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THE WORLD'S GREATEST
LONG TERM LEASE

by Jay Eizenstat    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Hashem spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, saying, 'Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field. . .and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem'" (Leviticus 25:1-4).

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"Hashem spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, saying, 'Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field. . .and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem'" (Leviticus 25:1-4).

This week's Torah portion describes the mitzvah of Shemittah, perhaps the world's greatest lease agreement, given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. Much can be said about this mitzvah, but several points stand out: Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, raises the question as to why this mitzvah is introduced by specifically informing us that it was given by Hashem to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Rashi explains that although the details of Shemittah do not appear chronologically in the text until the end of Leviticus, many months after the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the Torah is teaching us that Hashem disseminated all of the Torah's rules and details at Mt. Sinai, not just the general principles. Regardless of where any particular detail of a mitzvah appears in the Torah, they were all commanded by Hashem at Mt. Sinai.

The unique introduction of Shemittah also underscores how this particular mitzvah is inexorably intertwined with Mt. Sinai. During the remarkable revelation accompanying the giving of the Torah, Hashem's presence was so palpable, so unmistakable, that no one questioned that human success was completely dependent on compliance with Hashem's commands and on the Jewish people's willingness to submit to His Torah. Similarly, Shemittah teaches that our success is solely dependent on Hashem, not on the "laws of nature". When the farmer leaves his fields fallow during Shemittah, he demonstrates his belief both in the reality that Hashem is the ultimate owner of the land and that Hashem will provide him with his needs during the long year. As the Ohr HaChaim, a classic 18th century commentary, remarks, a central idea in the mitzvah of Shemittah and the way in which it was commanded is that Hashem is the King and Sovereign over the world. As such, it is incumbent on His special servants (the Jewish people) to fulfill all of the commandments given at Mt. Sinai.

Commenting on the sentence structure of the second verse in the above passage - "When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem" - the Ohr HaChaim points out the implication of the verse: The land of Israel was given by Hashem to the Jewish people specifically because they accepted the Torah, including the laws of Shemittah. The verse suggests that the gift of the land is contingent upon our observance of Hashem's commandments.

Indeed, the Torah expresses that gift in the present tense to emphasize that the gift is an ongoing one. We should always feel moved by the kindness Hashem bestowed upon us by choosing us to be the tenants of the Holy Land. So too, we must feel the accompanying responsibility to follow Hashem's Torah, including the mitzvah of Shemittah.

Importantly, Hashem excluded every seventh year from His gift to the Jewish people, reserving the Shemittah year for Himself. This is derived from the fact that after Hashem talks about "the land that I give you," He immediately writes that "the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem" even before informing us that the land should be worked for six years and allowed to rest in the seventh year. This indicates that Hashem reserved the land for Himself every seventh year.

The Jewish notion of the importance of cycles of seven is very much at play within Shemittah. The Ramban, one of the greatest medieval commentators on the Torah, observes that the Torah links the Sabbatical year to the weekly Sabbath by saying "the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem." Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. As such, Man works for six days and rests on the seventh, recognizing Hashem's dominion over the world. So too, in the Shemittah cycle, Man works the land for six years and leaves it fallow in the seventh, recognizing Hashem's sovereignty over the land. Thus, the Ramban adds that the days of the week correspond more closely to the seven days of Creation, whereas the seven years of the Shemittah cycle more closely parallel the traditional seven millennia of world history: six of labor and one of absolute tranquillity. We can see from these parallel cycles of seven - seven days in the week, seven years in the Shemittah cycle, and seven thousand years of Jewish history - that Hashem personally runs the world through hidden and revealed miracles. Hashem runs the world daily, yearly, and infinitely.

The Ohr HaChaim states that Hashem built into the mitzvah of Shemittah at least two miracles. The first was to suspend normative crop rotation, from the standard two fallow years out of every six, to only one fallow year in every seven. That the land would continue to produce without any rest for six straight years runs counter to normal agricultural procedure. The second miracle is that Hashem infused into the land the remarkable strength that in the sixth and final year of production it would produce a triple crop - enough food for the sixth year, Shemittah, and the beginning of the eighth year until the new crops can be harvested (Leviticus 25:21). The Kli Yakar, a classic commentary on the Torah, similarly comments that Hashem's suspending the "laws of nature" steered the Jewish people from viewing nature as the source of their success, thereby strengthening their absolute trust in Hashem.

Observance of Shemittah leads to a more sanctified relationship with Hashem and a greater flow of blessing from the Holy Land. It should therefore come as no surprise that in Parshat Bechukotai, this week's second portion, the Torah suggests that failure to observe Shemittah will result in exile from our precious land of Israel and our being unable to benefit from its sanctified produce. A proof of this fact is that, if you make the calculations, the Jewish people did not faithfully observe seventy Shemittah years prior to and during the First Temple period. As such, their exile in Babylon lasted seventy years, during which time the land made up for the years of rest from which it was deprived (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 33a). As with all mitzvot, Shemittah has its own system of reward and punishment.

After all is said, Hashem's gift of the land of Israel is one that must be guarded and constantly sanctified. It was given to the Jewish people because we accepted the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Therefore, observance of the Torah and its mitzvot is the only true guarantee to our sovereignty over the Holy Land. As the verse in this week's second Torah portion states: "If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments (i.e. Shemittah) and perform them; then. . .you will dwell securely in your land" (Leviticus 26:3-5). Shemittah infuses special holiness into the Holy Land, such that the sweet fruit we extract from it is filled with the sweetness of Hashem's Torah. Hashem could give us no greater gift.

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Jay Eizenstat, who hails from Atlanta, lives with his family in the Holy Land and is studying at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

You are invited to read more Parshat Behar & Bechukotai articles.

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