In our modernist society, one would think that Parshat Behar would be a bit disconnected. After all, most of us are not farmers, so we do not have to worry about letting our land lie fallow. Our modern society no longer has slaves, so we would not be concerned with the rules about letting slaves go free. Letting land revert back to its ancestral owner is not a concern of most modern real estate agents or investors. Nevertheless, the reasons concerning these unique practices hold a relevance which is of great concern and profound importance to those of us in the modern world.
In Parshat Behar, Hashem tells Moshe to speak to Bnei Yisrael and tell them to honor the Shemita cycle where one’s land must lie fallow in the seventh year. After we have counted Shemita for seven cycles, we are to have a Yovel—a celebration honoring Hashem and His creation of the world. The Yovel is to begin on Yom Kippur: “V’ha’avarta Shofar Teruah Bachodesh Hashivii Beasor Lachodesh Biyom Hakippurim Taaviru Shofar Bichol Artzechem,” “You shall sound a broken blast on the shofar, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the shofar throughout your land” (Leviticus 25:9). The Yovel cycle is one based on the counting of years. Therefore, it is seems illogical for Yovel to begin on the tenth day of the year— one would expect Yovel to begin on the first day of the year. To be concise, one would expect Yovel to begin on Rosh Hashanah rather than on Yom Kippur.
Shemita and Yovel show us the connection between Hashem and the land. The land represents life since it is through food that we can sustain life. Honoring the land is truly honoring Hashem, and noting that it is the seventh year that should be honored obviously connects to the creation of this world and the resting of Hashem on the seventh day. Both Shemita and Yovel and Yom Kippur are described as being a “Shabbat Shabbaton,” yet Shemita and Yovel are a “Shabbat Shabbaton yi‘hiyeh la‘ares, Shabbat LaHashem—A Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem” (Leviticus 25:4). In truth, Shemita and Yovel are less about farming, slavery, and land ownership and more about developing a true connection to Hashem that honors the link between Hashem and our prosperity. That is why Shemita and Yovel are a “Shabbat LaHashem—A Sabbath for Hashem” (Leviticus 25:4) because it is then that we should understand the correlation between Hashem and our successes. Yom Kippur is a “Shabbat Shabbaton Lachem,” “a Sabbath of solemn rest for you” (Leviticus 23:32). It is on Yom Kippur when we must look inward and note how we have behaved in the past year and while Yom Kippur is literally a “Day of Atonement,” we must not forget that one of the crucial steps to achieving true atonement is to look toward the future and to commit to change one’s ways.
While there may be direct benefits to the observance of Shemita and Yovel, the real gain lies in their spiritual significance. In a sense, Shemita and Yovel strip of us our monetary possessions and place us before Hashem as we truly are. Shemita and Yovel give each one of us the opportunity to make a major change in our life and the way that we conduct ourselves by giving us a time for quiet reflection. Reading Parshat Behar forces us to reflect upon ourselves and what we do for our livelihood. It forces us to look inward and reflect upon the choices that we make each day. How we act in our professions should be a true reflection on Hashem, on being created in His image. Thus, the connection of Shemita and Yovel to Yom Kippur is apparent as both are times for reflection on past deeds as well as times to look toward the future.