Dr Mori Bank
“H told Moshe to speak to Am Yisrael and say to them, When you come to the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest to H”. (Vayikra 25, 1-2)
How can the inanimate earth observe a Shabbos rest? Can it be offended? Will there be a volcano? If we don’t keep the Shemitta, the land will vomit us out. The worst plague in Egypt was the plague of darkness. Those who did not want to leave perished.
The Power of Seven
In our generation everything seems to be functioning in metric, on the basis of 10; metres, kilograms, kilometers. Time is the exception. It doesn’t fit into a metric system. The world still functions on the measure of 7 – the week. All 7s are favoured by H’. From the beginning there are 7 heavens (Shamayim, Rakiya, Shechokim, Zvul, Mo’on, Mochon and Arvos). H is in the 7th heaven, (as the posuk says, ‘extol the One who rides on Arvos”). Earth has 7 names. Eretz, Adama. Arkeh, Chorboh, Yabosho, Neshiyo and Teivel (about which the Posuk says “He will judge Teivel betzedek, with righteousness”). The 7th is the favoured of generations – Adam, Seth, Enosh, Keinan, Mehalel, Yered and Hanoch – Hanoch walked with H and H took him back, because he was righteous. Amongst the fathers, the seventh was favoured; Avraham, Yitzhak, Yakkov, Levi Khas, Amram and Moshe, (to whom H spoke mouth to mouth). Of the children of Yishai, the seventh was the favourite (Elaiv, avinadav, Nesanel, Radai, Otzem and David, who was crowned King). Amongst the Kings, the seventh was the favourite (see Divrei Hayamim II, 14). Among the years the Shemitta is the favourite. The seventh of the seventh shemitta, the Yovel, is the favourite. Among the days the seventh is the favourite. Among the months the seventh is the favourite – Tishrei. Nissan is the first of months. The significance of 7 is that H associated his name with seven. Seven represents infinity; Me’ein Olam Haba.
When you come to the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest to H’. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard. You may gather its crop. In the seventh year, it shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for H’. 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. The Sabbath produce of the land shall be your to eat, for you, your slave and for your maidservant, and for your labourer and for your resident who dwell with you. And for the animal and for the beast that is in your land shall all its crop be to eat.
You shall count for yourself seven cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times; the years of the seven cucyles of sabbatical years shall be for you forty-nine years. Youshall sound a broken blast on the shofar, in the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the shofar throughout your land. You shall sanctify the 50th year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you, you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each man to his family. It shall be the Jubilee year for you-this fiftieth year-you shall not sow, you shall not harvest its after-growth and you shall not pick what was set aside of it for yourself. For it is a Jubilee Year, it shall be holy to you; from the field you may eat its crop. In this Jubilee Year you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage.
The Significance Shemitta
The detailed laws of Shemitta are skillfully summarized in Imrei Sheviis Hashalem, an excellent work documenting the effect of the Shemitta on fields, fruit and monetary matters in great detail.
In his introduction, the author explains that the restrictions of Shemitta are really the removal of distractions to reveal joy. This recharges the batteries for the next 7 years.
The Kesav Sofer said the Shemitta is the root and foundation of all Torah.
Rambam, in his Guide for the Perplexed said that we might at first instance think Shemitta is for the land to rest, so that it is not completely weakened. If this were the case, the Torah would demand that it lies fallow every other year. Rather Shemitta is for H, not for the land.
The Sefer HaChinuch exaplins that Shemitta is for man to recognise that the produce is not the result of the strength of his hand. Rather he works full strength for 6 years, unlike ordinary farmers, which exhausts the land. Nevertheless, he has faith there will be sufficient not only for the seventh year but for 2 or 3 years, despite the weakening of the land for 6 years. This, he says, is beyond nature.
Mark Twain visited Jerusalem prior to the return in our times. He described it as the most desolate land that could exist. In Jerusalem, he wrote, not even the hardiest deswet-dweller, the cactus, could live.
Rain and dew are a sign of love from the Creator. H consistently looks after the land and demands that man trusts Him. Seven is the power of bitachon. He will make the land into a Garden of Eden and we shall be a nation of priests.
The Kli Yakar writes that the Jewish year replants our faith and trust in H’. We must not forget this, lose trust and rely on our own strength and power. H therefore removed us from the natural way of the world. Like the daily falling of Man reminded the generation in the desert of our total day to day dependence on H, we must realise that we remain completely reliant on H’.
Chofetz Chaim Moshav was, initially, one of the few farms that meticulously guarded Shemita. They do not work the land on Shemitta. In its early years, on Shemitta, a swarm of locusts ate every blade of grass and the leaves of every tree in the region. Miraculously, they stopped just short of Moshav Chafetz Chaim. Every blade of grass has a malach. Even the rain falls on this side of the mountains rather than Jordan. It is a taste of Olam Haba in Olam Hazeh.
Rav Boruch of Mazhibuzh described that while he may have fear and anxiety in face of a Cossack on his horse brandishing a sword, or seeing tens of thousands of Russian soldiers advancing against him, nothing compared to his fear of transgressing a Rabbinical command such as Shemitta.
The Beis HaLevi learnt that although Shemitta is Rabbinical, we are in fact obligated by the Torah to observe its laws. We swore an oath to observe Shmitta in the Land and to respect it outside the land. Every Jew has to cancel every loan, even in Hutz La’Aretz. The source is in Nechamia, chapter 10. Even if we don’t have the biblical command, we definitely have the Raqbbinic command.
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld refused to meet the Kaiser when he came to Yerushalayim. He said that he would not set eyes on the face of a Rasha. Rav Yosef Chaim’s son and grandson live in Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv to today, an awesome legacy. A farmer approached him and asked him what he should do about Shemitta and suggested that perhaps he should sell his fields to a non Jew. Rav Yosef Chaim spoke very strongly against the suggestion, citing the posuk in Yirmeyahu ch 17 posuk 5 – cursed is the man who will place his trust in his fellow man.
The Torah emphasizes the laws of Shemitta were given at Har Sinai. Shemitta is a preparation for receiving Torah. Every year on Shavuos we can experience what we experienced at Har Sinai. The blessing of H is the link between Har Sinai and Shemitta. One who keeps the Torah is excused from the burden of making a livelihood. We are to be a nation of priests, a light unto the nations to strengthen the 7 Mitzvos Benei Noach. Each man will live in peace and there will be no sword in the land, no self aggrandizement any more. We are driven by a Yetzer Hora to earn money, negating our trust in the almighty. It is a prerequisite to keeping Torah to come into the land and keep Shemitta. A soldier is not really fighting for his own life but for the good of the public. Farmers have to pay taxes. Why don’t they cry out? They must understand where all that they have comes from. The Noam Elimelech says – if you ask, I will give you what to eat. If you don’t ask – you are the true hero – the land will produce so much that you don’t need to ask.
The Torah commands us to keep all mitzvos. Otherwise we suffer sevenfold until life itself loses its purpose, as is described in Behukosai. Sheva is lashon shavua – just as we are promised blessing, we are promised suffering if we do not realise where the blessing comes from.
H continually creates the world. Each new fruit, each new day, each new life that comes into this world. The Torah rests on Ahavta lereacha kamocha. During the Shemitta there is no sowing, harvesting or reaping. You have to be satisfied with what you have, sometimes for 3 years on Yovel. People can take whatever they want. It is a time of powerful emuna and bitachon. There can be no greater love for a neighbour than an act of kindness, sharing with him.
Dayan Abramsky learnt that the primary purpose of Shemitta is to proclaim that H created whole world from nothing and continues to sustain it and provide for all its inhabitants and for all their needs. H is the Creator of everything good. Crops do not produce because of our efforts but through the attention of their true owner, and ours. As such, he has a right to reclaim the produce. Those who defy this and deal in shemitta produce deny H’s sovereignty and creation. The only kedusha that is dorasia today is that which applies to shemitta fruit. You cannot throw fruit away. Not even the pips. Shemitta is unique to the land. The restrictions of working the land do not apply outside the land.
One who denies H’s ownership of the land consequently loses his house, field, and ultimately his freedom. He is sentenced to exile and can even forfeit his life. Dayan Abramski said that in our days it is our powerful heroes that keep shemitta. May we be Zoche to keep Shabbos, Shemitta and Yovel. We can choose to Build pyramids of Pharaohs or come home to Torah, Beis Hamikdash, Mashiach Tzidkeinu, Tehiyas Hameisim, Moshe, Aharon, the Tzadikim and see Yeshuos H .