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Parshas Behar: Mitzvohs Require Faith as Well as Belief

There is an oft quoted Rashi in this week’s parsha. The pasuk [1] says וידבר ה’ אל משה בהר סיני לאמר, דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לה’ – “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har (Mount) Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to Bnei Yisroel and say to them, “when you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for Hashem”.” Rashi poses the question: the Torah makes reference to the fact that Hashem commanded this particular Mitzvah at Sinai, but were not all Mitzvahs, the entire Torah in fact, given at Sinai? Rashi offers the answer that the Torah wished to underscore that just as all the laws pertaining to shmitah, both the general concept of the Sabbatical year as well as all the minute details regarding what is prohibited and which are indeed clarified in this week’s parsha, were given on Har Sinai, so too were all the mitzvohs which are described in detail in other parshios of the Torah were also given on Sinai and were likewise presented to Moshe in the same manner.

However, the question still remains. Why out of all the mitzvohs in the Torah, did Hashem choose shmitah to be the emblematic mitzvah that will provide for us the fundamental scope of Sinaitic revelation? Certainly we could think of many other mitzvohs that could have well served as representative of this concept, for example: kashrus laws, laws of ritual purity, laws regarding Temple sacrifices, among others are all illustrative of mitzvahs which have specific complex rules. The Torah could just as well have chosen any of the above as given at Sinai, and we could have just as easily have made the connection that all mitzvahs were likewise presented.

In order to explain this I would like to develop some ideas regarding the most fundamental mitzvah in Judaism, and that is Emunah; the imperative of each Jew to believe that Hashem created and sustains the universe and gave us the Torah. Emunah, however, also demands an even greater level of belief called ‘bitachon’ – faith. What is the difference between these two concepts? The Ramban [2] in his composition HaEmunah V’HaBitachon very famously states, “Emunah is analogous to a tree and bitachon to the fruit of the tree.  Emunah precedes and is indeed a prerequisite for bitachon; having bitachon is a sure sign of emunah.  One can be a ma’amin (a believer) and be sorely lacking in bitachon.” Emunah is the belief in Hashem; Bitachon is the ability to conduct all our activities in accordance with Emunah.

The key element in the mitzvah of Shmitah is the focus of bitachon in the observance of shmitah. One must be utterly convinced that Hashem will not abandon him in a time of need, and therefore in keeping with Shmitah observance, he will refrain from all prohibited agricultural activities. The pasuk [3] says וכי תאמר מה נאכל בשנה השביעית וכו’ וצויצי את ברכתי- “If you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?’…I will ordain my blessing for you in the sixth year.  ” Why does the Torah offer its special Divine blessing as a response to one who is lacking in perfect faith to the extent that he raises the question “But what shall we eat in the seventh year if we have not sown or reaped our grain?” Why doesn’t the Torah simply assure Divine Providence to all who observe the Sabbatical year, without allowing for the question to be raised in the first place?

The answer to this question is supplied by the Noam Elimelech [4] in the name of his brother Reb Zushia [5]. A true master of bitachon does not require a special blessing! The channels of Divine influence through which we receive our sustenance run clear and strong to each of us in all our deeds for his entire life. However, there is one instance where the endless flow of Hashem’s bounty might be interrupted, G-d forbid. This transpires when the person has doubt, a lack of faith in Hashem’s ability or willingness to provide for all his needs. It is this uncertainty which spoils absolute bitachon, and disrupts the connection to the Divine. Lamentably, this would result in the disturbance of the channels of Divine influence and the interdiction of the flow of Hashem’s abundant cornucopia. In the Shmitah year, Hashem in his infinite mercy creates special ad hoc channels of blessing for those who only possess the lesser level of emunah, and not the higher level of bitachon. This is the meaning that the pasuk says that for the Shmitah observer who has room for the question, Hashem is obliged ‘kaviyachel’ (figuratively) to establish a special berachah to sustain him.

One of my ancestors Reb Dovid Yaakov Friedman [6] accounted for the difference between the blessings we make upon consumption of food and the ones we make on performance of mitzvahs. When we make a blessing on food or for the daily blessings we make thanking Hashem for providing for all of our needs, we say “Blessed are you Hashem…… who creates fruit of the tree”, or “Blessed are you Hashem……who opens the eyes of the blind. However, upon reciting “brachos” -blessings- over the performance of mitzvohs we say Blessed are you Hashem…… ‘that’ (asher) He sanctified us with His mitzvohs and commanded us to place tefilin upon ourselves. Note the difference: when performing mitzvohs we declare that  You (asher) sanctified us, etc. as opposed to other blessings that we just say that Hashem creates or that He does whatever the function that He does for us.

There is a Rashi on the Gemarah [7] that says the word ‘asher’ also means belief. The Gemarah advises us that when told that a certain individual died, ‘asher’, believe it (it’s probably true, for this is not something that would usually be made of whole cloth). However when someone tells you that a particular person became wealthy ‘lo asher’ you need not believe this. (people often tell such stories that have absolutely no basis in fact.)

We see that the word “asher” besides for its usual meaning of “that”, can also connote belief. Now all of our bodily functions that we experience and the food that we consume do not require much belief for it is in front of our eyes.  That Hashem commanded us to do the mitzvohs on the other hand does require belief that He commanded us on Har Sinai, for we do not see Him commanding us before our eyes. It is for this reason that by these blessings we say ‘asher’ kiddishanu b’mitzvosav- meaning we believe that He sanctified us with His mitzvohs.

Shmitah is emblematic of “bitachon” –  faith in Hashem’s providence, and Sinai is emblematic of “emunah” – belief. We must believe in the Sinaitic experience that He commanded us to fulfill the Torah. With this we can explain why Shmitah has the distinct connection with Sinai more then all mitzvohs. In order to reach the level that Shmitah teaches us to have faith in Hashem we must first own the lesser level of belief in Hashem.

This too is what Rashi taught. Just as all the laws pertaining to Shmitah both the general rules and all the minute details were given on Har Sinai, so too were all the mitzvohs, they and their intricate details, were also given on Sinai. True, the mitzvah of Shmitah comes to teach us to have bitachon. However, ultimately we should aspire to reach the goal that we gain further bitachon from all the other mitzvahs just as we do from the mitzvah of Shmitah. This is what Rashi means by “general” and “specific”. The “general” refers to the central concept of emunah that accompanies the entire mitzvah system – the entire Torah in essence. Every individual mitzvah – every “specific” instantiation of the mitzvah requires emunah. The source of all of this is Sinai. We draw from it and recreate in our own lives the clarity of emunah that was made available to us on that day. However, all the Mitzvohs also have “specifics” that each mitzvah performed brings us closer to Hashem and ultimately influences us to also have the level of faith in Hashem as well.

Please feel free to forward this Torah thought to anyone you feel will take pleasure in reading it. Feel free to contact me at with any questions and comments.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Dovid Sochet


[1] Vayikra / Leviticus 25:1-2

[2] Nahmanides, also known as Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, and by his acronym Ramban (1194–1270)

[3] Vayikra / Leviticus 25:20-21

[4] Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1787) one of the great founding Masters of the Chasidic movement, was known after his hometown, Lizhenskin Poland. He was part of the primary disciples of the Maggid of Mezhritch, who became the decentralized, third generation leadership after the passing of their Rebbe the Maggid.        Rebbi Elimelech authored the classic Chasidic work Noam Elimelech. As the founder of Chasidism in Poland-Galicia, his influence led numerous leaders and dynasties to emerging from his disciples through the early 19th century. Because of this, Rebbi Elimelech is venerated by the “Mainstream” path in Hasidism, predominant especially in Poland, who descend from his influence

[5] Rabbi Meshulam Zusha of  Anipoli (1718–1800),Reb Zusha was one of the early Chasidic luminaries. He too was one of the great Chasidic Rebbes of the third generation and member of the academy circle of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He was a well-known tzaddik in Ukraine.

[6] He was born in Yerushalayim in 1914 He passed away in Los Angeles California in 1974. He studied in Pupa, Hungary under Rabbi Yaakov Yechezkia Greenwald.

[7] Tractate Gittin 30B