Monday, May 14, 2007

Who's Boss?

This week’s parsha begins with the mitzvah of Shemittah, the obligation to let the land lay fallow on the seventh year of the Israeli agricultural cycle. There is an obvious parallel here to the weekly Shabbat and the Torah isn’t very subtle about it. Take a look at this:

When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a Shabbat for G-d. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a Shabbat of Shabbats for the land. It is G-d’s Shabbat. Do not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards… It will be a Sabbatical year for the land. You may eat [the produce] of the Shabbat of the land…

Vayikra 25:2-5

The Torah is trying to make a point here. Shemittah is Shabbat wrought large. Beyond the idea of taking some time off every seven days or seven years, there are some other, less obvious parallels. Taken together, these commonalities will guide us to a sharper understanding of both Shabbat and the Shemittah year.

Shemittah is introduced as a “Shabbat for G-d.” In the Ten Commandments, the Torah uses the exact same language to describe the weekly Shabbat:

Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is Shabbat for G-d your Lord.

Shemot 20:10

What does it mean when we say a “Shabbat for G-d”? Certainly, G-d does not need to take time off to rest, nor does G-d have a need for us to rest. G-d needs nothing. Humans require rest, but that would not explain why Shabbat and Shemittah are called Shabbatot “for G-d.”

Another parallel. In this week’s parsha, the Torah explicitly addresses the very question about Shemittah that you were afraid to ask:

You might ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops!” I will direct my blessing to you in the sixth year and the land will produce enough crops for three years.

Vayikra 25:20-21

G-d promises a miracle. In the year before Shemittah, the produce will be so plentiful it will last for three years!

After the Exodus, when the Jews trekked across the Sinai Peninsula to Israel, they survived by eating the miraculous Manna. Every day Manna would fall from the sky and the Jews would go out into desert to collect it. But on Shabbat, the Jews were not permitted to work and the Manna did not fall. What did they eat?

When Friday came, what they gathered [turned out to be] a double portion of food… [Moshe] said to them, “This is what G-d has said, ‘Tomorrow is a day of rest, G-d’s holy Shabbat. Bake what you want to bake and cook what you want to cook [today]. Whatever you have left over, put aside carefully until morning.’”

Shemot 16:22-23

On the sixth year of the Shimittah cycle G-d provided extra food for the seventh year and on the sixth day of the weekly cycle G-d provided extra food for the Shabbat day. G-d does everything on His end, even performing miracles, in order to make it possible for us to rest when Shabbat arrives. Why is resting on Shabbat so important? Why is G-d bending over backwards just so we can take some time off?

The last point the Torah makes about Shemittah is this:

You may eat [the produce] of the Shabbat of the land; it is for you, your male and female slaves, your employees and the residents who live with you. Your domestic and wild animals that are in the land shall [also] have all the crops for consumption.

Vayikra 25:6-7

Rashi paraphrases G-d’s intent:

Even though I have not allowed you [to work the land], it is not consumption or pleasure that I am proscribing. Rather, [it is just this:] Do not act like an owner. Everyone should have equal rights [in the land], you, your employee and your resident.

“Do not act like an owner.” This is the core idea of Shemittah. It may not surprise you to learn that Shabbat is no different. Here are the immortal words of R. Yisroel Meir Kagen (the “Chofetz Chaim,” 1838-1933):

The Torah states: “Remember the Shabbat to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is Shabbat for G-d your Lord… This is because it was during the six weekdays that G-d made the heaven, the sea and all that is in them…” (Shemot 20:8-11).
The Torah is telling us here that Shabbat provides the basis for faith in Creationism. Since G-d created everything, He is the Master of all and we are His servants. We are therefore obligated to do His will and to serve Him with all our bodies, souls and wealth – for all is His.

Introduction to Mishnah Berurah, vol. IV

On Shabbat we recognize that we exist and we survive in this world by the grace of G-d the Creator. If we can get that down once every seven days, it will elevate everything we do, say and think all week long. This is why G-d is willing to make miracles to enable the observance of Shabbat and Shimittah.

Now we can understand what the Torah meant when it called both the seventh day and the seventh year a “Shabbat for G-d.” Those are the only times the Jew doesn’t act like an owner!

1 comment:

  1. Actually, this Parashah should go with the following one describing the Yuvel, the 50 year ceremony.
    It becomes clear that HaShem is the owner of the land and has given it to the Hebrews on a long-term lease basis along with a chozee (contract) called the Covenant. Additional rules and regulations are given for clarification of the covenant. The 3 year period occuring every 50 years is actually a period of pure communism!! So, it says that the nation of Hebrews must get a taste of humility, equality and cooperation among all the people at least once every 50 years for a 3-year period. This is a way of forcing kindness, graciousness, compassion and justice upon all the people to remind the people that all of the good is created by HaShem.

    Al Milgram