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Parshas Behar (5776)

Judaism: The Seven-Year Religion?

You may not be aware of this, but every seventh year in the Land of Israel is known as the Shemittah, or Sabbatical Year, and it really turns the country upside down.

According to the Torah, as mentioned in the beginning of this week's Torah portion, all those who live in Israel are commanded to leave their lands fallow for the entire year; they are not to plant their fields nor are they to harvest for themselves the crops that grow. The land which had been worked on for six years is to observe a period of rest for the seventh year, in which all farming ceases. [FYI, the next Shemittah year will begin on September 7, 2021.]

Imagine that! The entire country stops everything for a full year - no planting crops, no cultivating the orchards, no fertilizing the fields .... nothing! And there are many other areas of agriculture that are legislated by the Shemittah laws as well.

Now, to be sure, there are some Israeli farmers who are not observant, and who don't keep this commandment. Others, who are observant, follow certain leniencies that allow for the earth to be planted and harvested during the Shemittah. But there are many farmers in the Land of Israel who do all they can to observe the commandment as stated in the Torah and actually let their lands lie fallow and rest for one full year. So that at most fruit stands and supermarkets in Israel during the Shemittah year, you can't help but notice all the signs and instructions posted that inform prospective buyers as to the laws of Shemittah that affect them.

Many explanations have been advanced by our great Jewish philosophers and thinkers as to the rationale for this seemingly strange and difficult commandment. And most of them point to the idea that by not planting and growing his fields once every seven years, the Jew is reminded of his true goal in life - that material success does not bring true happiness and meaning and that we are really here to grow spiritually and become more G-dlike - much the same way the weekly Shabbos reminds the Jew that he is working towards a spiritual, and not a physical, end.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah prefaces its discussion of the various laws of Shemittah with the following verse: "G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying ..." (Leviticus 25:1). Rashi, the preeminent Bible commentator, asks the obvious question. All the commandments were spoken to Moses at Mount Sinai. So why did the Torah feel the need to state specifically regarding this particular mitzvah of Shemittah that it was spoken to Moses at Mount Sinai?

Rashi quotes a Midrash which explains the special connection between Shemittah and Mount Sinai as follows: This reference teaches us that not only the broad outlines, but even the details of all the 613 commandments were given at Sinai - as were those of Shemittah - even the commandments that the Torah recorded many years after the Revelation at Sinai. The otherwise superfluous on Mount Sinai is meant to indicate that all the commandments are of Sinaitic origin as well.

The question that still remains is why, of all the 613 commandments in the Torah, was the commandment of Shemittah chosen to be the example of a commandment that was given with all its details at Sinai and to which all other commandments would be compared. After all, Shemittah was not the only mitzvah given at Sinai, and the Torah could have stated about any other commandment that it was said to Moses on Mount Sinai, and we would have learned from there that all the details of all the other commandments were said at Sinai as well?


The commentators explain that Shemittah was singled out from all the other commandments in the Torah due to a special quality that Shemittah has, which binds this particular commandment to Sinai.

The mitzvah of Shemittah offers proof that G-d is the Author of the Torah, and that it is not merely the product of human beings. After all, which human being would have come up with such a seemingly absurd idea - that all farmers in Israel should leave their fields fallow for one full Shemittah year every seven years - and this in an agriculture-based society like Israel?

I can just imagine some Rabbi making up a new religion with this law in it and presenting it to the people ….. "Hey, Rabbi, it says here in Chapter 25 that G-d wants the entire nation of Israel not to plant their fields for the entire Shemittah year! Well, Rabbi, what does G-d expect us to eat for the next year or two ..... huh?"

The truth is that the Torah itself addresses that question. You see, whoever wrote this Torah, wrote immediately after the commandment to let the land rest for the Shemittah year the following amazing words - "If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year? - behold! we will not sow and not gather in our crops! I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period" (Leviticus 25:20-21).

Now, I ask you .…. which human being would go out on a limb like that and make such a daring prediction and promise?! Do you know how long the Jewish religion would last, after the people hear such a prediction?

You guessed it ….. seven years!

That's right, as soon as the seventh year of the Shemittah cycle came and went, and no great abundance of crops was forthcoming ..... poof! .… that's the end of the religion!

But the religion has lasted through many hundreds of Shemittah cycles. And the reason for that is because the people trusted in the Only One Who could possibly come up with this mitzvah and make good on His promise …. G-d Al-mighty.

And it is precisely because of the special character of the Shemittah - it stands as everlasting testimony to its True Author Who revealed it and the rest of the Torah to us at Mount Sinai - that it was chosen by G-d to be the example of a commandment that was given with all its details at Sinai and to which all other commandments would be compared.


Whenever people hear this proof that the Torah was authored by G-d since only G-d could promise the Jewish people that if they observe the Shemittah year, He will make their sixth-year crops so abundant as to last for three full years - and keep His promise - they always ask if it ever actually happened as the Torah predicted it. In other words, did G-d come through with His promise to the Shemittah observers or didn't He?

I want to relate to you a true story that occurred in the Land of Israel during the Shemittah year of 1959 at the religious Moshav of Kommemiut: It seems that in 1957, the Jewish Agency had decided to help the various Kibbutzim and Moshavim - including Moshav Kommemiut - by offering to help them plant orchards full of fruit-growing trees. The Rabbi of Kommemiut, Rav Benyamin Mendelson, agreed to the government's offer, provided that the orchard that was planted would comply with the Torah laws of Shemittah. The government was not interested in dealing with the Shemittah "problem", and the planting of an orchard at Kommemiut delayed, with nothing happening for a full year.

Needless to say, the Moshav was in desperate need of food and income, and could really have used the orchard, but it was felt that the observance of the Shemittah was paramount, and that, somehow, G-d would provide. In 1958, Rav Mendelson spoke with Mr. Wigodsky, the Director of Orchard Development, and explained to him the depth and the beauty of the Torah laws of Shemittah observance, and convinced him to plant an orchard at the Moshav that would fully comply with Torah law. A half a million dollars was spent on planting the orchard, and the Rabbi and the religious community of Kommemiut was happy.

Well, to make a long story short, during the next year, which was a Shemittah year, the Director of Orchard Development complained to Rav Mendelson that by not tending to the orchard for the full year, the government's huge investment was at risk, as the orchard and all the hundreds of trees were doomed to die. Rav Mendelson, too, was worried as to the outcome of the orchard at the end of the Shemittah year, but he decided to do what Jews have done for thousands of years - he put his trust in G-d and His promise not to let the Shemittah observers down. At the end of August 1959, the Director came to Rav Mendelson's home, and told him the most amazing thing. Of the twelve government-planted orchards under his care, all of which were worked on throughout the Shemittah year, none of them came even close to producing what was expected of them. Except for the orchard at Moshav Kommemiut, that is. That orchard, which was basically neglected and untended for the entire Shemittah year, produced far more than all the other orchards!

When Mr. Wigodsky asked Rav Mendelson for an explanation of this "miracle", the good Rabbi told him that this is exactly what G-d promises to those who keep His word, and put their trust in Him. And it was thus recorded in the official records of the Ministry of Agriculture of the State of Israel that the Moshav of Kommemiut did not work on their orchard for the entire year of 1959 and yet they had a tremendous abundance of fruit!

You definitely can't make this stuff up!

[Sources: Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar]

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