Parashat Bechukotai - Exchanging Holiness
מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | כט אייר התשפב | 30.05.2022
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
It is commonly accepted in our economy that a customer, after purchasing an item, may return it or replace it, subject to the specified conditions. The basis for this practice is that people fear that they might change their minds, but when they know that they will not be held to their original intention and will not be "stuck" with the ramifications of a momentary mistake, they are encouraged to buy.
But there are other, higher planes, where decisions are irreversible and cannot be changed or replaced. We can call them "one-way decisions." In Parashat Bechukotai, we learn of sacred values, involving decisions that can be changed only in very limited cases, if at all. Let us begin our discussion with sacrificial offerings. The Torah declares:
וְאִם בְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ מִמֶּנָּה קָרְבָּן לַה', כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִמֶּנּוּ לַה' יִהְיֶה קֹּדֶשׁ.
לֹא יַחֲלִיפֶנּוּ וְלֹא יָמִיר אֹתוֹ טוֹב בְּרָע אוֹ רַע בְּטוֹב...
Regarding animals from which are offered as a sacrifice to G-d -
whatever is given from them to G-d will be holy;
he shall not replace it or exchange it, neither for better nor worse... (Vayikra 27,9-10)
Once a person sets aside a kosher animal for an offering to G-d, its very essence becomes holy. This quality can never be exchanged or redeemed, for it is the very core and quintessence of the animal. Our Sages call it "sanctity of the body," meaning the very "body" of the matter. Yet what happens if someone tries to exchange this animal for another one? The Torah gives the answer:
וְאִם הָמֵר יָמִיר בְּהֵמָה בִּבְהֵמָה, וְהָיָה הוּא וּתְמוּרָתוֹ יִהְיֶה קֹּדֶשׁ.
And if he exchanges the animal for an animal,
both it and its replacement become holy. (verse 10)
The holiness does not pass from one animal to another, but rather replicates itself – and both of them are now sacred and must be offered up as sacrifices to G-d. This spiritual reality is comparable to the movement of a wave, as opposed to that of particles: A wave moves from one place to another, without the original "source" changing place, while particles go to a new place only by leaving the first one.
Another way in which we can understand this spiritual reality is by considering a coil through which passes an alternating current. If we place another coil adjacent to it, an electric current will be formed in it as well – but without the original current "leaving" the first coil. This, too, is motion not of particles, but of electro-magnetic waves.
Or, if you will: One who tries to exchange sanctity seeks a "cut and paste" action, but in actuality, the result is "copy and paste" – that is, sanctity in both animals.
For Your Eating Pleasure
Similarly, fruits grown in Eretz Yisrael during the Shemittah year have, to a certain extent, sanctity that is non-transferable. The Torah commands us regarding Shemittah:
וְהָיְתָה שַׁבַּת הָאָרֶץ לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה לְךָ וּלְעַבְדְּךָ וְלַאֲמָתֶךָ...
וְלִבְהֶמְתְּךָ וְלַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצֶךָ תִּהְיֶה כָל תְּבוּאָתָהּ לֶאֱכֹל.
The Sabbath of the land will be for you to eat - to you, your servant…
and your animals – all the grain to eat. (Vayikra 25,6-7)
The fruits that grow during Shemittah are meant to be "holy for eating." The "body of the fruit" is to be eaten, and its holiness – known as Kedushat Shvi'it, or Shemittah sanctity – may therefore not be transferred to other fruits via exchange, redemption, or any other method. And if someone tries to transfer the sanctity, he will find that both the original fruits and their exchange are sacred. Practically, this means that the special laws of Shemittah, such as not destroying or doing business with the fruit, apply to both the original holy produce and the new fruit. (If the person continues to try to transfer the sanctity to additional fruits, only the original fruits and the last ones in the series retain it.)
In this light, let us consider: Given that G-d has chosen Jerusalem as the holiest place in the world, can its sanctity be transferred to a different location? The answer, of course, is no. The sanctity of a place is in its essence, which can, by definition, never be transferred elsewhere. The holiness of Jerusalem is eternal and not transferable. (Although it is true that in future times, the holiness of Jerusalem will spread out to other places, even as far as Damascus in Syria, as the Medrash teaches: "Jerusalem is destined in the future to reach the gates of Damascus." (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7))
The Sanctity of Monetary Value
What happens when we consecrate to G-d something that cannot be offered as a sacrifice? For instance, if one consecrates a utensil, or a blemished or unkosher animal, can its sanctity be transferred to another item? The Torah answers:
...כָּל בְּהֵמָה טְמֵאָה... וְהֶעֱרִיךְ הַכֹּהֵן אֹתָהּ... וְאִם גָּאֹל יִגְאָלֶנָּה וְיָסַף חֲמִישִׁתוֹ עַל עֶרְכֶּךָ.
Any unclean animal that shall not be brought as an offering to G-d… the Priest shall appraise it… if the man redeems it, he shall add its fifth to its value. (Vayikra 27,11-13)
Since the animal cannot be offered on the altar, its sanctity applies not to its essence, but only to its monetary worth. This, of course, is not an integral part of the animal, and it can therefore be transferred from item to item. This is done by "redeeming" its sanctity onto another item, or even onto coins. This procedure is called hamarah, from the same root meaning "exchange," and it causes the sanctity to be absolutely transferred to money or other articles; the original animal becomes totally profane and not holy. This is akin to a "cut and paste" operation, or one in which the holiness is carried atop a particle moving from place to place.
Some sacred fruits can also be included in this process. Fruits from a tree in its fourth year, and those of Maaser Sheni (which must be eaten in Jerusalem), may have their sanctity "traded" onto coins. To understand this better, let us study Orlah and the Maaser Sheni tithe.
The Torah teaches us the laws of Orlah in Parashat Kedoshim:
וְכִי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם כָּל עֵץ מַאֲכָל... שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים יִהְיֶה לָכֶם עֲרֵלִים לֹא יֵאָכֵל.
When you come to the Land and plant fruit trees…
for three years it shall be orlah, and shall not be eaten. (19,23)
The first three years' worth of a tree's fruits are forbidden to be eaten. The fruits of the following year may be eaten only in Jerusalem, and only under specific circumstances corresponding to the fruit's “holy” nature. The eating of these fruits is accompanied by joyful singing and praise to G-d:
וּבַשָּׁנָה הָרְבִיעִת יִהְיֶה כָּל פִּרְיוֹ קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים לַה'.
And in the fourth year, all its fruits will be “holy praise” to G-d. (verse 24)
There are times, of course, when it is quite difficult to bring the fruits to Jerusalem and eat them there. One who has hundreds of trees, for instance, will have a hard time overcoming all the logistical problems involved in bringing the entire fourth-year crop to Yerushalayim. Jewish Law stipulates that another way of “bringing” the fruits to the Holy City is by redeeming them for coins, and then bringing the coins to Jerusalem for use in the purchase of meat, wine and other food. This is precisely the same law as the Torah details for Maaser Sheni, one of the tithes taken from produce grown in the Land of Israel.
Let us analyze the interesting phrase kodesh hilulim, “holy praise” or “praise of holiness,” that the Torah uses to describe the fourth-year fruits. Rabbi Akiva explains it in the Gmara (B'rachot 35a) as the source for reciting a blessing both before and after eating food. R. Akiva feels that a blessing on food is actually a song of praise to G-d for having created the fruit; when we say, “Barukh ata… Blessed are You, Who created the fruit of the tree,” we are praising and thanking G-d, and thus fulfilling the verse that says the fruit is to be “holy praise to Hashem.”
The Gmara also provides another, more complex, explanation of the phrase. The Hebrew word hilulim, meaning praise, is understood as referring to chilulim (with the letter heh replaced by the similar-looking letter chet), meaning “making profane and not holy.” This, of course, refers to the transfer of the fruit's sanctity onto the coins – and is the source for the law that if bringing the actual fruits to Jerusalem is difficult, we may transfer their sanctity to silver coins; the coins will become holy and usable only in Jerusalem, while the fruits become profane and can be eaten outside Jerusalem.
Let us now take stock. The Gmara has derived two seemingly different things from the words holy praise: The concept of reciting a blessing before food, and the concept of exchange of sanctity. Do they have anything in common? How does the word hilulim become chilulim? What is the nature of the link between the praise of a blessing on fruit, and the process by which holy fruits become totally profane?
A Song of Praise
Every Sunday, in the Song of the Day, we recite a verse whose depths are not easily plumbed:
לַה' הָאָרֶץ וּמְלוֹאָהּ תֵּבֵל וְישְׁבֵי בָהּ.
The earth and all that fills it is G-d's,
as well as the world and those who dwell upon it. (Psalms 24,1)
The Gmara elaborates on its profundity:
Shmuel said: Whoever derives benefit from the world without reciting a blessing, is as if he derived benefit from items consecrated to Hashem… and as if he has embezzled from the Holy Temple. (Brachot, p. 35a)
That is, since the whole world belongs to G-d, everything in it is sacred, and one may not partake of it. But it is a special type of holiness, in that the recital of a blessing over it renders it profane and we may then eat of it. But – how does this work? How does the recitation of a blessing allow us to eat the fruit? To where does its sanctity disappear?
The answer is found in the opening Psalm of the special Shabbat and holiday morning prayers:
הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ-ל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ.
... אֵין אֹמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם.
The Heavens recount the glory of G-d, and the firmament tells His handiwork.
… There is no speech nor words; their voice is not heard. (Psalms 19,2-4)
The entire Creation is one big song of praise to G-d, without words. The very wonder of everything in the world is a song of awe and veneration for Hashem. Consider, for example, a simple apple. The deep wisdom buried inside it – its color, taste, energy, beauty, all the millions of cells inside – they are all a song of praise to the One Who created it. The apple is thus entirely an entity of holiness.
But when we eat the apple, what happens? It disappears, and with it goes its song of praise to Hashem. In fact, perhaps we are not allowed to do this? By what right are we permitted to silence this song of praise simply because we are hungry?
The answer is that we are not silencing the apple's praise, but rather replacing it with something even better – our own recitation of praise to G-d. And how do we do this? By reciting the blessing over it! We pick up the apple and say: "Barukh Atah…You, G-d, are the source of blessing, our G-d, the King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree." And so, instead of the apple expressing a silent song of praise to Hashem, we say out loud our own blessing of praise - a higher level of praise to G-d.
In addition, when the apple "sings" its song, it does so automatically, without any choice in the matter. But when we, who have the ability to decide whether we want to say the blessing or not, actually choose to praise Hashem, this is so much greater.
The Missing Link
Let us return to the first verse, The earth and all that fills it is G-d's. The entire world belongs to G-d, and is under His authority; eating an apple without a blessing is like embezzling from that which has been consecrated to G-d. Our blessing replaces the apple's song of praise, and permits us to eat it. This, then, is the link that we sought between hilul, praise, and chilul, exchange of sanctity: Our praise is the exchange and redemption of the apple's praise.
It is fascinating to note that at the end of the above-quoted chapter of Psalms, which begins with the Heavens' silent praise to Hashem, we find a verse referring to our own non-silent praise of Hashem:
יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי ...
May the words of my mouth… find favor before You. (19,15)
This tells us that even with the amazing greatness of the praise sung to G-d by all of Creation, our own blessings of praise and prayers of thanksgiving are of even greater value to Hashem, because of where they come from: the Free Will of human beings.
A Gift with Honor
The above-quoted Gmara continues to describe one who picks a fruit off a tree, or takes one from the refrigerator, and takes a bite without reciting a blessing:
Whoever derives enjoyment from This World without first reciting a blessing is as if stealing from Hashem, as is written (Proverbs 28,24): One who steals from his father and mother and says there is no crime, is companion to a destructive person. (B'rachot 35b)
The verse is referring to a child who sees nothing wrong with taking something from his parents without asking permission. The child justifies his actions by thinking, "Whatever my parents acquire for themselves is meant for their children anyway. So why should I have to ask permission before taking it?" The answer, of course, is that though the parents' property is meant for their children, they want to give it to them in an orderly, dignified manner. By simply snatching it up, the children destroy the relationship of respect that they must have for their parents.
The same is true between friends. Consider a man who prepares a gift for his friend as a sign of their friendship. He wraps it nicely and puts it aside to present it to him the next day. During the night, the impatient recipient sneaks into the house and takes the gift. Asked why he did it, he explains, "In any event it was for me." This answer clearly does not justify what he did; the friend has violated and destroyed the respect between them.
The same is true between Hashem and us. Hashem certainly created the world for man, and we might think, "I need not recite a blessing, for I'm just taking what He wants to give me in any event!" But in truth, G-d wants to give it to us with "honor," and by reciting a blessing first, we strengthen our mutual relationship of respect – and then Hashem gives to us with total willingness!
This provides a beautiful explanation for the rest of the Orlah passage. After telling us that the fruits of the first three years are forbidden, and that we must eat the fourth-year produce in Jerusalem or redeem their sanctity, the Torah proceeds to tell us the law of the fifth-year fruits:
וּבַשָּׁנָה הַחֲמִישִׁת תּאכְלוּ אֶת פִּרְיוֹ לְהוֹסִיף לָכֶם תְּבוּאָתוֹ אֲנִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם.
And in the fifth year, eat the fruit, to add its grain for you;
I am the Lord your G-d. (Vayikra 19,25)
What is meant by "to add its grain for you"? The customary meaning is that Hashem will bless all those who fulfill these laws of Orlah by increasing and blessing their crops. But this does not explain the closing phrase, "I am the Lord your G-d." Based on what we have said, we can give the following explanation for the entire passage:
Instead of explaining תְּבוּאָתוֹ as meaning "grain," we will understand it as coming from the bet-aleph root meaning "come," and the verse will mean, "to add to [the blessing] that comes to you." That is to say, in the fourth year, we praise G-d for the fruits via blessing and redemption, while in the fifth year, we may eat the fruits with a blessing, with no redemption needed. However, the fifth-year blessing that we recite and with which we praise Hashem gains us the "added value" of a special relationship of honor and respect between us and Hashem, as written: "I am the Lord your G-d."
Can there be a more wonderful gift?!