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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Behar




This week’s parsha is called “Behar,” which means “on the mountain.” The parsha begins with the laws of shemita, a sabbatical year that occurs every seven years when the farmers in the land of Israel are commanded not to work their fields—no harvesting, no planting, no reaping—the land must remain fallow and be at complete rest.

This law, as indicated by the title, was given to Moshe by G-d “on the mountain,” i.e. Mt. Sinai. Rashi questions why the Torah emphasizes this detail? Weren’t all the commandments given to the Jewish people on Sinai?

Rashi explains that just as the laws of shemita were given at Sinai with all their details, so too all the commandments with all their details were given at Sinai. Why does the Torah use this mitzvah of shemita to emphasize this point?

Because the mitzvah of shemita is representative of the fundamental ideals of Judaism: faith, kindness, and humility. During the shemita year, one needs a tremendous amount of trust in G-d, as the farmer is unable to actively plant and support his family. All personal agency related to his livelihood must be suspended, and, in its place, he must completely rely on faith and trust in G-d that he and his family will be sustained.  

The practice of shemita reminds us where the source of our livelihood really comes from. It’s only natural after working the land for six years to think that the results that are produced are because of our efforts and our hard work. 

The mitzvah of shemita reinforces the belief that the success of my hard work depends on G-d, notwithstanding the great effort that is expended in working the land.

G-d blessed the Jewish people so that the sixth year’s produce would yield enough to sustain them for the sixth, seventh, and eighth year. This required the Jewish people to have enough faith that G-d would provide for their basic sustenance.

Shemita is also a year where everyone—poor and rich alike—has the opportunity to enjoy whatever is produced. During the shmitah year, farmers are required to share their produce with everyone. It is true that there are three other commandments associated with sharing produce with the poor on a continual basis:

  • Leket (leaving the sheaves that fall to the ground during harvesting)
  • Shickcha (leaving behind any forgotten bundles of grain), and
  • Peah (leaving the corner of field for others to take from)

Even though we have these commandments, the farmer may still develop a sense of superiority because he is the one providing for the poor. During the year of shemita, however, the land is ownerless and there are no feelings of superiority/inferiority.

And finally, shemita engenders humility. Farmers remind themselves that it’s not about them; the land is really not theirs. They shift their focus from ownership and materialism to spiritual matters instead.

These fundamental ideals of Judaism are very apropos to the omer period we are in right now. As we count the days toward Shavuot, the holiday when we received the Torah, we must ask ourselves if we are developing those character traits engendered by the mitzvah of shemita: faith, humility, and kindness—making us worthy to receive the Torah once again.

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