in and to rely upon. First and foremost we search for things to vouchsafe our ongoing existence; ways and means that can maintain and sustain us and, broadly speaking, these ways and means fall into one of three categories; property, time-charges and other people.
The most tangible and static of properties is real estate. Once a mortgage has been paid off real estate ownership is permanent. Unlike movable property real-estate cannot be removed by thieves. Inasmuch as the structures comprising residential or commercial real estate can depreciate, be partially damaged or be completely destroyed the most solid and reliable of all real estate is, arguably, farmland. Farmland represents the owners tangible kinyan-possession; in olam-space; and that which he relies and depends on to sustain him with produce and which he hopes will enrich him with its surplus produce.
The mitzvos of Shmittah/Shvi’is force the farmer to lay down his tools and throw the gates of his agricultural properties open for man and beast. These laws demonstrate that real-estate property ownership is an illusion; that all space belongs to HaShem. In so doing the farmer exposes his own reliance and dependence on his farmland, his kinyan in olam, for the mirage that it is.
While attorneys rack up billable hours and taxi-drivers meter their fares, at least in part based upon elapsed time, neither of these are the purest manifestations of the maxim “time is money.” In truth, the client or the cab rider are paying for a service rendered. Time is merely the yardstick used to determine how much or how little of the service in question was provided.
The purest manifestation of the “time is money” equation is the charging of interest. When charging and collecting interest, whether simple or compounded, the lender collects a fee from the borrower for the units of time that the latter held and used his funds. No greater goods or services are rendered on a $10,000 principal amount whether the loan is paid off in one year or in five years. The higher interest paid by the lender for a five year loan is exclusively for the elapsed time. When it comes to collecting interest, time is literally money.
Interest represents the lenders tangible kinyan in shanah-year/time; and that which he relies and depends on to sustain him with accruing wealth by transforming time into money. The Torahs prohibition of interest and usury denies this ersatz security to those who would place their faith and trust in time rather than in the time-transcendent G-d.
The most G-d-like of all substitutes in which people invest their reliance and trust — are other people. People are, after all, created b’tzelem Elokim-in the image of the Divine; and we are attracted to “dependable” people. This may be the most noxious form of bitachon-reliance; substitution inasmuch as it inverts the relationship between the one relying and the One being relied upon. Instead of relying on and trusting HaShem Whom they must serve; people rely on and trust a variety of people who will serve them.
We depend on our domestics to keep our homes clean, on our gardeners to keep our lawns well-groomed and we trust our physicians to dispense correct prescriptions and medical advice and our stockbrokers to manage our portfolios to profitability. The salaries and fees that we pay these laborers and professionals represent our concrete kinyan in nefesh-soul.
But the starkest iteration of a kinyan in nefesh is slave ownership. When one holds a slave he is not “renting” a particular talent or skill, a mere particular koach hanefesh; but has acquired the nefesh in toto. Every talent and faculty of the slave can be harnessed and depended upon to fulfill the owners’ needs. The slave is a wholly owned subsidiary of the slave owner, so much so that the reliance and trust that the slaver invests in the slave can almost be deemed self-reliance and self-confidence. The mitzvah of d’ror avadim in yovel-the jubilee year; conveys the truth that one Jew can never possess another Jew, even one who had his ear bored through because he refused to leave his master. All bonds of interpersonal human reliance are ephemeral and an ownership which must be surrendered is, in fact, no ownership at all, even before it is relinquished.
Collectively the three mitzvos of Shmittah/Shvi’is, d’ror avadim in Yovel, and ribis give the lie to being able to cultivate a true kinyan, and thus acquiring the security and insurance through, either olam, shanah or nefesh. We have no one and nothing to lean on but our Father in heaven.
The Izhbitzer’s disciple, Rav Tzadok the Lubliner Kohen, applies the olam/shanah/nefesh model to link the end of Parshas Emor and the start of Parshas Behar. His interpretation is based on a commentary of the Ba’al HaTurim that Parshas Emor essentially ends with the narrative of the Megadeph-the one who cursed G-d; and Parshas Behar begins with the laws of Shmittah/Shvi’is because, as Rabbah bar bar Chanah taught in Rabi Yochanan’s name: “The the sages convey [the elocution and precise meaning of the Divine] Name of four letters to their disciples [only] once in a seven year period. Others opine, twice in a seven year period.” (Kiddushin 71A) Cursing the Name is a capital offense only when the curse was cast against the Name that had been articulated and pronounced correctly.
The Lubliner Kohen is unconvinced by the Ba’al HaTurim’s approach because the gemara does not indicate when, precisely, within the seven year period it was that the sages revealed the secrets of the Divine four letter Name of to their disciples. For the link between the sidros to be validated we must first establish that the secrets of the Divine Name were revealed during the Shmittah/Shvi’is year. Additionally, the conclusion of the gemara reads: Said Rabi Nachman ben Yitzchok “Reason supports the view that it was [only] once in a seven year period for we read, ‘this is My Name forever [le’olam]’ which is written ‘to conceal’ [le’ahleim].” This explanation requires further clarification, for if the Divine four-letter Name must be concealed why is it permissible to reveal It’s secret even once in a seven year period? On the other hand, if the spelling of the word le’ahleim does not absolutely prohibit revealing It’s secrets then why limit it? Perhaps it could be taught twice in a seven year period?
Rashi cites the Toras Kohanim/ Safra that equates the Shmittah/Shvi’is year with Shabbos. The Lubliner Kohen asserts that Shabbos is to time what Mikdash-the Temple in Jerusalem; is to space. The Mikdash was a consecrated space which was somewhat exempted from the prohibition of articulating the Divine Name explicitly. When the kohanim would confer the Birkas Kohanim-priestly benediction; in the Mikdash they would explicate the Divine Name and when the Kohen Godol would confess sins over various offerings on Yom Kippur he too would explicate the Divine Name. Just as the secret of the Divine name could be divulged in the Mikdash in the sphere of space; so too could it be exposed on Shmittah/Shvi’is year in the sphere of time.
As to why the parallel is to years rather than to days (it is absolutely prohibited to explicitly utter HaShem’s name on the weekly Shabbos of a non-Shmittah year) the Lubliner Kohen incorporates the Ramban ad locum. The essence of his answer is that just as HaShem created the world in seven days, history endures for seven millennia. For each of G-d’s “days” lasts a millennium as the psalmist wrote “For a thousand years in Your Eyes are but as yesterday when it is past … ” (Tehillim 90:4) The seventh millennium, that epoch which lies beyond the scope of olam hazeh-this world, is the time when our consciousness’ are raised to perceive the Divine without veils and obfuscation. The very derivation of the prohibition of explicating the Divine Name comes with a built in statute of limitations. The prohibition must only persist for the duration of the “lifespan” of the temporal here-and-now world. The le’ahleim- concealment is for the le’olam-this world. The Lubliner Kohen concludes that it was permissible for sages to reveal the secrets of the Divine name during every Shabbos of the Shmittah/Shvi’is year. This is the deeper meaning of the Ba’al HaTurim’s commentary.
This post is an installment for Behar 5774 in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood