Parshat Behar, discussing the laws of Shemittah, states that land may be worked for six years, and the seventh year is a Sabbatical year for the land. A super-Shemittah, the Yovel year, is mentioned in the latter half of the Parsha. It resembles the Shemittah year very closely.
What is the relevance of these agricultural laws to Sefer Vayikra, the book that defines our worldly tasks and obligations? Furthermore, Shabbat and Shemittah are both referred to as “Shabbat to Hashem,” highlighting an inner connection. What is the meaning of Shabbat, Shemittah, and Yovel, and how are they linked? Rav Kook addresses these questions as follows:
Shabbat illustrates a fundamental principle of Judaism. Judaism is not just a religion, but a way of life. As such, work, which is fundamental to man’s identity, falls within the rubric of spiritual practice. Rather than being viewed as an end onto itself, work becomes service to Hashem by being limited to six days. On Shabbat, one is obligated to refrain from working and instead focus on the spiritual. Hashem recognized the addictive power of work and its all-consuming nature. Consequently, Hashem required us to limit work, and step out of the rat race. In keeping Shabbat, we are involved in developing Kedushah, our God-given task. On Shabbat, we reconnect to our spiritual centers, and our lives are given purpose and meaning. Shabbat then carries us through the rest of the week until we are spiritually recharged on the following Shabbat.
But Shabbat is an individual experience. Shemittah performs the same function for the nation as Shabbat does for the individual. During Shemittah, the land returns to its natural state, agricultural work ceases, and debts are cancelled. Am Yisrael is given an opportunity to focus its efforts on Kedushah, not as individuals but as a nation. Not preoccupied by the day-to-day demands of the land and commerce, we are liberated to redirect our attention toward our spiritual development.
The Yovel represents the highest level in the hierarchy. It affords us the opportunity to restore the Kedushah of an entire generation. During the Yovel, all reverts to its original state. The land returns to its original owners, even if they have forgotten their inheritance. Servants go back to their families, and begin anew. Everyone is given a new beginning. The Yovel offers a second chance.
The Yovel begins on Yom Kippur, the day when our past sins are judged and evaluated. At the close of the day, we are given a clean slate, and the opportunity to start fresh. On Yom Kippur, we fast, both to afflict ourselves and to resemble the angels. In so doing, we attempt to reveal the hidden Kedushah in all of us. Yovel is much the same. It provides us with the opportunity to link ourselves with past generations, and imbues us with the Kedushah to carry us into the future.
To return to the original question, Sefer Vayikra concerns itself with detailing the task of Am Yisrael. Our task is to reveal Kedushah as individuals, as a nation, and finally, as a generation. Shabbat, Shemittah, and Yovel are the tools to assist us in performing this task. Therefore, it is completely logical that Shemittah and Yovel should be contained within Sefer Vayikra. They are the means by which we are to accomplish our task of revealing our innate Kedushah.