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Parshas B'Har - The Strength of a Wall                 19 Iyar 5779

05/24/19 08:52:57


When I had just entered my teenage years, my family moved into a semi-attached single-family home. Our attached neighbors, who were not Jewish, had their television set placed right up against the joining wall of our two homes. Every Friday night my ear was glued to the wall (sometimes with the help of a drinking glass), listening to the Yankee baseball games on WPIX. While I can’t say that the walls were paper thin, they were not soundproof. While I did not mind being able to hear the games through the wall, my parents were a bit more concerned, knowing that if we could hear them they could surely hear us. From time to time my mother, a”h, would yell at us and say, “Keep it down! The neighbors can hear everything!”

There are a couple of idioms using ‘walls’ that jump out at me. One of these is “I would love to be a fly on the wall”, meaning that you’d love to hear what will be said or see what will happen while not being noticed. The other idiom is, “Shhh! Be careful, the walls have ears.” We should be careful about what we say because people might be listening. Take care and watch what you say because the walls have ears.

There are a few places in the Torah when certain halachos are dependent upon and focused around a wall. For example, the holiday of Purim is celebrated in all unwalled cities of the world, with the exception of Yerushalayim, Shushan, and any other city which has been walled since the time of Joshua. Shushan, the capital of Persia, was a walled city when the Jews fought to defeat their enemies on the 13th & 14th of Adar, so Purim was to be celebrated on the 15th of Adar. Recognizing that Yerushalayim was also a walled city dating back to the time of Joshua, our sages decided that Yerushalayim, along with all cities of the world walled since the time of Joshua, would celebrate Purim on the 15th day of Adar. A second example of the walled city is in reference to the Metzora that we mentioned earlier in Vayikra. A few weeks ago we read about the metzorah, the person who becomes afflicted with tzara’as, a strict form of tumah (state of being ritually impure). We learned that the afflicted person is sent out of the city and must take up residence outside the city walls.

In this week’s Parsha B’Har a third example of a house within a walled city is mentioned. The Torah states in Vayikra 25:29 “V’Ish Ki Yimkor Beis Moshav Ir Chomah, V’Haysa Geulaso Ad Tome Shnas Mimkaro, Yamim Tiheyeh Geulaso”: “When a man sells a residential house in a walled city, he shall be able to redeem it until the end of one year after he sold it. He has one full year to the day to redeem it”. The next verse is particularly fascinating, stating: “V’Im Lo Yigael Ad M’Los Lo Shana Temimah V’Kam HaBayis Asher BaIr Asher ‘Lo’ Choma Latzmisus LaKoneh Oso L’Dorosav, Lo Yeitzay BaYovel”: “However, if it is not redeemed by the end of this year, then the house in the walled city shall become the permanent property of the buyer [to be passed down] to his descendants. It shall not be released by the Jubilee. On the other hand, houses in the villages that do not have walls around them shall be considered the same as open land (see Vayikra 25:25). “

Unlike the seller of a home in an unwalled city who can renege on the sale at any time, over here, after one year is up, the buyer can say, “I'm not selling it back to you.” That's a remarkable chumrah/stringency for a house in a walled city, a total aberration from the typical rules of real estate in Eretz Yisroel. A home in a walled city has a different law and a different status, than any home located in a place without surrounding walls. Why should this home be any different from another home?

The great Rav Avigdor Miller ZT”L explains that there is something truly unusual here. Hashem is making something apparent in these pesukim: that there is something special about a walled city. With regard to a house located within a walled city, Hashem does not allow fifty years to think about buying the house back. If it is to be repurchased from the new owner, it must be bought back now! It's now or never! So the owner of a house in the walled city weighs his options very carefully before selling his home. He understands that he's making a decision that will soon be irrevocable. He will have only one year to redeem it from the seller, and when that year comes to an end, he will have lost his home forever.

We see here Hashem's intention of encouraging the original residents of a walled city to remain in their ancestral homes. Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants the residents of a walled city to forever remain within that walled city. The owner of such a home is discouraged by Hashem from selling his home, warning him that if he chooses to sell it, his ancestral home will be lost to him and his descendants forever. . Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants people to remain in the walled cities; This is made clear in our parsha. There is something special about walled cities, something unique is necessary for us to study what it is about batei arei chomah (houses in a walled city).

We must ask ourselves, What is this holiness that seems to be caused by walls? What's so special about a walled city that makes it so different, so much more kadosh, than the unwalled city right next door? And what is it about a walled city that finds so much favor in the eyes of Hashem, that He encourages us, by means of the arei chomah laws, to remain living within its walls forever? To better understand this, we need to understand and accept a fundamental principle - a principle that we must be aware of all the days of our lives. The Rambam in Hilchos Dei’os (6:1) writes: “It is the way that a person is created, meaning that the nature of a human being is to be drawn in his attitudes, his ideas, and the way he thinks and acts, after those with whom he associates.” This means that you become what your environment is.

The word nimshach means that you're drawn like a magnet to the attitudes and behavior of the people around you. You don't have to do anything; just by being there, you're pulled along unless you fight back. If you're passive then you're going to be drawn along. The process is so smooth, so subtle, that you don't even notice how you’re changed until it's too late, until you're already in the Next World.

Everything relates directly to who your friends are, to the people with whom you associate. The Rambam stated that you'll be drawn after your acquaintances and your friends. The Rambam tells us that even acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers - anybody whom you meet will affect you. You must know that when you associate closely with people, when you live among others, you are automatically being shaped. Not only will you act the way they act, but you'll come to think the way they think, and your middos will become like their middos.

People who moved into a walled city tended to settle permanently, remaining there from generation to generation. The walled city, because of its strategic value as a safe residence, secure from external enemies, became a haven for people to move to, a safe place to raise a family.

When we understand what the Torah is trying to teach us in these pesukim of batei arei chomah, then we understand that our entire Olam Hazeh – this world we live in - and our entire Olam Habah – the world to come - depend upon what the Rambam says, “A man is pulled after his friends and acquaintances.” This is a statement of profound power. We are pulled by those with whom we are with. That's how it is and it can't be helped. And so, if someone is going to pull us, let's make sure that we're always being pulled by the right people, by the best of our people, into the welcoming arms of Hakodosh Boruch Hu! God said, “And we'll walk with Him forever and ever in the “walled cities” of strong Torah communities where we are forever inflamed with the desire to serve Him.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky



Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780