Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar May 10, 2012

There is something very unique about this week’s Torah portion which discusses the commandment regarding the Sabbatical year (Shmita). This commandment is the ONLY one in all of the Torah to have an entire Torah portion dedicated to explaining its observance in the finest of details.

And God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, when you enter the land which I am giving to you, the land shall be at rest – a Shabbat unto the Lord. For six years you shall plant your field and for six years your shall prune your vineyard and you shall harvest its produce. But the seventh year shall be a Shabbat of rest for the land – a Shabbat for the Lord …’ (25:1-4)

The Torah proceeds from this point on to give detailed instructions regarding the laws of shmita, the sabbatical year. The people are promised that if they trust in God and obey the laws of shmita they will have a bumper crop in the sixth year which will last them through the sabbatical year.

Two questions arise. First, why was it necessary for the Torah to stress that this law was given at Mount Sinai? Second, why is this mitzvah taught in such specific detail, while other basic concepts in Judaism are presented very briefly?

Admittedly the practice of Shmita was basically non-existent since the destruction of the Temple as it is a mitzvah specific to the Land of Israel. It is only since the re-settlement of Israel beginning about 100 years ago that attention has returned to this mitzvah and it has become necessary to revisit and to meditate on the practical as well as spiritual meaning of this commandment.

This may surprise you but the most important idea to grasp about the Sabbatical year is this: on a practical and spiritual level, this mitzvah is the cornerstone of a Torah society for it is designed to communicate on a regular seven year cycle the fundamental values of Judaism. The primary spiritual message of Shmita is that all human endeavor and achievement — to be truly honoring to Hashem — must be in harmony with the Divine plan for humanity. Just as we are commanded to work six days and rest on the seventh, so the Land must be worked for six years and given its rest in the seventh year.

We are taught that we are partners with G-d in creation but let us never forget that we are not equal partners — we are junior partners! On the one hand, each of us has the responsibility to strive towards fulfilling our destiny which, as we have said so many times in the course of our yearly studies, is to grow into being an “image of God” in this world. On the other hand, we must guard ourselves from the human tendency towards arrogance which says, “my power and my might have gotten me all this wealth.” (Dev. 8:17) Each week when we rest on Shabbat and put aside the activities and even thoughts of our work week, we make visible to ourselves and others that it is Hashem Who sustains the world and it is by His kindness that we are able to accomplish anything at all. The Torah gives to each individual the freedom to develop to his or her fullest potential while at the same time teaches us how to guard against the mental, moral and emotional excesses that cause ‘successful’ people to forget Hashem’s role in their very success.

The Sabbatical year reinforces the same principle. Among the instructions regarding the Shmita year, land owners are commanded to view their fields as community property so that anyone in need of food may come freely and gather what they need. The Torah commands the owner to remember that “the Shabbat produce of the land shall be food for you, and your servant, and your maid, and your hired servant, and for the stranger who dwells among you…”(25:35)

Interestingly, modern science has revealed that most cells in the human body completely rejuvenate every seven years. Jewish life cycles reflect the number 7 over and over again. The Menorah in the Temple had seven branches. Pesach and Succot are celebrated for 7 days. Every Shabbat, the Torah portion is divided into 7 sections with 7 accompanying blessings. And when the children of Israel left Egypt, seven complete weeks elapsed before they were ready to receive the Torah.

Perhaps the most significant message alluded to by the Sabbatical year is the belief that the existence of this world is founded on a 7 year cycle; that for six thousand years, mankind will work at developing its full potential until the dawn of the seventh millenium when a brand new, radically different, never ending “Shabbat” will begin.

The current year in the Hebrew calendar is 5772. All of the prophets explained that after a long and painful exile, the Jewish people would return to their Land “at the End of Days.” The Land would flourish (which it is), Jerusalem would be rebuilt (which it is), and the final wars over the Jewish people’s right to the Land would be fought (some already have and there is more on the horizon!) This “End of Days” process will climax with the coming of the Mashiach and a “Shabbat” that will encompass the entire world. Oh, may that day come quickly…even in our time!

In Tune with Torah this week = reflecting on my personal TRUST in Hashem’s provision for my life and my personal RESPONSIBILITY to grow into His image and likeness that I may fulfill the true purpose for my existence in this world.

Shabbat Shalom!

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