Parsha Behar


In Parsha Behar we learn about the laws of Shmittah. Every seventh year all debts are forgiven, slaves are released, the land cannot be worked, and your produce belongs to everyone:

 “Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.” (Vayikra 25:3-7).

The Spiritual Dynamic

There is quite an interesting dynamic that occurs between us and Hashem during the Shmittah year. With all the other Mitzvot, Hashem says that if we keep them, He will grant us plenty: food, health, children, etc. The idea of the Mitzvot, in general, is that we are doing Hashem’s will. And when we do His will perfectly and sincerely, we must have complete faith that He will uphold His part of the bargain and shower us with the blessings that He promised.

Shmittah is different.  How so? Let’s take a look. Hashem tells us,” And should you ask, ‘What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will still be eating old grain of that crop; you will be eating the old until the ninth year, until its crops come in.” (Vayikra, 25:20-22). Hashem, in a way, is subsidizing the Mitzvah of Shmittah. We receive the blessing in credit on year 6. All we have to do is actually keep the Shmittah.

So then what’s the catch? The catch is as follows: all the other Mitzvot test our faith. We have to honestly believe in and perform Hashem’s will knowing that when we do so, He will take care of the rest. With Shmittah, there seems to be no challenge? We entered the land, and in the sixth year, before we even kept a Shmittah, Hashem already provided us with food for three years in advance. Yet there is a catch. WE HAVE TO KEEP THE SHMITTAH!

What’s so hard about that? Think of it this way: why should one keep Shmittah, or for that matter, any Mitzvah, if Hashem already provided us with everything in advance? The physical abundance comes from Somewhere. Hint: it is not from you or me. It is from Hashem; the Creator of the universe. He wants us to take a step back and realize that all the success and blessing we have are from Him! It’s not an easy task. Our human nature desperately desires to attribute success to ourselves. We desire this self gratification to the point that we become workaholics, not realizing that there is a Source from which all our success comes from. We throw ourselves at labor like slaves, frightened of what would happen if we take a moment to recognize the Source from which the fruits of our hard labor actually come from. That source is not our own intelligence, not our own cunning. The Source is Hashem!

Hashem wants us to toil for six years and then He wants us to recognize all He has given us in the seventh. On the seventh year, He wants us to recharge and spend more time with Him: praying more, studying more Torah, thinking about our relationship with Him a little extra. He wants us to realize that we have an abundance that supersedes the natural order exactly because it does not come from the natural order; it comes from Hashem. He does not want us to think that we have three extra years of produce because we are so smart and hard working. Yes, we had to work hard and be innovative, but the fruit of our labor was sent by Hashem. On the seventh year, that produce has an owner; it is not you or me; it is Hashem, and Hashem alone. Perhaps, the fact that literally anyone can come and benefit from the field that you owned for the last six years drives home the point that Hashem is the ultimate Owner of all things. The field is not ours, it is His. He allows us to work it and reap the fruits, but He expects us, once every seven years, to fully acknowledge its Owner. This Mitzvah does wonders in mitigating our ego and cultivating a sense of appreciation and reverence for the One who blesses us with all we have.

Hashem owns all that He has provided us. He has provided an abundance, beyond rationale, and our only job is to fulfill our Master’s wish that the land He gives us have a little rest. Through this rest we express how beautiful our relationship is with Hashem, how thankful we are for every single thing that He has sent us.

A National Lesson for Today’s Day and Age

On the personal level, Hashem provides the blessing in credit when it comes to Shmittah; he subsidizes the Mitzvah. However, on the national level, the Mitzvah has a similar dynamic to all the other Mitzvot; Hashem gives the blessing as a result of our faithfulness to the Mitzvah. Hashem tell us, “You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them then you will live on the land securely.” (Vayikra 25:18). Rashi explains that it is through the Mitzvah of Shmittah that we earn this security. The Babylonian exile lasted 70 years because the Jewish people did not keep the Shmittah for 70 years; thus, Hashem forced the land to rest for seventy years by exiling us from our soil.

Unfortunately, today, we do not have peace or security in the land of Israel. Our enemy dwells in our land more peacefully than our own brethren. They fear no one because they know that they can do as they wish, and if they commit a heinous crime, they will end up in an Israeli prison where they will receive a university education, their family will receive a stipend from their government, and they will be swapped along with thousands of other habibis for some deal between the Israeli government and hamas. Worst case scenario, they will die a martyr, they will be idolized as heroes, and once again, their family will receive cash rewards from their evil government.  

There are surely multiple reasons for this lack of security, but they all boil down to one thing: the Jewish people, as a nation, lack faith and resolve in adhering to Hashem’s Torah. The Shmittah is kept by religious farmers, and even then, unfortunately, many of them use loopholes and leniencies that “allow” their field to be worked during Shmittah. But the secular farmers surely do not keep the Shmittah. How can we expect peace and security on our soil if we do not acknowledge that the soil is not ours to do as we wish, “the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and residents with Me.” (Vayikra 25:23).

There are rules that come with the inheritance that Hashem gives us. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained the dynamic best. After the State of Israel declared independence, the Rebbe related the following parable: A King decides to bring some of His subjects into His palace. The subjects are malnourished, under dressed; in short, they are not fit to be in the King’s palace. Yet, He has mercy. However, once the subjects come into His palace, they quickly assert authority. They decide that they, and not the King, are masters of the palace. They will do as they wish in the palace, disregarding the King’s will.

The palace is the land of Israel, and the King is Hashem. The land belongs to Hashem, and He mercifully allows us to dwell in His palace, in His land. Yet, since we have entered the land and established the State of Israel, ego has taken over its founders and subsequent leaders. They believe they can do whatever they wish, disregarding Hashem’s commands.

We have a historic opportunity. For the first time in 2,000 years there are more Jews in the land of Israel than in any other land. With such an opportunity comes paramount responsibility. Perhaps, with this responsibility, we can dictate whether the redemption comes with a kiss or with a slap. Can the children of Israel, and the State of Israel, recognize that Hashem brought us back to His palace? Can we recognize that Hashem owns the soil that He gives our nation to dwell on? Can we recognize that our peace and security on this soil will only come when we recognize Hashem as our Master?

With Hashem’s help, we can recognize these pertinent truths. May He bless us as a nation to find the power to keep the Shmittah. Through the observance of His Shmittah, with Hashem’s help, we will be able to truly acknowledge His Kingship over the soil that He gives us. And through this acknowledgement, we will be able to accept upon ourselves all the Mitzvot that our Master desires us to keep; thus returning to Him with all our heart and all our soul,

 “You will return to the Lord, your G-D, will all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children, then, the Lord, your G-D, will bring back you exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations… And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you [too] will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.” (Devarim 30:2-5).

 G-D willing this day will come soon, and we will show to Hashem that we are ready for the final redemption; with Hashem’s help may it come speedily in our days.

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