Parashas Behar – A promise only G-d can keep.

By Avner Friedmann

The parsha of this week opens with the laws of Shemitah, the sabbatical year.[1] It states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount 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 the Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard and you may gather in its crops. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. The after growth of your harvest you shall not reap and the grapes you had set aside for yourself you shall not pick; it shall be a year of rest for the land.”

Now, why is it that Mount Sinai is mentioned and what connection does it have to the sabbatical year? Rashi answers, that all the mitzvot in all their details were given at Mount Sinai, as were those of Shemitah; even those mitzvot that the Torah recorded years later. This clearly means that not only the Tablets with the Ten Commandments were brought down, but that the Torah in its entirety was given to Moshe at Mount Sinai.

The Chatam Sofer[2] says that the Shemitah is a clear proof that the entire Torah which was given at Sinai is from Heaven. Just look at the guarantee the Torah gives regarding the Shemitah[3]: “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.”

For a person whose sole income is from working the land, Shemitah is a very difficult concept. What about my livelihood? How am I going to survive?  So HaShem promises that the year before Shemitah will produce enough crop to last for three years, until the next available crop is harvested, as Rashi explains[4]: “The sixth year from Nissan until the end of the year, through the seventh year, and at least until Nissan of the eighth year, when the new crop of the eighth year would be fully grown.”

Only HaShem, the author of the Torah and the Creator of heaven and earth, can give such a guarantee, says the Chatam Sofer. This could not have been given by a human author; not even Moshe.  A human being would be very foolish indeed to make such a promise that needs to be proven every seven years and withstand the test of time. In the land of Israel today, during our very own lifetimes, we have been witnessing many miraculous stories that happen to those who keep the Shemitah[5].

The mitzvah of Shemitah is the foundation of our faith (emunah) that G-d not only created the world, but that He directs and supervises everything in the world on a constant basis. It provides the ultimate test of trust in HaShem. As long as a Jew truly believes that what is meant to be his will come to him, he will never lose as a result of Shemitah. On the contrary, he will find blessings in his food[6]. Furthermore, the Shemitah helps us to recognize that even the crops that grow during the other six years, when we are allowed to work the land, are also a gift from Hashem. He is the source of our livelihood and success.

Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto[7] wrote the following regarding trusting in HaShem: “A person can never be deprived from what has been set aside for him. The exertion of a person does not produce the results, even though it is necessary. Once one exerted himself, he has fulfilled his responsibilities and made room for the blessing of Heaven to rest upon him. Since, once a man does a little work, he needs to trust in his Master and not be troubled by any worldly matters. His mind will then be free and his heart ready for the service of Hashem.”


[1] 25:1-5.

[2] As brought by Mayana Shel Torah-Behar.

[3] 25:20-21.

[4] On verse 25:21.

[5] See Rabbi Kleiner’s new book about testimonies.

[6] Rashi on 25:19.

[7] The Path of the Just, Perek 21.

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