May 17, 2012
Parshat B’Har-Bechukotai: The land I am giving you
Many who write about this parsha focus on the question that Rashi asks (quoting the Sifra on B’har), “Why are the rules of Shmittah (the Sabbatical year for the land of Israel) mentioned in the context of ‘Moshe at Mt. Sinai?’” The Hebrew phrase “Mah inyan Shmittah eitzel Har Sinai?” has taken on a life of its own, in that it has come to be the Hebrew idiom equivalent of “what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?”
Is the assumption behind the question even correct?
According to the Or HaChaim, the focus of the connection to Sinai should not be on Shmittah, because Shmittah is not what is most immediately connected to Sinai in the verse.
“G-d spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a Sabbath to G-d.” (25:1-2)
The real question should be, “What is the connection between the land being promised and Mount Sinai?”
The Or HaChaim says, “Perhaps, because it mentioned that the land is a gift – ‘that I am giving you’ – it mentions that it stems from Mount Sinai. This is to teach that on account of the events of Mount Sinai, in other words, what they received there [the Torah], the gift could be completed. It is on account of [their having received] the Torah that G-d gave them the land.”
Continuing along this line of thought, the Or HaChaim quotes Maimonides Laws of Possession and Gifts 3:11, who says, “An Israelite may not give an idolator (Aku”m) a gift for nothing. He may give [a free gift] to a stranger who lives in peace [‘ger toshav’]. To a total stranger (‘nokhri’) he must sell the item, but to a ‘ger toshav’ he may either sell it or gift it.”
As a brief aside, a simple difference between a ‘ger toshav’ and a ‘nokhri’ is that the former not only lives in peace with the Israelites, but formally accepts their autonomy and system of laws and is an adherent of the Noahide laws. The latter, on the other hand, might live in peace out of a personal conviction, but he is not part of a formal group who has conceded power to the local Israelite autonomy. He has also not accepted the Noahide laws and might personally be an idolator. [There are many more details associated with these laws, including debates over which non-Jews qualify for each category.]