Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Behar
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Iyar 17 5778
Our Sedra deals primarily with the twin Mitzvot of Shmita & Yovel, the special laws & Mitzvot that apply every 7th & 50th year, respectively. As we know, these Mitzvot apply only to those living in Eretz Yisrael. This is made clear in
the opening phrase of the Parsha: "When you shall come to the land which I am giving you...." that is, Israel.

But wait a moment - is it so clear?! Why does Shmita adhere only to the Land of Israel? Why don’t ALL Jews practice Shmita wherever they live, on whatever land they own? After all, there are other agricultural-type laws that
apply equally to Israel & the Diaspora: We may not plow with two different types of animals, or muzzle an ox anywhere we farm, or graft certain plants together; we raise up a Lulav & Etrog anywhere we live, etc.

And as for this phrase, "When you come to the Land," well, that same phrase preceded the Mitzva of the Omer in last week’s Sedra. And while we no longer bring an Omer offering today (anywhere), we do observe the counting of the Omer in Israel and in Chutz L’Aretz!

I suggest, therefore, that Shmita is sending a special message to us: THE LAND OF ISRAEL IS NOT LIKE ANY OTHER LAND! For while all land has life within it, Eretz Yisrael has something extra - a neshama! It not only lives, it feels.
When we are exiled from it, the land mourns - like a barren woman - & will not produce its fruit. When we come back to Israel, the Land rises up & rejoices – "the mountains dance like rams" - as we say in Hallel. And when we observe Shmita, the Land has compassion upon us & produces an extra-large harvest in the years preceding the 7th, taking special care to provide us with enough produce to last almost three years.

Five times in the five p'sukim that describe Shmita, the Torah mentions the word Shabbat. The Torah is telling us that just as man works 6 days & rests on the 7th, so the Land does its work for 6 years & then rests on the 7th. Yet it’s telling us even more than that: Shabbat adds a unique dimension to humanity. Daily life is about working, sustenance, conquering the earth & mastering our environment. Shabbat is the neshama that invigorates our life & gives it purpose, meaning, redemption - & a glimpse of Olam Haba.

That is the reason why Shmita applies only in Israel: The Mitzva of nourishing the soul of the land can only be done in the sole place where the eternal soul of the Jew resides, & that, of course, is Israel.
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