Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Behar
To dedicate this lesson

A Second Central Shabbat


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Chazal famously tell us that the laws of Shemitta were identified as being given at Sinai to indicate that all details were also given at Sinai. The fact that this mitzva was chosen to teach us this general rule shows that the Torah views Shemitta as possessing a special standing.
The weekly Shabbat is a sign of covenant between the individual Jew and Hashem, to the extent that a Shabbat desecrator is treated like one who rejects the entire Torah. Similarly, the Shabbat of the Land is a sign of a national covenant. Just as the Shabbat desecrator is liable ofkaret (being cut off), so too there is a national karet – exile and severing of ties with its natural place of life, Eretz Yisrael – for national violation of Shemitta (see Vayikra 26:34).
The laws of Shabbat are written in terms of the individual. In contrast, Shemitta is written in terms of the Land enjoying a Shabbat (Vayikra 25:2), as the main element is in the general/public sphere. While it affects individuals’ actions, the spiritual content is of the community, the state, and the Land, in accordance with the pasuk, "All its produce will be for you to eat" (ibid. 7). That is the reason that the laws of Shemitta apply only in Eretz Yisrael where national life finds its expression.
While Shabbat commemorates Hashem’s ceasing of activity in the time of the creation of the world, Shemitta represents the body’s ceasing of work and a rest that is connected to the World to Come (see Ramban, Vayikra 25:2). The Jewish Nation cannot settle for eternity on a life that concentrates on nature alone. Rather, its eyes are set on the World to Come, an ideal time when evil will cease to exist. A time such as Shemitta is not just a reminder of what will be but it is the taking of steps, to the extent that our feeble efforts can take us, toward ushering in that time.
We accept Hashem’s dominion on Shabbat by inactivity, by stopping to try to increase financial acquisitions and physical innovation. The acceptance of dominion through Shemitta is accomplished by positive steps, i.e., by relinquishing ownership rights and opening up the fences around one’s fields to allow all to share his produce. This recognition of divine dominion is the source of the life of the universe.
The idea of social equity that is engendered in Shemitta is very much related to this. It reminds one that it is unnecessary to wear himself out in pursuit of riches. Shemitta reminds him that his property can sit fallow for an extended period of time because the King has removed it from his full possession (see Bava Metzia 39a).
Shemitta is not just about a change in the relationship between man and his compatriot, but between man and his acquisitions. People are liable to get so caught up in their efforts to amass property that they see property as part of their essence, which generally impacts on their desires, jealousy, etc. Shemitta is a reminder that there is a separation between man and his possessions and that he should connect more to his inner spiritual acquisitions, which he can retain and be satisfied by forever. The farmer, who is busy around the clock and throughout the year, finally has time to take off a year to increase these attainments and contemplate their centrality in his life.

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