The Fire From Sinai
If you were some sort of head of State, and you decided to pay an official visit to Israel on say, Lag B’Omer, you would probably return home and tell people, “it's a beautiful land, but the locals there, those Jews, they sure are a bunch of pyromaniacs!”
I’ve written before about how in America I used to think Lag B’Omer was about softball. After all the softball is symbolic of Torah and the light that shines forth from it symbolizes the light that Rav Shimon Bar Yochai brought to the world by authoring the holy Zohar. Now, however, I know that using bonfires in place of softballs fit the symbolism much more aptly.
This year I didn’t go to Har Meron. Instead, I hung out in Jerusalem. What struck me the most about last night, was not how many fires there were around the city, in every park, and open lot, but the absolute breadth of the types of people enjoying them. From the most charedi godal hador down to the most secular Jew that never even heard of the Zohar, let alone Rashbi, all were singing and smiling at a huge bonfire somewhere in the country.
And that got me thinking. Even if one isn’t particularly religious, just by living in the holy land of ours some religion is going to rub off on them. Take Purim as another example. Every single eight year old in this country - from ultra-secular to ultra-religious - dresses up for Purim and could likely relate to you the entire Purim story. This is not the case in America, where many secular Jews there never heard of Purim.
I came across an interesting Rashi on this week’s Parsha. Perhaps the most commonly found verse in the Torah is “And G-d spoke to Moshe saying.” This week the Parsha opens with an interesting variation. “And G-d spoke to Moshe, on Mount Sinai, saying.” Rashi asks, “Why here?” Hashem said all of the Torah to Moshe on Sinai! Why is only this one spot, which discusses the laws of Shmittah (the Sabbatical year) singled out?
Without going into depth (see it inside for details) Rashi answers that we could learn out from here that all commandments with all the details and fine points they involve, were taught on Har Sinai and completely repeated with full details by Moshe “at the Plains of Moab.”
A question that came to me is that the Torah could still have applied the words “on Mount Sinai” to any other commandment in the Torah and we would have been able to come to the same conclusion. Why did it specifically choose the commandment of Shmittah?
Shmittah is an example of something, even the most religious Jews living in America know very little about. It’s something that simply doesn’t apply there and so not much effort is spent studying it. The Talmid Bavli (which was written in Babylonia) doesn’t even have a tractate on it. Whether one was written but lost or never written is debated but the reason for either scenario would simply be because those laws “didn’t apply” to them. (Incidentally, the Talmid Yerushalmi written in the Land of Israel does contain a tractate on the laws of Shmittah.)
Two years ago, I remember being terrified by the upcoming Shmittah year, which I knew nothing about! I attended shiur after shiur trying to get up to speed on what all the laws are (and there are many of them!) The shiurim were all very heavily attended which demonstrated that lots of people felt the same way. Now that we have to keep these laws we should learn what they are.
And now we can understand why Hashem chose this commandment out of all the others to apply the words “on Mount Sinai.” First, this commandment was given to us by G-d via Moshe on Har Sinai just like all the other ones. There is no reason not to be studying it regardless of where you are living. Don’t forget about it! And second, just like all the other commandments, this one, was also given on Har Sinai and it’s one that you should be keeping too. And if the only way to keep it is by living in the Land of Israel, then what are you waiting for?