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Audio: Moses on Mount Sinai and Parshat B'har

Phil Chernofsky discusses Parshat B'har and the Torah on Mount Sinai.
5/9/2014, 9:39 AM

A7 Radio's "Torah Tidbits Audio" with Phil Chernofsky
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If you have to ask...

And G-d spoke to Moshe AT HAR SINAI saying. Well-known question and answer by Rashi on this opening pasuk of B'har. Without going into the Rashi and without taking anything away from Rashi's point, let us look at the question a bit differently.

MA INYAN SH'MITA EITZEL HAR SINAI? What do Sh'mita and Har Sinai have to do with each other? The answer is EVERYTHING. And, as the title of this Lead Tidbit goes IF YOU HAVE TO ASK, then we've got a problem. (Not Apollo 13, but the Jewish People.)

First of all, let's clarify the meanings of the terms for this Lead Tidbit. Har Sinai means the Torah, since that is where we received the Torah. And Sh'mita means Eretz Yisrael, since Sh'mita is the quintessential mitzva that is linked to the land and the lack of proper observance of Sh'mita is cited as the reason for our being exiled therefrom. So Rashi's question is reworded as, "What's the connection between Torah and Eretz Yisrael?" And the answer should be obvious. At the beginning of Va'eira, G-d sends Moshe to the People to tell them that He will take them out of Egypt, take them unto Him as a Nation (meaning give them the Torah), and bring them to Eretz Yisrael. This is reflected in the Dayeinu song at the Seder in which we thank G-d for taking us out of Egypt... bringing us to Har Sinai, giving us the Torah, taking us into Eretz Yisrael, and building the Beit HaMikdash. Torah and Eretz Yisrael are a package deal. This idea is repeated many times in D'varim with statements like: All the mitzvot that I command you this day you shall keep... in order to live and flourish in Eretz Yisrael. Torah was meant to be followed in Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael was meant to be THE venue of a Torah life. Torah and Eretz Yisrael were always intended to be inseparable. And if that is so, then the question MA INYAN SH'MITA... is a no brainer (as the expression goes).

So what happened? We messed up - that's what happened. We abandoned the Torah and we got spit out by the Land. And then we returned to the Torah (obviously, an over-simplification). and we couldn't return to the Land. The Torah came with us into Exile and the Land remained something to pray for, pine for, long for. And the Toarh and Eretz Yisrael were temporarily (a long temporary) separated. And religious people in Chutz LaAretz learned to survive and thrive religiously, in the coun- tries of their dispersion. And that was good, but not without its problems. The problems can be summed up by the sad and often-heard statement: We have everything we need to live a complete Jewish life in [fill in whatever community you choose - I've heard it with Monsey, Boro Park, Teaneck, and the Five Towns]. And then the question became what does Sh'mita have to do with Har Sinai? Why should I go on Aliya? Sadly, the other side of the coin also exists. The secular Zionist movement values living in Israel but relegated Torah to history and culture. When we all bring Torah and Eretz Yisrael back together, we'll be okay.

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Phil Chernofsky is the educational director of the Orthodox Union's OU Israel Center in Jerusalem and editor of the Torah Tidbits parsha pamphlet. Since 1998, he has hosted Torah Tidbits Audio, a shiur on the weekly parsha with witty insights. It airs every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Israel time and is downloadable as a podcast on Israel National Radio. Phil made Aliyah to Israel over 30 years ago. He is the author of the newly released book And Every Single One Was Someone, a tribute to victims of the Holocaust.
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