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Parshas Nitzavim - Vayeilech

The Longest Shabbos

Here is a great piece of Jewish trivia that you can impress your friends with at cocktail parties: The longest Shabbos of the year begins this coming Wednesday evening September 24th at sunset.

Confused? Allow me to explain … Just as the Torah commands us to observe Shabbos and to refrain from doing any work once every seven days (see Exodus 20:8-10), so, too, are we commanded by G-d that the entire Land of Israel should observe Shabbos, and that no work should be done on it once every seven years. As the Torah tells us in Parshas Behar: “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for G-d” (Leviticus 25:2).

This “Shabbos” of the land – most often referred as the Shemittah year – starts on Rosh Hashanah (this coming Wednesday evening at sunset) and ends next Rosh Hashanah – and is “the longest Shabbos” of the year.

[The laws of the Shemittah year can mostly be found in Leviticus 25:1-7 (see also Exodus 23:10-12 and Deuteronomy 15:1-6). During Shemittah, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by Halachah (Jewish law). Other cultivation techniques (such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing) may be performed as a preventative measure only, not to improve the growth of trees or other plants. Additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed hefker (ownerless) and may be picked by anyone. A variety of laws also apply to the sale, consumption and disposal of Shemittah produce. These laws are still observed today by many Jews throughout the Land of Israel.]

Now there are many people who have an issue with refraining from work every seventh day. After all, they say, how can we make a living if we can’t work on Shabbos? It is especially difficult for those who work in retail where Saturday is a huge shopping day.

And if you think that’s hard, how about those who own land in Israel and who have to refrain from farming it for an entire year? There is no question that it takes a great amount of bitachon (trust) in G-d to have your land observe a year-long Shabbos, especially if your whole livelihood comes from agriculture.

In fact, the Midrash refers to those who faithfully uphold the agricultural restrictions of the Shemittah year as “the strong warriors who do His bidding” (see Psalms 103:20). Since G-d commanded that the land lie fallow for one full year, these farmers willingly allow their land to go to waste. Because the devout man accepts all this with serene faith, he merits the title “strong warrior”.

The truth is that one of the main purposes of both the weekly Shabbos and the year-long Shabbos of Shemittah is for us to develop in ourselves a greater bitachon and trust in G-d.

Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, otherwise known as the Dubno Maggid (1740-1804), in his collection of parables Mishlei Yaakov on Parshas Yisro, explains the verse “Cast your burden upon the L-ord and He will sustain you” (Psalms 55:23) with the following parable:

A poor man carrying a heavy sack on his shoulders was walking along the highway. When a rich man drove by in his empty carriage and offered to give the man a lift, he very happily accepted the offer. Imagine the surprise of the wealthy man, however, when he turned to glance at his passenger and saw that the traveler was still carrying his heavy load on his shoulders. “My good man,” the owner of the carriage cried out, “What are you doing? Why don’t you put your heavy sack down on the seat next to you?” “If you please, sir,” the humble traveler replied, “you have been kind enough to me already. Your carriage has to bear the weight of my body even now. How then can I burden you with my bundle too?” At this his host laughed out loud. “Foolish man,” he said. “Don’t you see that it’s all the same to me whether you hold your sack on your shoulder or whether you put it down beside you? It’s still in the carriage and I’m carrying it either way!”

We are sometimes just like the foolish man in the story. We think that we need to work on Shabbos - or during the Shemittah year in Israel – because otherwise we won’t be able to survive financially. What we tend to forget is that G-d keeps us all the time; He bears our burdens and supplies our wants throughout the week and throughout the year. Why, then, should we fear that the little burden of providing for our livelihood on Shabbos or during Shemittah, when we do not work, should be too much for Him?

The Psalmist thus tells us: “Cast your burden upon the L-ord and He will sustain you”. Take the load of making a livelihood off your shoulders and let G-d assume the burden once every week or every seven years. He can take care of you very well – just like He sustains you the rest of the time when you are working.

May G-d grant us the strength and courage and faith to do His bidding and to trust in Him at all times.

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