Torah Mitzion on the Parsha: Temura

This week's Dvar Torah is by Rav Yonah Simmons, former Rosh Kollel in Warsaw, Poland.

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There is no doubt what I should talk about …

The main portion of Parashat Behar-Behukotai deals with rewards and extreme punishments once in many generations. To equate this with the Holocaust creates issues in trying to explain why the Holocaust happened when and where it did.

So after three years working in Poland in the shadows of the Holocaust, I will take the easy way out. I will talk about what must be the least known Mitzva in the Tora, the Mitzva of Temura.

The Parasha is discussing an animal that a person has dedicated to be a Korban (offering) in the Temple.

“Do not switch it, nor exchange it, [a] good [animal] for a bad [animal], or a bad one for a good one. However if you perform an exchange, one animal for another, it shall be that it (the original animal) and its exchange {Temura} will [both] be dedicated {ie, Korbanot}. (Vayikra 27:10)”. Basically, what it means is by trying, for good or bad reasons, to exchange one animal for another you have sanctified both of them AND at the same time gone against a Tora prohibition.

What is going on here? A Jewish person has decided to dedicate a specific animal they own for the service of Hashem. It could be purely out gratitude or generosity. It could be based on a prior commitment or Tora rule which requires them to dedicate an animal. At some later stage, for some reason, this individual decides that they would rather offer a different animal up instead. Regardless of their intention, good or bad, generous or stingy, this is not what is expected. When we are committed to something, we apparently need to make the best of it and not be worried that we have picked the wrong animal, or that Hashem will not be happy.

At the beginning of the Parasha there is the mitzvoth of Shemita (Sabbatical year) and Yovel (Jubilee). Every seventh year, we do not farm the land to grow any food and, at the end of every seventh cycle, we add an extra (Yovel) year where we also do not farm the land. The Tora asks what we should do in the year when we do not plant any food. “So if you will say ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? Look - for we have not planted [anything], and we have no grain to collect!’” (Vayikra 25,20)

The Tora answers: “I will command my blessing for you in the sixth year, and you will make [enough] produce for three years: When you [finally] plant in the eighth year you will [still] eat from the old produce, until the ninth year, when the [new] produce is ready, you will eat old [produce].” (Vaykira 25, 21-22)

If you have a one year break, you only need to have food for two years (one for the current year, and one for the following year), but, apparently, when the eighth year’s food is ready for eating, it will be the ninth year. So in the sixth year, we need to grow food for the sixth, seventh and eighth years!! Logically this is incorrect as if it takes a year to complete food production, then the food from the fifth year will support the sixth year, so we only need food for two years. Additionally, during the sixth year there is no worrying about the mitzvah. We just plant as normal, and pray for success from Hashem. The time for concern is in the seventh year, when we are meant to refrain from farming, and by then we know exactly how much food we have.

Regarding the escaping the terrible punishments described in the middle of the Parasha, the Tora says:

“Then they will confess their sins, and the sins of their fathers ….. or finally they will break their stubborn hearts …” (Vaykira 26:41-42). This at first seems to be describing some sort of Teshuva (repentance) for past sins. However, it must be asked, what is the purpose of confessing the sins of our fathers? The Tora explicitly states that people are only responsible for their own actions! How is someone more worthy of total redemption because they revealed the family shame that Grandfather was a thief or a murderer?

Rashi offers a different insight by saying that the word “or” is best understood as “perhaps” or “maybe”. The whole problem here is not an abundance of sins, or a lack of good deeds, but too much Maybe.

The verses continue: “regardless of all of these [tragedies], as they remain in the land of their enemies, I will not denigrate them, nor revile them in destruction, [as that would mean] to break my agreement with them, for I am the L-rd, their G-d” (Vayikra 26:44). We are assured that Hashem will NEVER forget or break our agreement, under ANY circumstances. There is no Maybe! We may not understand why Hashem is letting things be the way that they are but it is not because Maybe Hashem has given up on us. After all that has happened, instead of being distracted worrying if we are better or worse than our parents and grandparents, salvation comes by staying sure in Hashem, because Hashem is sure about us, so we need to look forwards.

When we are worried about three whole years of food, it is a sign of uncertainty. Maybe there will not be enough food. Maybe next year the food will be slow to grow and develop. Hashem says to calm down and examine what you really have, what you really need and look forwards, to your next task.

When we have a Korban, and for some reason we are unsure if we selected the correct animal, we do not say Maybe I should use another animal, then Maybe Hashem will listen to me. We need to look forwards, and say, Hashem says to use what we have, so it is just fine, and I will do what I need to do.

I am often asked why there are still Jews in Poland. I have given many reasons, some of them humorous, some of them tragic. In the end, I am not really sure. I sometimes tell this story. There is a building in Warsaw which was refurbished after the war as a community building. There is a dedication there for the people who worked hard on the building after the war which pays tribute to those young people in Polish and Hebrew. It is dated in June 1948, one month after Israel's independence, and finishes off saying “Shana Rishona l’Malchut Yisrael” – ‘The First Year of the Kingdom of Israel’. These young people saw the establishment of the State of Israel as a reassurance that Hashem is always with us, whereever we are and no matter how bad things become. I don’t know why they did not all come to Israel but, because of the state of Israel, they felt comfortable staying where they were because they had no doubt about Hashem’s commitment to us. We need to look forwards to a special Jewish life, and not look back and say ‘Maybe’.

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