Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

What Makes Shemitta Special?

Shemitta is special in its requiring great faith in Hashem to fulfill, in essence relying upon a miracle. This mitzva comes with a promise that Hashem will decree a unique blessing in the sixth year to sustain us until the produce of that which is sown in the eighth year is ready for harvest.

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Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Iyar 8 5782
Our parasha introduces the mitzva of Shemitta (the Sabbatical year, which we are now in the midst of) with the pasuk, "Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mt. Sinai," those last words do not usually appear in the introduction to commandments. The Rabbis note that this stress teaches us that just as the laws of Shemitta were presented to Moshe in both general and very specific terms at Sinai, so too this is true of the Torah’s other mitzvot (Sifra, Behar 1:1).

Chazal’s statement does not tell us why this lesson is taught specifically in connection to the laws of Shemitta. Our answer is that Shemitta is special in its requiring great faith in Hashem to fulfill, in essence relying upon a miracle. In general, we believe in miracles, but we do not rely upon their coming when we want them. In this case, if we do not work and sow the land in the seventh year, we should expect to run out of food during the seventh/eighth year. However, this mitzva comes with a promise that Hashem will decree a unique blessing in the sixth year to sustain us until the produce of that which is sown in the eighth year is ready for harvest. This is as the Torah writes: "Shall you say: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year, for indeed we shall not sow and will not gather our produce?’ I will command My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the produce will suffice for the three years" (Vayikra 25:20-21).

Besides the promise of sufficient produce to subsist upon, the Torah also made another promise concerning Shemitta: "You shall live in security [in the Land]" (ibid. 19). In contrast, if the people would not observe Shemitta, the Torah foretells exile: "Then the Land will claim its sabbaticals all of the days that it will be desolate and you will be in the land of your enemies … as you did not cease from working the Land during the sabbaticals when you inhabited it" (ibid. 26:34-35).

Since the time of initial exile from Eretz Yisrael, more than 2,500 years ago, the obligation to observe the mitzva of Shemitta has (according to most opinions) been lowered to a Rabbinic level. Certainly, we are careful even regarding Rabbinic commandments and try to keep more severe and even less severe obligations. The problem is that the crucial promise of abundance in the sixth year’s produce does not apply when the mitzva is not from the Torah.

At the beginning of the era of the return to Zion and the renewal of agriculture in Eretz Yisrael, a new opportunity arose to observe the mitzvot of the Torah that are linked to the Land. When it came to the mitzva of Shemitta, the question arose how to fulfill this special mitzva. We invite our readership to learn the many divrei Torah from the past and especially from our series of Moreinu classes, where we present the intricacies and discuss the various ways of dealing with the challenges inherent in Shemitta observance. Unfortunately, there is no one ideal approach to fulfilling all the halachic requirements without unfortunate leniencies that have become necessary. May Hashem send us His blessings of living peacefully in the Land in unity, which will be a fitting merit for those who gave their lives making Jewish sovereignty a reality.

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