There is a phrase ‘match made in Heaven’ often used when things go perfectly together. Now, if one could say this phrase about two sedras, then a top candidate would be Behar & Bechukosai. The first is about shmitta and yovel and redeeming fields. The second sedra about again redeeming, this time from hekdesh (sanctified things). And in fact the opening pasuk of Behar and Rashi mirror the closing pasuk of Bechukosai. Just one question though; what has shmitta got to do with the other events across the two sedras. Now I can understand the slave laws in Behar are based on (25;42) the concept that ‘we are servants to HaShem’ and the blessings and curses in Bechukosai flow from this and are dependent upon whether we live with this message or not. But where does shmitta fit in exactly? And if one thought that maybe they are not connected; who says everything in the Torah must be connected; after all, shmitta and the curses are far-ish apart? Well right in the middle of the curses come the psukim (26; 34-35) ‘then the land will have its shmitta…etc ’; ie the curses are inextricably linked with the land’s shmitta. How and why?
Let’s backtrack for a minute to understand this issue. The Torah in Bechukosai describes what will happen if we do not observe the mitzvos and each punishment that we get. And the pattern is that if we ignore that punishment, then it gets worse (see 26; 18, 21, 23, 27). (the implication being that punishments are there not to ‘give us a smack’ but so we change) A simple question here – why do the punishments get worse – if the point is so we realise we’ve done wrong, then continue with the previous punishment. HaShem knows which punishments fit which ‘crimes’ – if the previous punishment was good enough before, what changed that when we did not listen to it? If the punishment suddenly becomes inappropriate – then don’t give us that punishment in the first place? And why not just keep going with the previous punishment – people will wake up sooner or later to correlation between what they have done wrong and the terrible situation in the world?
A possible answer can be suggested via something the Or HaChaim says in last week’s sedra (22; 15-16). He says that when someone does a sin by mistake (be’shogeg) then if he does not take an opportunity given to him to remove this sin, his sin is ‘upgraded’ to a meizid (intentional sin). Why? Seemingly because there are two parts to a sin / mitzvah – the thought and the action. Doing a sin unintentionally has the action part present, just not the thought part. Once one refuses to take the opportunity to wipe away that sin, that completes the thought part too, (one shows they do not care about the sin they did) and the sin becomes a full meizid sin.
This concept can be used to explain the above questions regarding the curses…HaShem wants us to be thinking about having sinned and showing a bit of care for it. If we had the least bit of care then the sins would probably be on our minds at some point, and we would probably make the connection between the bad events occurring and our sins. (Making this connection is termed by the Rambam as ‘way of Teshuva’ – Hil. Taanis 1;2). Once we do not make that connection between the punishment and the sin, then HaShem gives us a sterner punishment and a more blatant opportunity to make that connection. The point here is one of thought.
This is also how tosafos (Kiddushin 31a) explains the principle that ‘one gets more reward for doing a mitzvah having been commanded to do so.’ Surely if anything when I do it out of my own accord that is much better; I did not need to be told to do it? But explains tosfos that when Someone commands you to do the mitzvah then you worry about it more – and it’s that worry which makes the reward greater, because it shows a real care about the importance of the mitvzah. In a similar vein the question is asked – there is a principle of ‘going beyond the letter of the law’ (lifnei mishuras hadin) ie doing more than one is commanded. The gemarra (bava metzia 30b) brings a pasuk from which this concept is learnt. But if this mitzvah is all about going beyond that which one is commanded to do how can we bring a pasuk – a commandment – to do so? Because HaShem tells us that I want you to go beyond the letter of the law to show that you care about my mitzvos that I commanded. Again the point is that HaShem wants our thoughts to go with the actions.
Thus, there is in fact a halacha that (shulchan aruch orach chaim 60;4) mitzvas require kavanah ie a thought just before their performance that ‘I’m doing this as a mitzvah of HaShem,’ and it’s amazing how many mitzvas we let by without even realising one is doing a mitzvah. Maybe the classic example is working. One is stuck in an office for hours each day and it seems like it’s got no worth in itself, but rather is just a means towards an ends of parnassah. But this week’s sedra screams out to notice the chesed one is doing here in putting food on the table, feeding a family, earning to give to tzedakka, etc.
This might be why the gemara in Megillah notes that whereas the curses in Devarim were said by Moshe, these were said by HaShem – because the focus is on one’s thoughts and only HaShem knows what they are.
Lastly, this might be how shmitta and the curses are linked. Shmittah tells us that one can do a great mitzvah by doing absolutely no actions whatsoever – keeping still – just thoughts to serve HaShem. (Look how many times the word shavat is used) One uses their thoughts to stop their actions and this is the miztvah of Shmitta, just like the theme of the curses and their punishments.
Have a great Shabbes