1

Separating Terumah and Maaser

Shampooed Tevel

“I have been looking for a specialty shampoo that contains oat bran. Someone found it in a very expensive store, and it does exactly what I want. One day, after showering, I noticed the label says that it is made in Israel! Does this mean that it is prohibited as tevel (produce that did not have terumah or maaser separated)?”

Introduction

The end of parshas Korach contains many references to various mitzvos that the Torah calls “terumah.” In Modern Hebrew, any charitable donation is called a “terumah,” but, in the Torah, this word means an “elevated portion” and can refer to numerous sanctified foods, including korbanos, challah, bikkurim, maaser, and what we usually call terumah and terumas maaser. The fact that the term “terumah” may refer to so many different things is one reason why a superficial reading of the end of parshas Korach can be confusing, unless you study it with Rashi or a different commentary (such as that of Rav Hirsch) that explains the parsha according to the Torah she’be’al peh.

The pesukim in parshas Korach that discuss what we call terumah read as follows: “And Hashem spoke to Aharon: Behold, I have hereby given you the guarding of my terumah… Of the best of the oil, of the best of the wine (tirosh) and grain, the first of what is given to Hashem I have given to you (Bamidbar 18, 1,12).”

Note that the Torah mentions terumah of oil, referring to the olive crop, of tirosh, usually understood to mean as yet unfermented wine (also known as unpasteurized grape juice), and of grain. This implies that the mitzvah min haTorah of separating terumah applies only to olive oil, wine and grain. Indeed, most authorities understand that, min haTorah, the requirement to separate terumos and maasros applies only to the five species of grain (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats), grapes, olives, grape juice, wine and olive oil (see Sifra). The requirement to separate terumos and maasros on other fruits and vegetables is rabbinic.

In Chazal’s terminology, the various gifts provided to the kohein and others are called matanos, gifts. These matanos have varying levels of sanctity:

A. Very holy, that may be eaten only by male kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash and only when someone is completely tahor;

B. Somewhat less holy, that min haTorah may be eaten anywhere by a kohein’s immediate household, provided that they are completely tahor;

C. Lesser sanctity that may be eaten by anyone, but only in Yerushalayim and when tahor;

D. No sanctity at all, and, although required to be donated, may be eaten by anyone.

Seven of these “gift” agricultural mitzvos or matanos can be organized in the following way:

1. Bikkurim (sanctity level: B)

The first fruits of the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is lauded, which are brought to the Beis Hamikdash. These are treated with the same level of sanctity as terumah¸ which we will explain shortly.

2. Terumah gedolah, usually called just “terumah(sanctity level: B)

The separation from produce grown in Eretz Yisrael that the Torah requires we give to the kohein. There is a requirement miderabbanan to separate terumah and maasros also outside Eretz Yisrael, but, according to most authorities, only in lands that are adjacent to Eretz Yisrael. (Because of space considerations, we will not be discussing the vast halachic literature that debates whether there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros today in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which border on Eretz Yisrael. For the same reason, we will not discuss where the borders of Eretz Yisrael are, germane to these mitzvos.We will also not discuss the question as to whether there is a mitzvah to separate terumos and maasros on produce grown by a non-Jew on a non-Jew’s land, because the accepted practice, going back hundreds of years, is to be lenient.)

How much terumah?

Min haTorah, there is no minimal requirement how much terumah one must give to a kohein; to quote Chazal, one wheat kernel given as terumah exempts an entire silo. In the days when the kohein could become completely tahor and then eat the terumah, Chazal instituted a minimal percentage of the crop that should be designated as terumah (one part in sixty, or 1.67%), but preferred that an individual give more. They allowed the individual latitude to decide how much he wants to donate as terumah: one part in forty (2.5%), one part in fifty (2%), or the minimum I mentioned above, one part in sixty (1.67%).

Produce that has not yet had terumos and maasros separated is called tevel, and may not be eaten or used.

We should also note that, according to accepted halacha, the obligation of separating terumos and maasros today is only miderabbanan, even on grain, grapes, and olives, until such time that most Jews, again, live in Eretz Yisrael.

3. Maaser rishon (sanctity level: D, but only after the terumas maaser is separated)

The first tithe (one tenth), given to the levi.

4. Terumas maaser (sanctity level: B)

A tithe separated by the levi from the maaser rishon that he receives, which the levi then gives to a kohein. Since the levi receives ten percent of the crop after terumah has been separated, and he, in turn, is separating ten percent of what he receives, terumas maaser adds up to one hundredth, 1%, of the crop.

Terumah and terumas maaser have the same sanctity, which means that, min haTorah, both of them may be eaten anywhere, but only by a kohein and most of his family and household members and only when both they and the terumah are completely tahor.

The accepted halacha is that the remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and may be eaten by anyone, notwithstanding the fact that there is a dispute among tana’im concerning this issue. If the levi chooses to, he may sell the maaser or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

A kohein or levi who has his own produce must separate terumos and maasros, although he may then keep what he is entitled to as a kohein or levi (Rambam, Hilchos Maasros 1:13; for details of this law, see Mishpetei Aretz, Terumos Umaasros 13:9).

5. Maaser sheini (sanctity level: C)

A second tithe, separated in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven-year shemittah cycle, that the owner keeps with plans to eat in Yerushalayim when he is tahor. Alternatively, the owner may redeem the maaser sheini’s kedusha onto coins. The coins are brought to Yerushalayim and used to purchase food that is eaten in Yerushalayim. Maaser sheini that is tahor may be eaten by anyone who is tahor and maaser sheini that is redeemed may be eaten by anyone and does not need to be kept tahor.

6. Maaser ani (sanctity level: D)

A different form of “second tithe,” given in years when there is no maaser sheini (i.e., the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle), that is given to the poor. Once separated, this maaser has no special sanctity and may be eaten by anyone, even by someone who is tamei, but it is property of the poor. The owner of the field decides to which poor person he gives the maaser ani.

Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are, usually, no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there are, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether one separates maaser sheini or maaser ani.

7. Challah (sanctity level: B)

A portion given to the kohein separated from dough. This “gift” has the level of sanctity of terumah.

Separating and giving

In general, most of these matanos require two stages to fulfill the mitzvah. The first stage is the proper separation, usually preceded by a brocha, and the second stage is giving the matanah to the appropriate party. As I mentioned above, in the case of maaser sheini, the owner keeps or redeems the produce (rather than giving it to someone). After redeeming maaser sheini, the fruit has no more sanctity.

There are several situations in which there is a mitzvah to separate terumos and maasros, but there is no mitzvah to give the matanah to a kohein, levi or poor person. The most common situation is when it is uncertain, a safek, whether there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros. We will discuss shortly one such example. In these instances, you are not required to give away the terumos and maasros. They are yours to sell, or even to eat, if there is no sanctity involved, such as maaser rishon or maaser ani (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 371:1).

There is another practical halachic difference when it is uncertain if there is a requirement to separate terumos and maasros: no brocha is recited prior to separating the terumos and maasros.

Using terumah

In today’s world, terumah has relatively little market value. Terumah tehorah may be eaten only by a kohein or his family members who are tehorim. Since we have no parah adumah, we cannot become fully tehorim today and therefore, no one can eat terumah tehorah.

Although terumah may not be eaten today, there are still two potential uses that may be made of terumah. Terumah olive oil may be kindled, but the light must be used by a kohein. If the terumah olive oil is tehorah,care must be taken not to make it tamei. Terumah temei’ah may be used by a kohein for kindling without this concern.

There is also the possibility of using terumah for feeding animals owned by a kohein, a topic that I will leave for a different time, because of space considerations.

The question now becomes what to do with terumah tehorah that has no practical use.

At the beginning of this article, I quoted the pasuk that Aharon was instructed regarding the guarding of my terumah. The term guarding, mishmeres, means that one is required to make sure the terumah is not actively destroyed or made tamei.

Since no one is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tehorah, we are neither permitted to eat it nor to destroy it because of the law of mishmeres. What does one do with it?

This is a dispute among halachic authorities, and one of the unusual situations in which Rav Moshe Feinstein disagreed with the opinion of rishonim, without finding a source in rishonim that agreed with him. According to the Sefer Haterumah and the Tur (Yoreh Deah, 331), the halacha requires that terumah tehorah be buried, so that no one mistakenly eats it. Rav Moshe rules that this is considered destroying terumah, since this causes the terumah to rot, which is prohibited. Instead, he requires placing the terumah tehorah in a place where it will be left undisturbed until it decays (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:129). A bin or box set aside for this purpose is called a pach terumah, where the terumah tehorah remains until inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this true?

Once terumah or tevel can no longer be eaten,  it loses its sanctity. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, maaser sheini and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). We burn the special challah portion after separating it only because it has become tamei. If the challah did not become tamei, one may not destroy it but must place it somewhere, until it decays on its own.

Shampooed tevel

At this point, we can discuss our opening question:

“I have been looking for a specialty shampoo that contains oat bran. Someone found it in a very expensive store, and it does exactly what I want. One day, after showering, I happened to look at the label and noticed that it says that it is made in Israel! Does this mean that it is prohibited as tevel?”

Indeed, our questioner may have surmised correctly that the oat bran mighthave once had the status of tevel. If the oats were grown for food, one would be required to separate from them terumos and maasros, and the oats would have a status of tevel until these are separated. However, if the oats were grown for animal feed, there would be no requirement terumos and maasros and no status of tevel. because oats are commonly grown as forage.

More germane to our discussion is that, even if the oats were grown for food, once mixed into the shampoo as an ingredient, they become inedible and lose their status as tevel. Whether they naturally decayed to a stage where they became inedible or were processed or mixed until that point, the kedusha of tevel, terumos and maasros is lost. So, our consumer may continue using the shampoo without any halachic concerns.

Other terumah rules

Cultivated food items, other than grain, grapes and olives, that grew in Eretz Yisrael are obligated in terumos and maasros miderabbanan. There are a few interesting exceptions: for example, there is no obligation to separate terumos and maasros from mushrooms; since they are fungi, they are not considered as growing from the ground. This also affects their brocha, which is shehakol and not ha’adamah.

If I might digress, here is an interesting nifla’os haborei experiment that you can perform yourself. Take some raw vegetables and microwave them for two minutes, and then do the same with some raw mushrooms. When you microwave the mushrooms there will be a considerable amount of water, which does not happen when you microwave the veggies. The reason is that vegetables draw water from the earth through their root, and therefore have no need to store a lot of water in the plant itself. However, mushrooms have no means to draw nutrients, including water, from the soil, and therefore store the water that they need in their cells. When you microwave them, this water is now released.

Ownerless produce

There is no requirement to separate terumos or maasros from produce that is ownerless, such as wild-growing wheat. Similarly, that which grows during shemittah year and is treated as hefker is exempt from terumos and maasros.

Plants grown as fodder, borders, cloth, seed, dyes or anything other than food are exempt from terumos and maasros. If part of the plant is eaten, but the seeds are usually not, the seeds are exempt from terumos and maasros. Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach ruled that produce such as barley, oats and corn (maize), which are predominantly grown as fodder, are exempt from terumos and maasros, unless they were originally planted for human consumption. In his opinion, if they were planted for food, and the farmer subsequently changed his mind and decided to use them as fodder, they are still obligated in terumos and maasros, since they were originally planted for food (Maadanei Aretz, Terumos 2:7:2).

Herbs and spices

As a general rule, plants grown for use only as herbs, spices or tea are exempt from terumos and maasros. It is disputed whether plants whose product is sometimes eaten as a dip is exempt from terumos and maasros. Therefore, accepted practice is to separate terumos and maasros from them without reciting a brocha first, and the owner may then keep the terumos and maasros, as explained above.

What does this mean in practice? Plants such as aloe vera (usually not eaten, but even when consumed, only as an herb), cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are all exempt from terumos and maasros. However, mustard, ginger and fenugreek should have terumos and maasros separated without a brocha. Although all three of these are used as spices, they also are made into dips or other foods, such as prepared mustard, candied ginger, or chilba, a popular Yemenite dip whose main ingredient is fenugreek.

Peels and shells of fruit that was not maasered are exempt from terumos and maasros if the peels and shells are usually not eaten. However, the peels of apples, pears and plums must be maasered, either as part of the entire fruit, or by themselves. In places where watermelon seeds are considered a snack food, as in Eretz Yisrael today, they are obligated in terumos and maasros. The Chazon Ish ruled that candied orange peel is exempt from terumos and maasros because oranges are not grown for the peel; it is a by-product that someone figured out how to make useful.

Many years ago, when I was involved in kashrus supervision in North America, a similar shaylah was raised. A company that I was overseeing produced, predominantly, various citrus and mint flavors and products, many of them extracted or distilled. Among the many raw materials that were used were oils extracted from the peels of various citrus fruits, which were then processed and used as flavors. Some of the oils were extracted from Israeli produce, and the question was whether there was a requirement to separate terumos and maasros from these peels. The poskim of the kashrus organization ruled that there was no requirement to do so, since peels of citrus fruits are not usually eaten.

Conclusion

Many generations had to be content with reading about Eretz Yisroel and imagining what it might be like to visit. We are fortunate to live in a time when visiting and living in Eretz Yisroel is a reality, and we should be filled with hakoras hatov that we can traverse the land that was promised to our forefathers. Inhabiting our native land includes many special laws that apply within its borders, and we should all be familiar with these special laws. Eretz Yisroel and its special mitzvos provide us with a direct relationship with Hashem, for which we should all strive.




A Shmittah Glossary

This Shabbos is parshas Ki Savo, 10 days before Rosh Hashanah of shmittah year.

We are at the end of the sixth year of the shmittah cycle. Most chutz la’aretz residents are not that familiar with the laws of shmittah that will affect those who live in Eretz Yisroel every day next year. Actually, the laws can and do affect people living in chutz la’aretz also. This article will focus on explaining a basic glossary of shmittah-related terms.

Among the terms that we will learn are the following:

Biur

Havla’ah

Heter mechirah

Heter otzar beis din

Issur sechorah

Kedushas shvi’is

Ne’evad

Otzar beis din

Pach shvi’is

Sefichin

Shamur

Tefisas damim

First, let us discuss the basics:

Basic laws of the land

In Parshah Behar, the Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah. We are prohibited from plowing, planting or working the land of Eretz Yisroel in any way and must leave our land fallow. It is even prohibited to have a gentile work a Jew’s land (Avodah Zarah 15b), just as one may not hire a gentile to do work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. The landowner himself also may pick as much as his family will eat (see Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 4:1).

The landowner should make sure that others know that they may help themselves to the produce. One may not sell, in a business manner, the produce that grows on its own.

Kedushas shvi’is

The Torah declared vehoysah shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shmittah should be used only for food” (Vayikra 25:6), thereby imbuing the fruits and vegetables that grow in shmittah year with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is. There are many ramifications of this status, such as, the produce that grows during shmittah year should be used only for consumption and should be eaten (or drunk) only in the usual way. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hilchos Shvi’is 5:3). One may not eat raw shmittah potatoes, nor may one cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges. It would certainly be prohibited to use shmittah corn for gasohol or any other form of biofuel.

Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shmittah oranges or apricots to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the fruit adds taste to the roast or cake, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these types of fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shmittah produce and is prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered superior to the fruit itself. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shvi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

Food and not feed

One may feed shmittah produce to animals only when it is not fit for human consumption, such as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:5). Last shmittah, a neighbor of mine, or perhaps his turtle, had a problem: The turtle is fond of lettuce, and won’t eat grass. One may feed animals grass that grew in Eretz Yisroel during shmittah, but one may not feed them lettuce that grew during shmittah.

Jewish consumption

Shmittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although one may invite a gentile to join your meal that includes shmittah food (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

Although some authorities rule that there is a mitzvah to eat shmittah produce, most contend that there is no obligation to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah permits us to eat it (Chazon Ish, Hilchos Shvi’is 14:10).

Don’t destroy edibles

One may not actively destroy shmittah produce suitable for human consumption. Therefore, one who has excess shvi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way.

Peels that are commonly eaten, such as apple peels, still have kedushas shvi’is and may not simply be disposed. Instead, we place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shvi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shmittah produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this true?

Once the shmittah produce can no longer be eaten, it loses its kedushas shvi’is. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the many mitzvos where this principle applies. There are several other mitzvos where, in theory, this rule applies – meaning that the items have kedushah that governs how they may be consumed, but once they are no longer edible, this kedushah disappears. The mitzvos that this rule applies to are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini. However, although this rule applies to these mitzvos, in practice we cannot observe it since produce that has kedusha cannot be consumed by someone who is tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). This explains why most people are unfamiliar with the rules of kedushas shvi’is.

When eating shmittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shmittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage. Instead, they can be scraped into the pach shvi’is.

Issur sechorah – commercial use

One may not harvest the produce of one’s field or tree in order to sell it in commercial quantities or in a business manner (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7; Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 6:1). For example, shmittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah, Shvi’is 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 7:1).

Tefisas damim

If one trades or sells shmittah produce, the food or money received in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shvi’is. This means that the money should be used only to purchase food that will itself now have the laws of shmittah produce. The original produce also maintains its kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b).

Havla’ah

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havla’ah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havla’ah to “purchase” an esrog that has shmittah sanctity, without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas shvi’is. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas shvi’is. Can he avoid this occurring?

Yes, he may. If Shimon sells Reuven two items at the same time, one that has kedushas shvi’is and the other does not, he should sell him the item that does not have kedushas shvi’is at a high price, and the item that has kedushas shvi’is accompanies it as a gift. This method works, even though everyone realizes that this is a means of avoiding imbuing the sales money with kedushas shvi’is.

Shamur and ne’evad

According to many (and perhaps most) rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shmittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see Ra’avad and Ba’al Ha’maor to Sukkah 39a). This produce is called shamur. Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shmittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a). This produce is called ne’evad.

Shmittah exports

The Mishnah (Shvi’is 6:5) prohibits exporting shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel. Some recognized authorities specifically permit exporting shmittah wine and esrogim, although the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz Hakodesh, Volume 1 #15:4). This approach is the basic halachic reason to permit the export of esrogim that grow during shmittah next year for Sukkos, 5783. (The esrogim for this coming year will all be from the pre-shmittah crop and not involve any shmittah concerns.)

Sefichin

As explained in last week’s article, the prohibition of sefichin does not refer to perennials that do not require planting every year. Although trees and other perennials definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, most will produce even if left unattended for a year and the farmer has less incentive to violate shmittah by tending his trees.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. (If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shmittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur.)

Biur shevi’is

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur shvi’is. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the eradication of chometz performed each year before Pesach. One of the laws that applies to shmittah produce is that once a specific species is no longer available in the field, one can no longer keep shmittah produce from that species in one’s possession. At this point, one must perform a procedure called biur shvi’is. Although there is a dispute among the rishonim as to the exact definition and requirements of biur shvi’is, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shmittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that I picked shmittah apricots and canned them as jam. When no more apricots are available in the field, I must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 9:5). I may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shmittah produce becomes prohibited.

Otzar beis din

What is an otzar beis din? Literally, the words means “a storehouse operated by beis din.” Why would a beis din be operating a storehouse? Did they need to impound so much merchandise while doing litigation? No, let me explain.

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But what about people who live far from the orchard? How will they utilize their right to pick shmittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help! The beis din represents the public interest by hiring people to pick and transport the produce to a distribution center near the consumer. Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they are also entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills and experience in knowing how to manage this operation. This is all legitimate use of an otzar beis din.

Who pays for otzar beis din services? The otzar beis din divides its costs among the consumers. The charges to the user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the products to the consumers, and may not include any profit for the finished product (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items, since there should be no profit margin. (See Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:3 that shvi’is produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

Please note that all the halachos of kedushas shevi’is apply to otzar beis din produce. Also note that acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing” since you are not buying the fruit, but receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively to defray operating costs. Therefore, the money paid for otzar beis din produce does not have kedushas shvi’is, because it is compensation for expenses and not in exchange for the shmittah fruit (Minchas Shlomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250).

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from biur. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker.

Heter otzar beis din

The modern term “Heter otzar beis din” is used pejoratively. The purpose of an otzar beis din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as I explained above. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of otzar beis din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and the halacha of shmittah. If the farmer is operating with a true otzar beis din, he will allow people to enter his field and help themselves to the produce. If he bars people, then he is violating the basic laws of shmittah and his produce distribution is not according to otzar beis din principles. Similarly, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of otzar beis din. These cases are disparagingly referred to as heter otzar beis din; meaning they reflect abuse of the concept of otzar beis din.

Conclusion

Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shvi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created His world in six days, thereby making the seventh day and the seventh year holy.




To Dew or Not to Dew

Photo by Denk900 from FreeImages

Question #1: To dew or not to dew

“Why does nusach Sfard recite morid hatal during the summer davening and nusach Ashkenaz does not?”

Question #2: Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why does everyone in Eretz Yisroel recite morid hatal? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

Question #3: Where am I?

“In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?”

Background

This article will explore the background behind the variant customs regarding the recital of morid hatal. I note that during the time of the rishonim, there were various other nuscha’os, versions of the text, all now in disuse, including one text used during the winter months, “morid hagoshem” without the preceding words mashiv haruach, and another version, mashiv haruach umorid hageshem vehatal, adding a reference to dew during the winter months.

Mashiv haruach in the summer?

Furthermore, between Pesach and Sukkos there is another version, mashiv haruach umorid hatal, which, although included in tefillas tal that we recite in shul on the first day of Pesach, has for the most part fallen into disuse except for those who follow nusach hagra.

Introduction

At this point, let us begin with the basics. The second brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei is called “Gevuros,” because it describes Hashem’s greatness, and therefore begins with the words Atah Gibor, “You are great.” Let us study the text of the brocha, which, upon even cursory examination, is replete with redundancy.

“You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead; You are abundantly able to save.” It is at this point that the words mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, morid hatal, or their alternatives are added, depending on custom and time of year. We can ask, “Why, indeed, is mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem inserted at this point?”

The brocha then continues: “He provides the living with loving kindness. He revives the dead with great mercy. He supports those who are falling, heals the ill, releases the bound and fulfills His promise to those who sleep in the earth. Who is like You, the Master of might, and who is comparable to You, King Who brings death, restores life and brings the sprouting of salvation. You are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who brings the dead to life.”

Four resurrections

The Ritva (Taanis 2a) notes that the brocha contains four references to techiyas hameisim, resurrection, which is seemingly highly redundant. They are:

1. “You, Hashem, are powerful forever! You revive the dead;”

2. “He revives the dead with great mercy.”

3. “King Who brings death (and) restores life.”

4. “You are faithful to revive the dead.”

Four types of resurrection

The Ritva explains that there is no redundancy, because each of the four refers to a different type of resurrection.

(1) The first refers to rain that provides food for life. In the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi, “Just as techiyas hameisim brings life to the world, so rain brings life to the world.” Now we understand why mashiv haruach is recited just at this point of the Shemoneh Esrei.

(2) The second is when Hashem brings people back from the brink of their demise, be it illness or other travail.

(3) The third is when the prophets, such as Eliyahu and Elisha, brought people back to life.

(4) The fourth is a reference to the ultimate techiyas hameisim.

Mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Mishnah rules that between Sukkos and Pesach one should add mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem to the second brocha of Shemoneh Esrei. The Gemara states that one may recite mashiv haruach, which praises Hashem for providing wind, or morid hatal, which praises Hashem for providing dew, but that neither of these praises is required. To quote the Gemara: “Concerning dew and winds, our Sages did not require reciting them, but if he wants to, he may” (Taanis 3a). The Gemara proceeds to ask why this is true, to which it answers that winds and dew never cease. Praising Hashem for their daily occurrence is similar to praying that the sun rise in the morning. Although it is absolutely essential for our existence, Chazal did not institute a special prayer for this. For this reason, in the time of the rishonim, several different customs developed. Some thanked Hashem for the wind all year round, whereas others never recited such a prayer at all, neither in summer nor in winter. There were those who thanked Hashem for providing dew all year round, and those who never did.

With time, one practice became accepted. When we thank Hashem for rain (which is required), we also thank him for wind. Notwithstanding the statement of the Gemara that it is not required to say mashiv haruach, the universal custom is to say it when we say morid hagoshem. This is because the wind that accompanies the rain helps keep the ground from becoming too wet (Mishnah Berurah 114:11).

At this point, we understand the basic brocha. We can also understand why Chazal instituted mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem in the winter months, particularly in Eretz Yisroel and Bavel, when it rains only at that time of year.

Forgot mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem

The Talmud Yerushalmi rules: “If it is the season when he should say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, and he said tal, he is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.” Yet, the Yerushalmi quotes another source that if someone neglected to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. The Yerushalmi answers that this latter source is discussing a case when someone said neither morid hatal nor morid hagoshem; in this instance, he must repeat Shemoneh Esrei. But if he mentioned tal, and not geshem, he does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei. This ruling is accepted.

Birkas Hashanim

As we know, Chazal also instituted reciting a request for rain, vesein tal umatar, in the ninth brocha of Shemoneh Esrei, birkas hashanim. The difference between mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” and vesein tal umatar, “Grant dew and rain upon the face of the earth,” is that the first is praise of Hashem and, therefore, it is inserted into the second brocha of our davening, both on weekdays and Shabbos, since the first three brochos of the Shemoneh Esrei are devoted to praise. The second is a prayer beseeching Hashem to provide rain, and as such is recited in birkas hashanim, the appropriate brocha of the weekday Shemoneh Esrei.

Missed them

Should one forget to recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or vesein tal umatar when required, one is obligated to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. However, there is a halachic difference between the two that is already noted by the Tur. Should one recite morid hatal in the second brocha, praising Hashem for providing dew, rather than mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, one is not required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Nevertheless, when required to recite vesein tal umatar, someone who recited only vesein tal and omitted a request for rain is required to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei.

To dew or not to dew

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: Why do some people recite morid hatal during the summer davening, and others do (or should I say “dew”) not?

The answer is that, although one is never required to recite morid hatal, if he said it instead of saying mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Thus, there is an advantage to reciting it, because, should he recite it by mistake when he is required to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem, he does not need to repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. Similarly, someone who is uncertain whether to say mashiv haruach umorid hagoshem or not should recite morid hatal and they have fulfilled the requirement that Chazal created.

The minhag of nusach Sfard is to follow this approach, and that has also become the prevalent practice in Eretz Yisroel, even among those who daven nusach Ashkenaz. But it has nothing to do with being in Eretz Yisroel.

Sanctity of Eretz Yisroel?

We can also now answer the second of our opening questions:

“I know that many agricultural mitzvos, such as terumos, maasros and shemittah, apply only in Eretz Yisroel. But why do they recite morid hatal there? What does the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel have to do with whether we recite morid hatal or not?”

The answer to this question is historical, and not halachic. The origin of the Ashkenazic community of Eretz Yisroel was from the students of the Baal Shem Tov, who were all Chassidim and davened nusach Sfard, or from disciples of the Gra, who recited morid hatal in davening notwithstanding that they davened nusach Ashkenaz. Although there was a major influx of Ashkenazic Jews to Eretz Yisroel in the 1930’s, after the Nazis took power in Germany, for the most part they accepted the nusach Ashkenaz that was then practiced in Eretz Yisroel. This included reciting morid hatal in shmoneh esrei, reciting Hallel in shul with a brocha the night of the Seder, duchening daily, the omission of the brocha Baruch Hashem le’olam in weeknight maariv and various similar practices.

Where am I?

At this point, we have enough of an introduction that we can begin to understand the background to the last of our opening questions: “In error, I recited vesein tal umatar during the davening on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Someone told me that I do not recite Shemoneh Esrei again, because I live in the United States. What difference does it make where I live?” First, let us examine the following story shared by the Gemara (Taanis 14b):

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent the following shaylah to Rebbe: Our city requires rain even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals and request rain in the brocha of Shema Koleinu, or like a community and recite ve’sein tal umatar during the brocha of Boreich Aleinu? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals, and should request rain during the brocha of Shema Koleinu.”

The Gemara subsequently demonstrates that the tanna Rabbi Yehudah disagreed with Rebbe, and contended that they should recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of Boreich Aleinu.

This controversy recurred in the times of the early amora’im, approximately one hundred years later, when the disputants were Rav Nachman and Rav Sheishes. Rav Sheishes contended, as did Rebbe, that during the summer the Nineveh residents should recite vesein tal umatar in Shema Koleinu, whereas Rav Nachman ruled that they should recite it in Boreich Aleinu, following Rabbi Yehudah. The Gemara concludes that it should be recited in Shema Koleinu, and this is the conclusion of all halachic authorities.

Why not add?

Germane to understanding this passage of Gemara, a concern is raised by the rishonim. Halacha permits adding appropriate personal requests to the appropriate brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei. For example, one may include a prayer for the recovery of an individual during the brocha of Refa’einu, or request assistance for Torah study into the brocha of Chonein Hadaas. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 8a) rules that someone who needs livelihood may add a personal supplication to the brocha of Boreich Aleinu. Therefore, the question rises: If one may add his personal request for parnasah, why could the people of Nineveh not add their own personal requests for rain during Boreich Aleinu?

The rishonim present two answers to this question:

1. Since rain in the summer months can be harmful in some places, one may not pray for rain in birkas hashanim when this prayer is detrimental to others. A request for livelihood is different, since granting a respectful livelihood is never harmful to someone else.

2. This is the version of the prayer that Chazal instituted for the winter months, and they established a different text for the summer months. Therefore, reciting vesein tal umatar in birkas hashanim during the summer conflicts with the text that Chazal established for this brocha, in Hebrew called the matbei’a she’tav’u chachamim. One is not permitted to change the text of Chazal’s established prayers, although one may add personal supplications to them.

The Rosh understands that Nineveh could not recite their own personal request for rain in Boreich Aleinu because a city cannot make its own policy regarding the text of a brocha, but an entire country, defined as a large area, may. For this reason, he ruled that in Spain or Germany, where they needed rain after Pesach, they could recite Vesein Matar in Boreich Aleinu whenever their country needs rain.

Although the opinion of the Rosh is not accepted, someone who erred and davened in a way that the Rosh considers correct, should not repeat the Shemoneh Esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 117:2).

Conclusion

Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power; one should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually absorb the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them!

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening builds our relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!




The Borders: How Much is Ours?

Question #1: Exotic Island Fruit

jaffa-israel“According to my grocer, this fruit grew on an island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Israel. Is it prohibited because of orlah?”

Question #2: The Golan

Is the Golan part of Biblical Eretz Yisroel?

Question #3: Cairo

“Is Cairo in Israel?”

Answer:

To answer these questions, we need to clarify what are the areas and boundaries of Eretz Yisroel. Many of the laws concerning the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, the agricultural mitzvos, as well as some other halachos are affected by the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, so it behooves us to know exactly which areas are holy and which are not. As we will soon learn, researching this topic requires not only a thorough knowledge of the Gemara passages involved, but also knowledge of Tanach, geography, topography and history. We will begin with some basic study of the relevant Chumash.

Introduction

In several places in Chumash, the borders of the Promised Land are mentioned, including:

  1. Avraham Avinu is promised that his descendants will receive the land from the “River of Egypt” to the “great river, the Euphrates” (Bereishis 15:18).
  2. In Parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:31), the Torah tells us, I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea until the Sea of the Philistines and from the desert until the river.
  3. There is a very detailed description of the borders of the Promised Land in Parshas Masei, which we will discuss shortly.
  4. At the beginning of Parshas Devorim, the Torah describes the different areas of Eretz Yisroel: Travel for yourselves along the mountains of the Emori and its neighboring areas, in the Aravah, in the mountains, in the lowlands, in the Negev, along the seashore; the land of the Canaanites and Lebanon, until the great river, the Euphrates (Devorim 1:7).
  5. There is another brief description at the very end of Parshas Eikev, where it says: Every place upon which the sole of your foot will tread will be yours: from the desert and Lebanon, from the Euphrates River until the far sea will be your border.

In addition to these descriptions in the Torah, there are also references in Nach, notably in the books of Yehoshua (1:4; and the entire chapter 15) and Yechezkel (Chapter 47:15-22).

History

As I mentioned above, history actually affects, in a significant way, whether a particular area has kedushas Eretz Yisroel. Min hatorah, after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash by the Babylonians, the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz apply only to land that was part of the area settled by the Jews when they returned to Eretz Yisroel to build the second Beis Hamikdash in the days of Ezra. In other words, these laws no longer apply Min hatorah in the areas settled by Yehoshua, unless they were also part of the later Jewish settlement, referred to as the second Jewish commonwealth (Shevi’is 6:1).

The Gemara teaches that areas that were conquered at the time of Yehoshua lost their sanctity when the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians. The Rambam (Hilchos Terumos 1:5) explains that since these lands were obtained via conquest, subsequent invasion and defeat of the Jewish nation caused the sanctity to lapse.

However, those areas that became obligated in mitzvos in the days of Ezra retained their sanctity, even after the Roman conquest and destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, notwithstanding that the Jews had again lost sovereignty over the Holyland.

Shevi’is

Regarding the laws of shevi’is, those areas conquered by Yehoshua but not settled in the days of Ezra may not be worked during shemittah year; but, Chazal were more lenient regarding some of the other applicable laws (Shevi’is 6:1).

Transjordan, the territory east of the Jordan River known in halachah as eiver hayarden, is not part of the Promised Land, yet it is usually included under the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz. We have the anomalous situation in which an area that was not promised to us is sanctified with kedushas ha’aretz, whereas much of the area promised to us is not.

Thus, when defining which areas are included under the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, we take into consideration several factors:

Where is this land? Is it part of the Promised Land?

Is this part of the land that Moshe conquered?

Is this part of the land that Yehoshua conquered?

Is it within the area settled in the days of Ezra?

This week’s parshah

Let us now examine the most detailed of the descriptions provided by the Torah, the one in Parshas Masei.

This is the land that will fall to you as your possession – the Land of Canaan, according to its borders. And the southern edge begins from the Desert of Tzin near Edom. The easternmost point of your southern border shall be the edge of the Dead Sea. Then the border will turn southward to the Heights of Akrabim and then pass to Tzin, from where it will extend southward to Kadeish Barnea. It will then turn to Chazar Adar and pass to Atzmon. The border will then turn from Atzmon to the Stream of Egypt and extend towards the sea.

The western border will be the Great Sea and its “gevul,” its territory; that will be for you the western border.

And this will be your northern border: From the Great Sea, you should turn to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor, you should turn as you were going to Chamos, and the border extends then to Tzedad. The border then turns to Zifron and extends to Chatzar Einan; this will be for you the northern border.

And demarcate for yourselves the eastern border from Chatzar Einan to Shefam. The border will then run down from Shefam in the direction of Rivlah to the east of Ayin. The border will then run down and extend to the eastern shoulder of the Kineret Sea. From there, the border will run down the Jordan and extend to the Dead Sea. This will be for you the land with all its borders all around (Bamidbar 34:2-12).

There is a vast literature attempting to identify the various place names mentioned here, which includes explaining the distinction in nuance among the different terms (“run down,” “extend,” “going to,” “turn,” etc.), and attempting to correlate this description with the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel as they are mentioned in other places in Tanach. It is well beyond the scope of this article to provide an exhaustive study of all the works written on the subject. We should note that many great historical figures who were talmidei chachamim have endeavored to identify the borders of Eretz Yisroel and the descriptions of the pesukim, and that the discussion continues in the contemporary world. For the purpose of this article, we will be content with a few relatively sparce observations.

The southern border

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the easternmost point of the southern border to be the Dead Sea and its westernmost point to be the Stream of Egypt. Note that Avraham Avinu was promised from the River (in Hebrew, nahar) of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Masei, we are promised from the Stream (in Hebrew, nachal) of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? If they are not, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

According to most interpretations, they are not the same — the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that one day in the future, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal, thereby capturing the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur war. As Rashi explains, Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders the Bnei Yisrael will or did possess upon entering the Land in the days of Yehoshua. The Malbim (in his commentary to Bamidbar 34) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devorim 11:24) also reflect a promise in our distant future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua. According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisroel.

The Ramban (Devorim 11:24), however, explains this verse differently, understanding that the borders of Parshas Eikev describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisroel, a topic that we will leave for a different time.

A river or a stream?

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Masei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisroel promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisroel! Thus, the third of our opening questions “Is Cairo in Israel?” is actually a serious question, and technically is the subject of a dispute among halachic authorities.

We will return to our discussion of the southern border; but first, let us complete our reading of the other three borders.

The western border

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the western border of Eretz Yisroel:

The western border will be the Great Sea, and its territory [“ugevul”]; that will be for you the western border. (I have followed the translation of Rav Hirsch that the word gevul means its territory.) According to the Gemara (Gittin 8a), the word ugevul teaches that there are islands in the Mediterranean that are halachically considered part of Eretz Yisroel. There, the Gemara quotes a dispute between tanna’im regarding which islands located in the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” of the pasuk, are halachically part of Eretz Yisroel and which are not. Rabbi Yehudah contends that the word ugevul means that any island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Eretz Yisroel is imbued with the sanctity of the Holyland, whereas the Rabbonon’s understanding includes a more limited area. They draw an imaginary line from the northwesternmost point of Eretz Yisroel to its southwesternmost point and include only islands that are east of this imaginary line. In practice, there are very few islands in this small corridor of the eastern Mediterranean that are directly west of Eretz Yisroel.

Orlah in chutz la’aretz

Although the mitzvah of orlah, the prohibition of benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years, applies to fruit grown outside of Eretz Yisroel, its law is far stricter on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel. In Eretz Yisroel, one may not use a fruit without first determining that the fruit is very unlikely to be orlah. In chutz la’aretz, the fruit is prohibited only when one is certain that it is orlah.

Islands in the Mediterranean

This allows us to discuss the first of our opening questions: “According to my grocer, this fruit grew on an island in the Mediterranean that is directly west of Israel. Is it prohibited because of orlah?”

We now know that if this island is imbued with the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, then we may not use the fruit unless we are fairly certain that it is not orlah. However, if the island is outside Eretz Yisroel we may consume the fruit, as long as we are uncertain that it is orlah. According to Rabbi Yehudah, any Mediterranean island directly west of Eretz Yisroel is imbued with the sanctity of the Holyland, and fruit grown on this island needs to be treated with the same stringency as fruit growing on the mainland. According to the Rabbonon, which is the normative halachah, only islands that are very near Eretz Yisroel are halachically part of the Holyland, because they are east of the “line” that runs from the northwest corner of Eretz Yisroel to its southwest corner. Since there are very few islands in this small corridor of the eastern Mediterranean, from a practical perspective, one may assume that the fruit in the grocery does not have kedushas Eretz Yisroel.

The northern border

Parshas Masei’s description of the northern border begins at the Mediterranean (The Great Sea) at Mount Hor and then passes through Chamos, Tzedad, Zifron and Chatzar Einan. There are widely variant opinions as to where these places are. Some contend that Mount Hor is as far north as southern Turkey, others placing it north of Latakia, in contemporary Syria, whereas others peg it much further south, not far from Beirut. All opinions have it considerably further north than any of the borders of the contemporary State of Israel.

The eastern border

Parshas Masei’s description of the eastern border has it beginning in the north at Chatzar Einan and then running through Shefam, Rivlah, east of Ayin to the eastern shoulder of the Kineret, down the Jordan River and into the Dead Sea. We should note that, according to most, if not all, opinions, the northeastern area of Eretz Yisroel extends much further east than the Jordan. According to all of the Torah’s descriptions, the Jordan is the eastern border of the central plain of Eretz Yisroel. Thus, the area northeast of the central plain, what we call today the area of the Golan and further north, is much wider than the central part of Eretz Yisroel, which extends only until the Jordan.

In addition, Transjordan, or the area east of the Jordan River, which had previously been controlled by Sichon and Og, came under Jewish rule as the eiver hayarden prior to the entry into Eretz Yisroel proper, notwithstanding the fact that it was not part of the Promised Land. This was the area settled by the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe.

Difficult passage

At this point, let us examine a very difficult, albeit brief, passage of the Torah. The Torah, in Parshas Mishpatim, describes the borders of Eretz Yisroel as extending from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines and from the desert until the river? There are several questions here: First, when did Eretz Yisroel ever extend to the Red Sea (the Yam Suf), which is in Egypt? Certainly, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the Bnei Yisroel, did not immediately arrive in the Promised Land when they crossed the Yam Suf! (However, see Tosafos, Arachin 15a s.v. Kesheim.)

Second, the Mediterranean, which is the Sea of the Philistines, is the western border of Eretz Yisroel. How then could Eretz Yisroel be described as stretching from the Yam Suf, on its west, to the Mediterranean, also to its west?

The Rashbam explains that the Torah means that the Yam Suf is the eastern border of Eretz Yisroel and that from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines means from east to west. This follows the approach of the Rashbam’s grandfather, Rashi (Shemos 10:19), who explains the Torah to mean from the Yam Suf on the east, meaning, presumably, from the Gulf of Eilat (also called the Gulf of Aqaba), which is an inlet of the Red Sea, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west. According to this approach, from the desert until the river means from the desert on the south to the Euphrates on the north. A result of this calculation is that the entire Negev is within the southern borders of Eretz Yisroel.

The Netziv rejects the approach of Rashi and the Rashbam. The obvious reason for his criticism is that the Gulf of Eilat is not, by far, the easternmost point of Eretz Yisroel, so why would this be used as a promise of the expansion of the land? The Netziv contends that the Yam Suf, the Red Sea, is meant to be the southern border, and that from the Yam Suf until the Sea of the Philistines means from south to west, notwithstanding, as he notes, the fact that one usually describes an expanse from opposite sides; here, it is not the case. The Netziv, therefore, explains that from the desert until the river refers not to the desert of the southern border of Eretz Yisroel, but the eastern border. This means that the border referred to is neither the Sinai desert nor the Negev, but the Jordanian desert, and it is including Transjordan, after it was conquered from Sichon and Og.

Conclusion

Many generations had to be content with reading about Eretz Yisroel and imagining what the descriptions of its borders mean. We are fortunate to live in a time when visiting and even living in Eretz Yisroel is a reality. We should be filled with hakoras hatov that we can traverse the land that was promised to our forefathers. Inhabiting our native land reminds us that it is a land of elevated kedushah, and therefore requires special laws that apply within the halachic borders of this special land. Furthermore, living in Eretz Yisroel provides us with a direct relationship to Hashem, for which we should all strive.