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Real Estate and Shavuos

Among the many Halachos dealing with Real Estate transactions is the law of Bar Metzrah or "Laws of a Neighbor." Namely, that notwithstanding the right one has in selling his property (land, farm, house etc.) to anyone he pleases to - his neighbor has a right of first refusal. Meaning that ones neighbor must be given the first option to buy the property adjoining his.

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 175) devotes almost an entire chapter detailing this property law. The reason for this law is simple: A neighbor should be given the ability to have his property holdings adjacent to each other, thus making life easier for him. By allowing your neighbor to extend his farm contiguously, or by increasing the size of his back yard, allows for easy access.

This Mitzvah is derived from the Verse (Devorim 6:18) Ve'osiso Ha'Yoshor Ve'Hatov. One should do what is proper and beneficial to you fellow man.

Based upon this Halacha we find in a number of Sephardic Seforim an explanation to a esoteric story relating to a dialog between Moshe Rabeinu and the angels at the giving of the Torah.

The Gemora Shabbos (88b) relates: When Moshe ascended to the heavens the angels protested to G-d "what is a human being doing amongst us?" G-d replied " He is here to accept the Torah." When the angels said "such a heavenly treasure you wish to grant to lowly humans," G-d told Moshe to answer them.

"Indeed," Moshe tells them, "what is written in the Torah? I am your G-d=85 who has redeemed you from Egypt. Have you ever been enslaved in Egypt? Do you live amongst idol worshipers that you need the commandment 'you shall not have any other G-d'? Do you have parents? Is there jealousy between you? Do you engage in the world of business? " Etc.

Upon hearing Moshe's reply the angels consented that the Torah is indeed fitting to be given to the Living Jew.

The above commentators explain that the Halachik basis for the objection of the angles is the "Law of a Neighbor." Since the Torah is currently in Heaven, if it is to be given away, it is fitting that angels, who reside in heaven, receive it.

A truly Halachik justifiable complaint!

What was Moshe's response to this? The following answers are given:

  1. The law of Bar Metzrah applies only to property and not to moveable objects. A seller is not obligated to offer his car, for example, to his neighbor first. It is only when he puts up his house or land for sale does his next-door-neighbor come first. The Torah, being an article not tied down to the ground, is therefore exempt from this Halacha. (See Tanya chapter 4 concerning the descent of the Torah "from there it traveled"). 
  2. The Law of Bar Metzrah does not apply to a gift. One may bequest properties despite his neighbors want for it. Thus the Torah being given as a present to the Jews was exempt from the obligation of offering it first to the angels! 
  3. Jews are considered "children" to G-d. The above law allows one to grant or even sell real estate to relatives with out the constraints of the Bar Metzrah laws. 
  4. Moshe himself was, as the Medrash (Devorim Rabbo 11:4) says, a person half human and half a "person of heaven- man of G-d." He therefore was a neighbor to the Torah in his own right - equal to angels. 
  5. Being a Dayan - a judge amongst his people granted Moshe the status as a "partner to G-d." (Shabbos 10:1) Once again, the right of a neighbor to buy the adjacent land does not apply if the buyer is a partner of the seller. In our case- the buyer -Moshe - is G-d's partner! The angel's complaint is therefore with out merit.  
The above are very fine explanations but all share one problem. Nowhere are these answers even hinted to in the text of the story as related in the Gemora.

On the contrary, the last three explanations underscore the relationship of Moshe (and every Jew) to G-d, his bond to heaven and his partnership to the Creator. Whereas the Gemora seems to emphasize (in Moshe's response) the exact opposite: Torah is associated with the physical and mundane aspect of this world. Bnei Yisrael, as opposed to angels, experienced slavery, were born to human parents, are exposed to jealousy etc.

By prefacing another law pertaining to Bar Metzrah we can shed some light on this. Maimonides (Laws of neighbors 12:5) brings from the Gemora the Halacha pertaining to a unique situation. The next-door-neighbor wants the property. But not for the purpose of building a house. He wants to expand his farm. On the other hand, the non-neighbor-potential buyer is planing to build a residence on the lot. The Halacha is quite clear in such a case. The neighbor receives no preference. The construction of homes overweighs the laws of Bar Metzrah. The Mitzvah of home building - as an extension of populating and settling this world - takes preference.

This is what Moshe Rabeinu replied to the angels. Isn't the concept and goal of the Torah to create a "home for the Creator." (Tanchuma Noso 16) The true meaning of "house" is where a person can unwind, where he can feel his natural self. G-d waits for His "house" to be ready for Him to "move into." This "homebuilding" is accomplished by (Jews observing) the Torah.

Giving the Torah to the angels will not accomplish this. For they poses not the "tools" to construct this abode. They have no association with the hardships of this world. They have not been enslaved in Egypt, they have no jealousy etc. It is only through overcoming the hardships of this physical world that one acquires the means to build for his creator a home - Dirah B'tachtonim.

It is the human who toils in the physical world around him (and within him) that is constructing a home for his creator. The Jew utilizes the Torah for "homebuilding." It is he who deserves receiving the Torah.

(Based on Likutei Sichos Vol. 18 p 28-34)



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