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Table Talk II: Behar Bechukotai Print E-mail

ShabbatWhen To Step In: “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him, proselyte or resident, so that he can live with you.” (Leviticus 25:35) If your friend is starting to slip, start helping him right away. It is your responsibility to slow his decline and help him regain his prosperity. It is much harder to help him after he falls than to involve yourself and help him avoid failure. Rashi compares this to, “A burden on top of a donkey that is slipping. It only takes one person to help reset it. However, once it falls, not even five people will be able to lift it.” What is the Torah teaching us?  Do we need the Torah to teach us that it is easier to save people before they are in serious trouble avoid failure? Perhaps the Torah is addressing a very human quality; the drive to become a hero who saves someone who failed and get more credit. It seems more fulfilling. The Torah is reminding us that it is not about how we feel when we help. It’s all about the recipient. Don’t wait for a crisis. How can we apply this law and concept to people we know and to immediate situations?

Pruning & Planting I

“For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard.” (Leviticus 25:3) There are no limitations during the six years. Why does verse say, “Prune your vineyard,” rather than “plant your vineyard”? Pruning is a very specific action. The next verse says, “But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for God, your field you may not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.” (Verse 4) It is interesting to note that Rashi waits until the second verse to define, “Tizmor,” or “Prune”: ‘For they cut its branches, and Targum renders it, “You shall not cut”; and similar to it, “Thorns cut down.” (isaiah 33:12) “It is burned with fire; it is cut down.” (Psalms 80:17) Why does Rashi wait until the second verse? Is it possible that Rashi translates the “Tizmor” of the first verse as planting: “You may plant your vineyard.” However, he must stress that the second verse prohibits not only planting a vineyard, but even pruning, which is why he waits until the second verse to define “Tizmor.” Why would the Torah use the same word to mean two different things in two verses immediately next to each other?

Pruning and Planting II

We established earlier that “Tizmor” can mean both pruning and planting. How do the two definitions change our understanding of Zemirot that we sing at the Shabbat table, or Pesukei D’Zimrah? My rebbi, Rabbi Yochanan Zweig defines Zemirot as, “Singing to Inspire,” Zemirot are for inspiring yourself; just as you make the tree better by pruning, you improve yourself through Zemirot. This would imply that Pesukei D’Zimrah is not speaking to God but inspiring yourself to be prepared to speak to God in the Amidah. Zemirot are a way to regenerate yourself, and  because you create a new energy it is similar to planting. How does this definition change our focus when singing Shabbat Zemirot or singing Pesukei D’Zimrah?
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