Dedicated Leilui Neshamot Alfred, Elliot and Isaac Suede by Alan Fallas and Family
Parashat Behar Shemitah—Fallow This week’s parasha talks about the Shemitah —fallow. It opens with, “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to B’nei Yisrael and say to them: When you come to the land that I give you, the land shall observe a 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 your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem; you shall not sow your field, and you shall not prune your vineyard (25:1-4).” The Jewish farmers in the Land of Israel are required to let the land lie fallow, or rest, every seventh year. Plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting, are forbidden by halacha. Additionally, any fruits or herbs which grow of their own accord and where no watch is kept over them are deemed hefker—ownerless and may be picked by anyone. Just imagine if someone told you to close your business for an entire year, every seventh year. How would you survive? If you think about this concept, it’s an unbelievable test that these farmers have. Shemitah is compared to Shabbat by Rambam in that both Shemitah and Shabbat bear testimony to Hashem’s creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh. The seven years of the Shemitah cycle also allude to the six thousand years of history that will peak by the seventh millennium at Mashiach’s arrival, which will be a period of peace and tranquility. “The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it (25:19).” Rashi says that in return for observing the Shemitah laws, the Jews would not be exiled. We were in galut for seventy years between the first and second Batei Mikdash because of seventy Shemitah years which were not properly observed. Hashem’s Promise Hashem offers assurances that those who let their land lie fallow will not suffer famine. This parasha guarantees that the year before Shemitah, the land will produce a crop large enough to last for three years—the sixth, seventh, and eighth—until the crop planted in the eighth year is harvested. We might think that the soil is an inanimate object that doesn’t need rest, but from an agricultural perspective, the land needs rest to grow to produce properly. Hashem gave us the Land of Israel, and He gave us a set of instructions on how to use the land most effectively. The Ohr HaChaim mentions the miracle that is this promise. The sixth year should be the weakest because the land produced for six straight years. But it’s that very year that Hashem blesses the land to produce crops for three more. According to the Chatam Sofer, the laws of Shemitah prove that only Hashem could be the Author of our holy Torah. If a human being invented such a law, he would have to be crazy to make such a promise — because if it wouldn’t happen, he would be disproven. Only G-d can make such a statement and be right about it! Parnasah Comes from Hashem Shemitah is a test just like Shabbat, because our parnasah is not in our hands, although we may believe that it comes from our efforts. Rabbi Diamond always taught us that our work is muchrach ve’lo—necessary, but it doesn’t do anything, which is a very difficult concept to comprehend. Parnasah comes from Hashem. Though it’s necessary to put in our hishtadlut—effort, the actual sustenance comes from Hashem. Some people may think not working on Shabbat and not harvesting during Shemitah will be a hindrance to their income, when in fact, doing so will make them lose more! The laws of Shemitah are juxtaposed with the subsequent pesukim dealing with a person who descends to the lower levels of poverty. Chazal explain poverty is a direct consequence of refusing to follow the Shemitah laws. If a farmer tries to defy Hashem by keeping his farm going through the seventh year, it will not only not benefit him. On the contrary, it will take him down a very slippery slope of poverty, to the point where he’ll have to sell everything he owns until he ultimately finds himself on the receiving end of charity! Rabbi Avraham Bukspan writes in his book “Classics & Beyond” most often we are caught up in worrying about our own needs rather than those of our neighbor’s needs. If someone’s neighbor goes running to him, frantic, saying that he won’t be able to pay his rent that’s past due, the man would console him by saying, “Relax, have bitachon, Hashem will take care of you.” They are kind words but they’re just words. When it comes to us, however, we’re busy saving money, sometimes at the expense of our spiritual growth. We live in fear and concern, while we tell our friends to have faith and trust. Rav Yisrael Salantar was quoted as saying, “We worry about our own physical needs and everyone else’s spiritual needs, yet it should be the reverse. Our concern should be for our neighbor’s physical needs and our own spiritual needs.” We need to strengthen our own bitachon in Hashem while saving the worry for other people. Rav Yaakov Yosef writes that Shemitah constitutes a yearlong lesson in bitachon in Hashem. It takes courage, but the reward is great. We see firsthand the power of Hashem—that there is really nothing to worry about. Bitachon Rabbi Wallerstein ZT’L told a story about a king who went on one of his hunting trips one day with his palace staff. As he was walking through the woods, he slashed his finger on a sharp branch. He quickly called his doctor over to him since he was accompanying the king for this purpose. The doctor examined the king’s finger and said, “You need stitches right away, or you could lose the finger.” So the doctor stitched him up, and the king asked him, “Do you think I’ll be okay?” The doctor answered, “I don’t know. I did my best, but I don’t know.” A week later, the king has his doctor come to examine his finger, which had gotten all red and infected. The doctor prescribed some antibiotic ointment, but it didn’t help. Two weeks later, the king was furious. “My finger is green!” He yelled at his doctor. “And it looks like the infection is moving to my arm!!” The doctor sighed and said, “Okay, as I feared, we’re going to have to amputate.” He performed the surgery, and the king woke up and looked at his missing pinky and decided he would teach his doctor a lesson. In a rage, the king threw the doctor into his dungeon and declared, “Because my finger turned green, you will rot and turn green in this dungeon with the rats.” The next week, the king decided to go on another hunting trip, but this time, he was alone, without his doctor like usual. In the depths of the woods, the king is captured by savages. This particular tribe served their god with human sacrifice. They tied the king up, brought him to the altar, and surrounded him with flowers and vegetables to bring to their god. The whole tribe was singing and dancing and performing rituals. The leader went to cut the king’s head off when he suddenly stopped short. “No good,” he said. “He’s an incomplete sacrifice. He has nine fingers. Untie him, let him go.” The king was extremely relieved that his life was saved because of his missing finger. He quickly ran to the dungeon to release his inmate, and he hugged him and kissed him, and said, “You won’t believe it!! I was in the forest, and I was captured, and they were about to chop my head off! And because you took my finger off, my life was saved!! I don’t even know how to thank you.” And the doctor said, “Well then I also have to thank you.” And the king said, “Why do you have to thank me?” The doctor solemnly held up his hands and said, “Because I have ten fingers.” Had the king not put the doctor in the dungeon, he would’ve been with the king, and he would’ve been the sacrifice! There are two men in this story, both at the lowest point in their lives. One was in a dungeon left to die, and one had just lost an appendage, and because of both those circumstances—those low points—both men were saved. This is what Hashem is all about. Even if chas veshalom something bad happens in someone’s life, that very challenge could be the thing that ultimately saves them. Hashem asks us to put our trust in Him every seventh year for shemitah, and every seventh day for Shabbat. From this story, we learn that we have to trust in Hashem, because what seems like the worst, is always for the best. Freeing Servants The Torah states that in the seventh year, after six years of servitude, a master must let his indentured servant go free. Rabbi Twerski writes in his book Twerski on Chumash that Hashem presented this mitzvah to B’nei Yisrael before they were released from Egypt, so they would take it seriously because the agony from enslavement was still fresh in their minds. Yet despite their history of suffering as slaves, before the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash, the Jewish masters were having a hard time emancipating their slaves. Yirmiyahu warned the people that not letting their servants go free will result in dire consequences, and unfortunately, his warning fell on deaf ears. Shortly after, the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed. The lesson from this mitzvah is how important it is to relinquish control. We don’t have to dominate over anyone. Not with indentured servants, but also not with our marriage and children. This is an important lesson we can learn today. Lag Ba’Omer Lag Ba’Omer is this week, demonstrating the close of the mourning period for Rabbi Akiva’s students. Rabbi Semah wrote a beautiful piece about Rabbi Akiva’s wife, Rachel, and the immense respect she had for her husband. Rabbi Akiva was a simple shepherd. Rachel, the daughter of the great benefactor, Ben Kalba Savua, saw that Rabbi Akiva possessed special character traits. She told him she would marry him if he went to yeshivah to learn. It was Rachel’s vision of young Akiva’s greatness that led him to become the great Rabbi Akiva, who transmitted the Torah to the next generations. If she had not noticed and believed in his unique abilities, Rabbi Akiva would have remained an unassuming shepherd. The Gemara says that the students of Rabbi Akiva didn’t treat each other with sufficient honor. Receiving honor is nice. It makes us feel good. And conversely, being put down is painful and dispiriting. But there is something more powerful in this discussion. Honor and respect tell the person that he is important in your eyes, that you see his greatness and believe in him. This is crucial to his development. He begins to see himself through the lens of those around him and starts to believe in himself. This is especially critical in our relationships with those closest to us. Our spouses, children, rabbis, and teachers yield so much influence by what they see in each person. It’s more than what they say, it’s the lens through which they are seeing the child. As we approach the end of this mourning period, let us learn from the wife of Rabbi Akiva the power of this tool of kavod and respect. Ultimately, what you see is what you get. May we always follow Hashem’s laws and keep them sacred. May we observe Shabbat carefully and understand that Hashem truly runs the world. May we treat our spouses and family with the kavod they deserve!! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
How would you feel if Hashem commanded you not to work for a whole year every seven years?
How good is our Shabbat observance and how can we make it better?
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