An important theme in this week’s Sedra is that of the Shmitta (Sabbatical) year. As the Torah educates us as to its various particulars, it also continuously refers to the Shmitta year as a Shabbos (Sabbath). While the Torah consistently associates Shmitta with Shabbos, it becomes at first glance increasingly inconsistent as to the purpose, or reason, for this ‘Shabbos’. The Passuk first tells us that it is for Hashem, then that it’s a Shabbos for the land. Then the Torah reverts and says that it is a Shabbos for Hashem. Then further, the Torah states that it is a Shabbos for you/us. What is going on? Who indeed is it meant for?
The Zohar-Hakadosh points out something that seems to be a rather random and insignificant commonality. It tells us that Shmitta is a year of rest for all those who have a Bris-Mila and, the Zohar continues, an Eved (non-Jewish slave) consequently also has an obligation to rest since he is circumcised. While it is true that a non-Jewish slave is indeed circumcised, it seems rather peculiar that his Bris should have anything to do with his Shmitta observance. Furthermore, a slave is obligated in all negative commandments, and Shmitta is a negative commandment. What connection can there be between Shmitta and Bris-Mila.
The most common ‘seven’ cycle that we have is the weekly cycle. The Torah’s definition of the weekly cycle is that we work for the first six days and then rest on the seventh. The first six days are days on which we toil, on which we work so as to accomplish and create. The idea of the seventh day as a day of rest is that then we pull back and don’t do anything. We recognize that Hashem has created for us a perfect world, a complete world. On the Seventh day we rest because Hashem rested, because on the seventh day Hashem had completed the creation of the world. In essence, the number seven represents the completeness of nature.
A Bris-Mila is given on the eighth day, right after the passing of seven days, so as to symbolize the fact that we now have a person who has completed his first full natural cycle. At the same time, we recognize that nature is really far more then Mother Nature, that it is Divine Providence itself. Thus Mila is performed on the eighth do so as to symbolize that in reality there are no such bounds of nature because nature is merely a manifestation of Hashem running his creation.
We toil the soil for six years in the hope that a combination of our hard work with a helping hand from Mother Nature will let us see the fruits of our labors. Thus, the most natural thought would be that Shmitta is merely an opportunity for us to rest. Comes the Torah and tells us otherwise. The Torah says it is a Shabbos for Hashem. In other words: it is a Shabbos for us to reflect upon the fact that it is not our handiwork but rather Hashem’s involvement that allows for our success. The Torah tells us it is also a Shabbos for the land. The land is an inanimate object. It doesn’t require rest. The purpose for the land’s rest is to tell us that it isn’t Mother Nature but rather Hashem’s nature. Once all this is established it then can become a Shabbos for us, we can then rest and enjoy the synthesis that we have achieved with Hashem.
We can now more fully understand the correlation between having a Bris-Mila and observing Shmitta is. Mila is the ultimate sign of our recognition of Hashem’s superiority and utter control. Shmitta is the ultimate act of understanding that it is indeed so.
It is through following Torah and Mitzvos that we attain total harmony with Hashem and his Nature.
(The following Dvar Torah was written on a year when Behar and Bechukosai were read together, as on most years)
This week’s double Sedra opens with the topic of Shmita and Yovel. The Torah prefaces the topic of Shmita with instructions specific to these Mitzvos by telling us: “Hashem said unto Moshe at Mount Sinai saying,” and then goes into the details and particulars of Shmita and Yovel. It seems a bit peculiar that specifically in conjunction with the Mitzva of Shmita, the Torah mentions that it was said to Moshe at Har Sinai. Rashi and the Ramban quote the Medrash, which explains that there is no particular reason for the juxtaposition of the topic of Shmita and Har Sinai, but the Torah is emphasizing that likewise all Mitzvos were given to Moshe at Har Sinai.
In this week’s second Sedra the Torah tells us of a bris—dictums that Hashem gave us at Har Sinai. At the end of the Parsha, the Torah tells us “these are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe at Har Sinai to instruct Bnei-Yisroel”. Thus, there seems to be a recurring theme in these two Parshios—an emphasis on the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.
If we examine more carefully the latter of these references we will find an interesting idea. Why is it that at the end of Vayikra, a Sefer that deals primarily with korbanos, does the Torah choose to reinforce the idea of the entirety of the Torah having been given at Sinai? Even more so, why does the Torah emphasize it so many times?
Korbanos generally represent Avoda—our actual, physical worship of Hashem, which would usually be viewed as a separate entity from the practicing of laws or study of Torah. Therefore, perhaps the Torah is pointing out to us that Avoda as well is really a part of Torah and not an area of spirituality in its own right.
Bearing this in mind we now can better understand why throughout this double Sedra, the Torah continues to focus on this idea that all the various aspects of Torah were given at Har Sinai. Over and over again, the Torah reiterates the fact that Mitzvos, and in general Avodas Hashem, were given at Sinai. This idea demonstrates that the Torah, like all of Yidishkeit, is one united whole, made up of various different aspects, but still one seamless entity.
This week’s Sedra discusses the Halachos of Shmita – the sabbatical year. Although the Torah dedicates the entire Parsha to convey most of these Halachos, there are still additional Halachos of Shmita that are mentioned in various other Parshios. Likewise as much as the Torah emphasizes the importance of Shmita observance in this Sedra, it reiterates it many other times. It is true that Shmita isn’t just one Mitzva but rather a compilation of a few Mitzvos (shmitas karkaos, shmitas kesafim, avodim etc). Nonetheless, the Torah seems to place a tremendous emphasis on these Mitzvos and instructs us in great detail as to their observance.
Shmita does have a lot of Halachos some of which are rather complicated. Before one can begin to explore, learn, and appreciate these Halachos and practices, one should understand why the Torah felt it necessary to dedicate so many Psukim to tell us about Shmita. If the Torah is emphasizing Shmita, it is for a good reason. It is therefore important to understand the message that is to be taken from it.
The Torah calls Shmita – Shabbos (HaAretz) – a sabbatical. The torah tells us that it is a Shabbos for the land. While it is obvious that if we are not allowed to work the land, the land rests, it is still interesting that the Torah must emphasize that the land has a Shabbos. Shabbos is a term that is singled out for the seventh day of the week. While on other Yomim-Tovim we don’t work we still don’t call them Shabbos. Yom Kippur is the only other exception: the Torah calls it Shabbos Shabbason. Shmita as well is referred to as Shabbason, just like Yom-Kipur. Shmita in some way seems to be grouped together with Shabbos and Yom-Kippur.
Aside from the basic prohibition of working the land during Shmita there are some other essential Halachos that are quite striking. The Torah tells us that the produce that grows during Shmita is to be eaten by all. The Mefarshim explain that this isn’t necessarily an obligation but rather just that everyone should be allowed to eat from it, and that we cannot use the produce for anything else other than consumption (in the form it is supposed to be eaten in). Nonetheless there still seems to be an inherent undertone that Hashem’s intent is for what grows to be eaten by us. Since we are not permitted to work the land during Shmita, the produce that grows during Shmita must have grown wildly. It seems that there is something about this wild-grown produce that Hashem wills us to eat. The Ramban explains that the Torah is creating a positive as well as a negative commandment regarding what we eat during Shmita.
The Torah also tells us that any loans made to anyone so to speak expire with Shmita. What is the correlation between a sabbatical year and the expiration, or nullification, of loans?
Although there are many other aspects of Shmita that could be included here, the aforementioned aspects already point to a direction common to all.
The Torah calls Shmita a Shabbos. While during Shmita there are many things we can do in order to generate income, there are nevertheless also many constraints that are placed upon the individual. This is true in our non-agricultural based society of today; this was even truer in the agricultural society of yore. Just as on Shabbos (where we may benefit only from Melacha done before Shabbos) Hashem is allowing us to benefit from that for which we toiled until Shmita. However, Hashem is forbidding us to create anew during Shmita. While a person can take wood that was already grown and create furniture, a person must do so from already existing trees. While a person can make tasty food items a person may do so only from fruit that are, not from fruit they now plant.
The fruit we may eat during Shmita are fruit that we should eat. They are not the usual produce which is the fruit of our labor, but rather fruit that grew only because of Nature as preprogrammed by Hashem.
In the ideal world, the world of Adam before he sinned, a person wasn’t meant to toil in order to eat. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden where food was bountiful. Man’s purpose wasn’t to toil in agriculture, but was rather to bask in the joy of Torah study. The only other thing Hashem requested from man was not to eat a particular food. In essence the only obligation Adam had was to eat what Hashem allowed, and to refrain from eating what Hashem forbade (this is analogous to the Ramban mentioned above). It was the curse that Hashem gave Adam after he ate from the forbidden tree that he would have to sweat in order to be able to sustain himself. This means that ideally we shouldn’t have to toil for our food. The ideal state is that we should be able to learn Torah and Hashem will provide for us.
Shmita in a way ‘freezes’ what we have done until now (the seventh year). A person who lent someone else money can claim that money back until Shmita. After Shmita has passed he no longer can claim that money because everything becomes frozen. Shmita so to speak takes everything we do and that we have done away from us. It takes us out of toil mode and places us back into ideal mode.
This is the commonality between Shabbos and Shmita. Both Shabbos and Shmita are meant to serve as reality checks for us. They are supposed to remind us of the ideal world that Hashem had intended for us. This is why the Torah places such an emphasis on Shabbos and Shmita.
The Torah tells us that if we ask ‘what will we eat in the eighth year, the year following Shmita? If we didn’t work the land during Shmita and we couldn’t plant seeds of the seventh year during Shmita, what should we eat at the beginning of the eighth year?’ Hashem responds וצויתי את ברכתי ‘and I will command unto you My Blessing’. The fact that we must toil in order to eat was the curse that Hashem placed on Adam for not following Hashem’s commandment; Bracha is the opposite of curse. If we listen to Hashem’s orders regarding Shmita Hashem will bless us in return with His Brocho of not needing to toil (at least temporarily).
It is thus no doubt the reason that the Neviim place so much emphasis on the influence Shmiras Shabbos, and Shmita have in our redemption. Shmiras Shabbos and Shmita are prerequisites to our being able to live in an ideal world.
One of this week’s Sedra’s main topic is Shmita. The Torah refers to Shmita many times as Shabbos HaAretz. During Shmita year the Torah forbids us from working the land. Thus the land rests because it isn’t worked. This doesn’t mean, however, that the ground doesn’t bear fruit. Things still grow from the ground during Shmita.
When we contrast Shabbos HaAretz to our weekly Shabbos something doesn’t jive. Not because the Shabbos we observe weekly is from all Melachos (all forms of work) and Shabbos HaAretz is only from work that applies to the land. There is, rather, something more fundamental that is off.
On Shabbos we are forbidden to perform Melacha. Through our not doing work we rest. We are the ones who do, or do not do, and therefore we are the ones who rest or don’t rest. By contrast, for Shabbos HaAretz we must refrain from doing certain acts to the land thereby allowing it land to rest.
In both types of Shabbos there is work that we are refraining from doing. In one, those who refrain get rest, whereas in the other only the inanimate earth gets to rest while we are the ones refraining from doing the work. Why is it that the Torah chooses to refer to both as Shabbos?
Perhaps this is the very idea the Torah is trying to convey. Generally, we think only ourselves or society are affected by we do or by what society does. In reality, however, all aspects and all elements in the world are influenced and affected immediately by how we act and by what we do and don’t do.