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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Behar

It’s sow easy to change

The rationale behind Shmita, is to create for us a “Shabbat Shabbaton” every 7 years. Like the contemporary Sabbatical, this results in a complete change in our routine, a break from the norm, a chance to recharge the batteries & then make a new start, refreshed & reinvigorated.
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There is no shortage of unusual – even somewhat bizarre – laws & customs in Judaism. Eating bitter-tasting herbs; smacking a willow on the ground; throwing our sins over a bridge, well, these are just a small sampling of the kinds of things we do as part of our glorious culture.

But of all the outlandish features of Jewish life, I think the most extreme one is the Mitzva of Shmita, the subject of this week’s Sedra. Asking an agricultural society to suspend its primary source of income for 12 months - & our agreeing to do so – simply boggles the mind. What is the purpose of this law? And how can we possibly survive without our fields for an entire year?

While some sources (e.g. Moreh N’Vuchim – Guide for the Perplexed) suggest that letting the land go fallow enhances its fertility, nowhere does the Torah say that. And modern science tends to dispute the claim; agronomists contend that letting the land rest seems to have no "therapeutic" value. For if this was the case, then why not let 1/7th of the land go un-cultivated each year, leaving 6/7ths still available for farming?

Rather I suggest that the rationale behind Shmita, as the Torah explicitly says, is to create for us a "Shabbat Shabbaton" every 7 years. Like the contemporary Sabbatical, this results in a complete change in our routine, a break from the norm, a chance to recharge the batteries & then make a new start, refreshed & reinvigorated.

This is the same lesson that we might derive from our holidays throughout the year. On Pesach, our entire way of eating – humanity’s most common act of behavior - is radically changed; our whole house is turned over. And on Sukkot, we physically leave our homes to take up residence in the Sukka. On Shavuot, we forego the other most basic mode of human behavior – sleep – in order to study Torah deep into the night.

Not to mention Shabbat, when our whole schedule of activity changes for a full 25 hours every single week.

Via all these examples – the holy days & Shmita – one crucial lesson emerges: We can change our lives. If we can alter what we eat, where we live, when we sleep or stay awake, how we make our livelihood, then we can change anything! Though we may have become careless & complacent in the (6)days & (6) years prior, we can re-order our lives to better conform to Divine ideals.

It’s totally up to us; as we reap (or not), so shall we sow.
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