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Parshas Behar/Bechukosai

by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai..."the land shall rest, Shabbos for Hashem" (Vayikra 25:1,2)

Rashi asks, Why does the Torah have to mention that the mitzva of shemitta, the sabbatical year, was taught at Har Sinai? Were not all the mitzvos given there? He answers that Chazal derive from here that not only were the general principles of all the mitzvos taught at Sinai, but, all of their fine details were given then. (See Rashi for an explanation of how this is derived.) We may still ask, however, why was shemitta singled out to teach us this? There must be something specific that can be applied to shemitta that we learn from Sinai.

Hashem commanded us to let our fields lie fallow every seventh year as a powerful reminder that He created this world yeish me'ayin, ex nehillo in six days and rested on the seventh. It is not because of 'Mother Nature' or as a result of our manual labour in the fields that brings forth the produce of the earth. It is Hashem, the Master of the Universe, who gives us our wheat, our fruit and our vegetables (along with everything else). We abstain from farming activities and relinquish possession of the land, returning it to the rightful owner, the Creator of the land. (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 84)

For a farmer to give up his livelihood and land for an entire year is a tremendous leap of faith. How will he support his family? Day after day, month after month the farmer must look Heavenward for his sustenance. One purpose of Maamad Har Sinai was to teach the Jewish Nation to trust in Hashem (see Shemos 19:9). They already witnessed the ten makkos (plagues) in Egypt and they personally experienced krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea. Surely they realised Hashem's might and power. Yet at Har Sinai Bnei Yisrael reached the epitome of emuna and bitachon, faith and trust (see Sifsei Chaim vol.3 p.52). This is the aim of shemitta; to achieve the level of emuna that we reached at Har Sinai. We might add that it is only because we first experienced that emuna then, that enables a farmer despite all the challenges and hardships, to properly observe shemitta every seventh year.

There is another reason why we are commanded to keep shemitta. In Parshas Bechukosai we are told that if we forsake the Torah then terrible calamity and tragedy will befall us. Chazal explain that the Torah is referring to the aveira (sin) of bittul Torah, neglecting to learn (Rashi to Vayikra 26:14) in particular. Yet it is explicitly written in the Tochacha (Admonition) that if we do not observe the shemitta year, we will be exiled from Eretz Yisrael (Vayikra 26:34,35). Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt"l raises another difficulty. Rashi comments that Bnei Yisrael were exiled from the land for seventy years since they failed to observe shemitta and Yovel (Jubilee year) for seventy years. Is it really possible that the Bnei Yisrael transgressed this important mitzva for so long?

R' Yaakov explains that Parshas Bechukosai is really a continuation of Parshas Behar. When the Torah says "If you will go in my decrees"(26:3), that you should labor in Torah (Rashi), it is referring to the year of shemitta. While your fields rest you should toil in Torah. Thus the mitzva of shemitta is not only an opportunity to strengthen our emuna, it is also a time to dedicate ourselves and to become engrossed in Torah. However, "If you will not listen to me", you do not learn during the seventh year, the Torah forewarns us that we will suffer the curses of the Tochacha and we will be exiled from Eretz Yisrael. When Rashi says that they neglected the mitzva of shemitta he does not mean that they desecrated it. Rather, while they did not toil and work the soil, they did not toil in Torah, the essence of shemitta, either.

Shemitta not only affords an opportunity for intensive learning, but, it is the most conducive time for one to reach his potential in limud haTorah and is actually representative of the ideal of dedicating oneself to learning Torah. Rav Aharon Kotler writes that bitachon is a prerequisite for limud haTorah. Firstly, one whose trust is in the Ribbono Shel Olam will have peace of mind and can therefore concentrate on his learning. Secondly, through bitachon one becomes closer to Hashem, thereby he is worthy for more Siyata D'Shamaya, Divine assistance, in his learning. Thirdly one who trusts strongly in Hashem is elevated to a higher level of kedusha , which in turn sanctifies his Torah (Mishnas R' Aharon,vol.1). Finally, one who observes shemitta is constantly reminded that he and all he possesses belongs to Hashem. When one realises that that he is totally dependent upon Him for his sustenance, one cannot help but be humbled before Him. One can then fulfil the teaching of Chazal; that Torah must be learnt in the same manner that it was received at Har Sinai, with awe, fear and trembling (Brachos 21a). The Torah therefore relates that shemitta was transmitted at Sinai, reminding us that shemitta exemplifies limud haTorah, and we must learn from there how to approach the study of Torah.

In Avos (3:6) we are taught that whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and worldly affairs is removed from him. Perhaps it is in the merit of toiling in Torah that shemitta observers receive Hashem's blessings of bounty ( 25:19,21. See Rashi and Seforno).

While we cannot observe shemitta outside Eretz Yisrael, and even most of those fortunate to live there are not farmers, nevertheless we can learn the lessons of the seventh year. They actually apply every seventh day. Shabbos is a day that demonstrates our trust in Hashem and we are taught to utilise Shabbos for limud haTorah (Talmud Yerushalmi. See Kisvei Chafetz Chaim, Shem Olam ch.5). May we strive to properly observe the seventh day until we are returned to Eretz Yisrael and can then observe the seventh year!

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