Faithful Shemitah by Alex Malech


Parashat BeHar begins at Har Sinai, with Hashem teaching the laws of Shemitah to Bnei Yisrael. Why would Hashem teach us about Shemitah now? We know that the generation of Har Sinai didn’t go into Eretz Yisrael and although the Cheit HaMeraglim hadn’t happened yet, surely Hashem knew that it would happen in the future, and that the very people that he was teaching would never be able to perform these Mitzvot. Another oddity: Why would the Torah explicitly mention that these laws were taught at Har Sinai; after all, we already know that the entire Torah was taught at there. There must be some connection between Shemitah and Har Sinai. Why, then, does the Torah go out of its way to mention that these laws were given at Har Sinai?

Before we begin to answer the questions, we must first understand the idea of free choice. We know that we have free choice, and Hashem never acts as if we already sinned before we actually sin. Rashi (VaYikra 25:1 s.v. BeHar Sinai) comments that the giving of the Mitzvah of Shemitah here, at Har Sinai, has to do with the place, not with the people. As such, it would be given at Har Sinai regardless of the generation. That brings us to our second question. What is the connection of Shemitah to Har Sinai? Rashi explains (ibid.) that Har Sinai is the place where Hashem’s presence and actions in this world were manifested, so it makes sense that this was where the Jews received this Mitzvah. At Har Sinai, it became clear to Bnei Yisrael that Hashem was responsible for their material success, and that that was the true meaning of Shemitah. Shemitah is about leaving your land and saying that Hashem will provide for you. It is about devoting time to Torah study, while relying on Hashem to take care of the field. By observing the laws of Shemitah, you are testifying that Hashem is the one who created the world and provides for each and every person, and Har Sinai is where Hashem first demonstrated this with utmost clarity to Bnei Yisrael. The Chatam Sofer adds that the commandment of Shemitah also proves that Hashem wrote the Torah, because a human wouldn’t promise three years’ worth of crops in one harvest, as that would be impossible for a mere mortal to promise. In addition to the Mitzvah proving that Hashem is the primary force and sustainer of the universe, it also demonstrates the divine authorship of the Torah.  

These ideas should be remembered during every stage of life. Although we have to do our part, we will only be as successful as Hashem wants. If we are meant to make a lot of money, we will, and if we aren’t, then we won’t. Shemitah shows us that Hashem controls the universe, just as we were shown at Har Sinai, and the reasoning behind Shemitah is applicable anywhere at any time. One could propose that one of the reasons Chazal mandated that we observe the laws of Shemitah, while some other agricultural laws (such as Yoveil) are not followed currently, is because the idea of Shemitah is fundamentally different than that of every other agricultural Mitzvah. For example, the Mitzvah of Ma’aseir involves giving charity, acting kindly and improving ourselves. The idea of Shemitah is that Hashem controls us. Shemitah directly applies to our faith in Hashem and it is a vehicle to express our faith. It is one of the few agricultural mitzvot that are Bein Adam LeMakom. By performing Shemitah, we demonstrate that Hashem controls every aspect of our lives, now and forever.

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