Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Introduction to Sheviit

Introduction to Sheviit   There are three passages in the Torah which deal with the topic of sheviit, the sabbatical year.  Throughout our learning of Sheviit we will make frequent reference to these passages, so for ease of reference, I have quoted them all here in full, from the JPS translation.   Exodus 23:10-11 10 […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction As with many mishnayot, our mishnah begins with the first chronological point of the sabbatical laws, the sixth year which proceeds the sabbatical year.  According to the rabbis, some of the sabbatical year prohibitions begin in the sixth year. This concept is called “tosefet sheviit”—the additional time of […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned up until what point before the sabbatical year one may plow an orchard. Today we learn how many trees in a field are necessary for it to be considered an orchard. If it is not considered an orchard, then they will have to […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned that in order for the field to be considered an orchard, it needs to have three trees that bear a certain amount of fruit.  Our mishnah adds that if there are non-fruit-bearing trees in the field, we look at them as if they […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first half of this mishnah continues to deal with the same subject with which we have been dealing with since the beginning of Sheviit–when may one plow an entire field of trees and when one may plow only the individual trees? The second half of the mishnah […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with the question of when three trees in an orchard justify plowing the entire orchard up until Shavuot in the year preceding the sabbatical year.   Mishnah Five 1)      Three trees belonging to three persons, they join together and they may plow the […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah teaches that if instead of adult trees the trees were young saplings, then the rule is different because young saplings require far more watering and care then do adult trees.   Mishnah Six 1)      If ten saplings are scattered over the entire area of a bet […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Our mishnah teaches that gourd plants, which also need to be plowed frequently, count as with the saplings.   Mishnah Seven 1)      Saplings and gourds are counted together within space of a bet seah. 2)      Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says: if there are ten gourds in the bet […]

Sheviit, Chapter 1, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter One, Mishnah Eight   Introduction In the previous mishnah we learned that saplings may be plowed up until Rosh Hashanah.  Our mishnah defines up until what point a tree is a sapling—sort of like asking, when is the bar mitzvah for a tree?   Mishnah Eight Up until when are they called saplings?   […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah One   Introduction The final chapter of Sheviit is concerned with the remission of loans. Deuteronomy 15:2-3 states, “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss what types of debts are remitted at the end of the sabbatical year.   Mishnah Two 1)      One who slaughters a cow and divides it up on Rosh Hashanah [at the end of the seventh year]: a)      If the month had been intercalated, […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah contains one of the most famous “takkanot” or pieces of halakhic legislation in the Mishnah. The takkanah is called the “prozbul” and was meant to be a way to prevent the sabbatical year from causing loans to be remitted. We shall see why Hillel made this […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Four   Introduction Today’s mishnah describes what was written in the prozbul, the document we began to discuss yesterday.   Mishnah Four This is the formula of the prozbul: “I turn over to you, so-and-so, judges of such and such a place, that any debt that I may have outstanding, I […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah deals with the dates that are written in the prozbul.   Mishnah Five 1)      A pre-dated prozbul is valid, but a post-dated one, is invalid.   2)      Pre-dated loan documents [of loans] are invalid, but post-dated one valid.   3)      If one borrows from five persons, then he […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Six   Introduction In order to write a prozbul over a debt, the debtor must have land.  This is because the lien placed on the land by the debt makes it as if the debt has already been collected by the court at the point of the loan. Therefore when the […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Seven   Introduction In this mishnah the rabbis and Rabbi Eliezer debate whether a beehive, resting on the ground, is considered to have the status of land. As we shall see, there are halakhic consequences to it either being considered land or not.   Mishnah Seven A bee-hive: 1)      Rabbi Eliezer […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah deals with the possibility that a debtor would pay back a loan after the seventh year has caused the loan to be remitted.   Mishnah Eight 1)      One who returns a debt [after] the seventh year, the [creditor] must say to [the debtor]: “I remit it.” […]

Sheviit, Chapter 10, Mishnah 9

Sheviit, Chapter Ten, Mishnah Nine   Introduction In the final mishnah of Sheviit we learn that although one is not obligated to pay back a debt that has been remitted by the seventh year, the sages praise a debtor who does so in any case. Our mishnah teaches two other instances in which a person […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction After having completed its discussion of the rules governing plowing the orchard in the sixth year, the Mishnah turns its attention to the grain field, called in the mishnah a “white field” probably due to its whitish appearance.    Mishnah One 1)      Until when may they plow a […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 10

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Ten   Mishnah Ten 1)      Gourds which he had kept [in the ground] for seed: if they had hardened before Rosh Hashanah and had become unfit for human food, they may be kept during the seventh year; otherwise, they must not be kept in the seventh year.   2)      Their buds are […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah teaches some other exceptions to the general prohibitions of tending to a field in the sixth year of the sabbatical cycle.   Mishnah Two 1)      They may manure and hoe cucumbers and gourds until Rosh Hashanah.   2)      So too with regard to irrigated fields. 3)      They […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction Most of today’s mishnah deals with pruning a tree on the sixth year.   Mishnah Three 1)      They may clear away stones until Rosh Hashanah.   2)      They may trim, prune and remove [excess parts of the tree] until Rosh Hashanah. 3)      Rabbi Joshua says: just as one may […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Mishnah Four 1)      They may besmear saplings, wrap them around, and trim them, and they may make for them shelters and water them until Rosh Hashanah.   2)      Rabbi Elazar bar Zadok says: he may even water the foliage on the sabbatical year, but not the roots.    Explanation Section […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah has to do with oiling and piercing unripe figs while they are on the fig tree.  The oil would speed up the ripening process and the piercing would allow the oil to penetrate into the figs.   Mishnah Five 1)      They may oil unripe figs and […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah teaches that planting and grafting plants is prohibited some time before Rosh Hashanah. The sages debate exactly how much before Rosh Hashanah it is prohibited.   Mishnah Six 1)      They may not plant or graft, or sink [vine-shoots] in the sixth year within thirty days of […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction The year in which produce is tithed also counts with regard to whether it is considered to be sabbatical produce. Thus if something is tithed in the sixth year then it counts as sixth year produce, whereas if would be scheduled to be tithed in the seventh year, […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah continues to list types of produce that are tithed according to when they take root.   Mishnah Nine 1)      Rabbi Shimon Shezuri says: Egyptian beans which he sowed for seed only, are like them. 2)      Rabbi Shimon says: large beans, are [also] like them. 3)      But Rabbi […]

Sheviit, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Sheviit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah teaches that for some types of species the year in which they are tithed depends on how much water they have recently received and how much water they typically are irrigated.   Mishnah Nine 1)      Seedless onions and Egyptian beans from which he withheld water for […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction It is forbidden to fertilize the field with manure during the sabbatical year.  Furthermore, it is forbidden to bring out the dung used as fertilizer and heap it in the fields because that is the typical first step in the fertilization process.  Doing so looks as if they […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 10

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Ten   Introduction Normally speaking one is not allowed to dig a hole on his property during the sabbatical year because that is considered working the land.  Our mishnah deals with a few exceptions to this rule.   Mishnah Ten 1)      One who makes a fence between his own property and […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss bringing out manure to make dung-heaps.  This mishnah teaches how many dung-heaps may be made and how big they must be to avoid giving the appearance that one is fertilizing the field.   Mishnah Two 1)      How much manure may they take out […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with the topic of what to do with the accumulating dung during the sabbatical year.   Mishnah Three 1)      A man may deposit in his field three dung-heaps for every bet seah [and even] more, the words of Rabbi Shimon.   a)      The sages […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction If one does not have an adequate pen for his cattle, he may make one for them in his field, even though this may look like he is bringing them out there to fertilize the field.  However, he is limited as to the dimensions of the pen.  Our […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah deals with quarrying stones during the sabbatical year. The problem is that this looks too much like clearing his field of stones in order to use it for growing. The mishnah gives a solution that avoids giving that appearance.   Mishnah Five A man may not […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah discusses removing a stone wall during sheviit. Again, we are concerned lest it appear that he is clearing his field in order to plant there.   Mishnah Six 1)      A wall that consists of ten stones, each a load for two men, may be removed, [if] […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with the topic of removing stones from one’s field on the sabbatical year.   Mishnah Seven 1)      Stones which the plow has turned up, or which had been covered and became uncovered, if there are among them at least two, [each] the load […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with building steps leading down into a ravine.  According to Albeck this mishnah refers to terrace farming. The steps are the terraces that are built into the sides of the mountain in order to better utilize this land for farming.   Mishnah Eight 1)      They […]

Sheviit, Chapter 3, Mishnah 9

Sheviit, Chapter Three, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with the topic of which stones may be removed from a field without it looking like he is clearing his field for planting.   Mishnah Nine 1)      Shoulder-stones may be removed from any place. 2)      And the contractor may bring them from anywhere.   […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction During the sabbatical year it is permitted to gather non-food material from a field in order to use it for various purposes, such as lighting a fire. However, it is forbidden to gather this stuff in order to improve the field.    Mishnah One 1)      At first they […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 10

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Ten   Introduction During the seventh year it is forbidden to cause produce to come to ruin, because it must be for eating. Therefore, it is forbidden to cut down trees from the time that their fruit has begun to appear until the fruit is fully ripe. This is the period […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction It is forbidden to improve upon a field during the sabbatical year.  Our mishnah deals with the halakhic consequences of one who nevertheless does improve upon the field.   Mishnah Two 1)      A field from which thorns had been removed may be sown in the eighth year. 2)      […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with the renting land from a Gentile during the seventh year, and other similar issues. I should note that as I write this commentary, we just began the Shmitah year here in Israel.  The laws of the Shmitah have presented perhaps the greatest halakhic challenge […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with one who thins out the trees in his field during the sabbatical year so that the other trees will be able to grow. This is permitted because it is permitted to do things during the sabbatical year that will preserve the trees already growing […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with cutting down trees during the Shemitah year.   Mishnah Five 1)      One who cuts down branches of an olive tree, he may not cover up [the stump] with earth, but he may cover it with stones or straw.   2)      One who cuts […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with the subject of keeping trees healthy on Sheviit.   Mishnah Six 1)      One who trims grape vines, or cuts reeds: a)      Rabbi Yose the Galilean says: he must leave [uncut at least] one handbreadth.   b)      But Rabbi Akiba says: he may cut […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Fruits that grow on their own during the sabbatical year may be eaten. However, they must be fully ripe before they can be eaten. This halakhah is derived from a midrash on Leviticus 25:7 which states, “And the fruit of the field shall be for food.”  From here […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with when in its development may one eat fruit growing during the sabbatical year.  Basically this mishnah is the same as yesterday’s and therefore does not need any further explanation.   Mishnah Eight 1)      Unripe grapes: as soon as they contain juice he […]

Sheviit, Chapter 4, Mishnah 9

Sheviit, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah completes the discussion of when various fruits are considered to be ripe enough to eat on Sheviit. It is interesting to note that the mishnah discusses only figs, grapes and olives. Clearly these are the most important trees in this region, and the only other common […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction When determining whether fruit is considered to be “fruit of the sabbatical year,” we go after the time that the fruit begins to appear on the tree.  Therefore, a fruit that begins to appear in the seventh year and is not picked for another two years is considered […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah and the next three mishnayot all deal with the “luf,” a type of onion. The practice was to store the luf underground in order to preserve it. The problem on Sheviit is that this might look like planting, which is forbidden on sheviit.   Mishnah Two […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction During the sabbatical year any one can come and take the produce. Our mishnah deals with luf which has remained in the ground during the seventh year and is not picked until the eighth year.   Mishnah Three Luf which has remained [in the ground until] after the […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with three types of plants that are customary to leave in the ground even after they have fully ripened. It is customary to uproot these plants with a rake and not by hand. The problem with the rake is that it might look like he […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Mishnah Five From when may one buy luf after the seventh year?   Rabbi Judah says: immediately.   But the sages say: [only] after the new crop has appeared.    Explanation Our mishnah discusses when a person can begin to sell luf after the seventh year is over without people suspecting […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 6

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah deals with selling implements which could be used to transgress the laws of the sabbatical year. The rabbis did not allow one person to aid another to transgress by selling to that person a tool which he could use to transgress another commandment. We should note […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 7

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with a potter who wants to sell jars to a customer during the seventh year. Again, he may not sell more than the amount normally needed for personal usage. As a reminder, during the sabbatical year one can harvest fruit that grows on its own […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 8

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with selling things to a person who is suspected of not observing the laws of sheviit, for fear that he may use them inappropriately on sheviit.   Mishnah Eight 1)      Bet Shammai says: one must not sell him a plowing cow in the […]

Sheviit, Chapter 5, Mishnah 9

Sheviit, Chapter Five, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with lending instruments to a person who may commit a transgression with that instrument.   Mishnah Nine 1)      A woman may lend to her neighbor who is suspect of transgressing the laws of the sabbatical year, a sifter, a sieve, a hand-mill, or […]

Sheviit, Chapter 6, Mishnah 1

Sheviit, Chapter Six, Mishnah One   Introduction Our mishnah defines the territorial boundaries of the land of Israel with regard to the status of the produce grown in the sabbatical year.  As we shall see, the Mishnah divides the land into three parts.   Mishnah One [The land of Israel is divided into] three territories […]

Sheviit, Chapter 6, Mishnah 2

Sheviit, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah refers to territory called “Syria”(not to be confused with modern Syria). This is land that was conquered by King David but was not conquered by Joshua. For many halakhot it has a semi-status, being in some ways treated like the land of Israel, but in other […]

Sheviit, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3

Sheviit, Chapter Six, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with onions that were harvested in the sixth year and then left stored in the ground until the seventh year. In the seventh year rain falls on them and they sprout new leaves. The question is: are these onions considered to be seventh year produce […]

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