Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
The parsha of Re’ei contains the laws of the year of shmita, one of which is that all loans are erased once shmita begins. The pasuk cautions us, however, not to avoid lending money out of fear that the debt will expire, and instead exhorts us to grant loans no matter what, in exchange for which Hashem will bless us.
Just as with everything He commands us to do, Hashem observes shmita Himself. All of this is of particular interest now, since we are nearing the beginning of a shmita year, which is why we need to understand what the spiritual significance of this mitzva is, and how exactly Hashem keeps it.
Clearing Our Debts
When someone receives a loan, he’s fully entitled to spend the money on whatever he wishes, as if it were his, until the time arrives to pay his debt. This is unlike safekeeping, even a rental, where the object and who it belongs to remain unchanged.
Hashem similarly grants us physical things, banei, chayei and mezonei, which we are free to use as we wish, yet we also become indebted as a result: Money has to go to tzedaka, children must be raised properly, and we need to use our health for spiritual pursuits. However, when shmita arrives, the debts are erased and we start anew, as if the past never happened. By contrast, when a prozbol is written and the lender hands responsibility for his debts over to beis din, then this law of shmita doesn’t apply and the loan still stands.
A reckoning of what we’ve received, how we’ve used it, and what we owe, is important, although it shouldn’t be made too often, just as acting that way in a business would paralyze operations. In both cases, it’s best done from time to time, and spiritually speaking, we must focus during the day on Torah and mitzvos, only pausing during krias shma before sleeping to take stock. If that’s too hard, then it should be done once a week on Thursday night, or else once a month on erev rosh chodesh. Beyond that, once a year during Elul, and, at the very least, once every seven years come shmita.
And if we haven’t minded our obligations properly and our debts have piled up, then there’s no need for despair since shmita absolves us of our unmet commitments, and just like the halacha down here, Hashem is obligated to issue us a new loan without dwelling on the past.
Don’t Be Judgemental
But just as debts only expire when owed to an individual, a yachid, not to beis din, similarly, one can’t expect leniency when answering to the Heavenly beis din, who show no mercy in judgment. Only when Hashem, the ultimate Yachid, is directly involved can we expect a positive outcome. Whether we face the beis din or Hashem Himself though depends on our own attitude; when we make a positive commitment to improve, but we insist on acting strictly ‘al pi din,’ checking every detail to ensure that we aren’t exceeding our obligations, whether only learning or davening for the minimum time required, or not giving tzedaka beyond maaser, then the Heavenly beis din gets involved and they respond strictly as well.
But when we surpass our limitations, when we sit down and learn as if this is our full-time occupation, and we approach tefila and tzedaka with similar energy, then we aren’t subjected to din. Even if some things aren’t in order, but we generally operate lifnim mi’shuras ha’din, then we can be confident that we won’t face the judgment of beis din but rather the mercy of Hashem Himself.
So when we’re aware of our shortcomings and ‘debts,’ and shmita approaches, we must ensure that we aren’t under the jurisdiction of ‘beis din,’ and we can therefore allow our debts to Hashem to expire. “L’cha Hashem ha’tzedaka, v’lanu boshes ha’panim,” when we’re shamefaced by our state and resolve to address it, then we qualify for Hashem’s tzedaka, and we receive a sweet new year without limitations.
.לקוטי שיחות חלק ב’ ע’ 626. וראה תורת מנחם חלק ו’ ע’ 148 הע’ 22