A Sabbatical Unto Hashem

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Behar, begins with the mitzvah of Shmitta.  The number seven has great significance in Judaism.  We are commanded to work for six days and rest on the seventh day, Shabbat.  The same is true with regard to years.  We are to work our fields and harvest their produce for six years and leave them fallow on the seventh year, Shmitta.  The Sanhedrin must count seven cycles of Shmitta which comes to forty nine years and declare the fiftieth year to be Yoveil, in which the fields remain fallow and “freedom” is proclaimed throughout the land.  In this year all indentured servants are released and all ancestral fields are returned to their original owners.  We must seek to understand the rationale behind these laws.

The number seven signifies creation.  It recalls for us that Hashem created the world in six days and “rested” on the seventh.  We emulate the ways of our Creator and perform our labors for six days.  We desist on the seventh day to proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world “ex nihilo” (from nothing).  The day of Shabbat provides rest from the physical and mental toils of the “struggle for existence.”  However, the goal is not merely the relaxing of the body. The day should also rejuvenate our neshama through meaningful prayer, Torah study and joyous meals and get togethers.

It is easy to understand and appreciate the purpose of Shabbat.  The entire world bases its calendar on the seven day week and recognizes the need of people to have a “day off.”  In advanced societies like America we have a five day work week with two days off.  However, it is not so easy to see the purpose of Shmitta.  This means that the farmer is idle for an entire year.  It is true that in refraining from planting and sowing he is relinquishing his rights of ownership and proclaiming that the entire land belongs to Hashem and we are not true owners but merely temporary tenants.  From a religious standpoint the idea makes perfect sense.  However, we need to understand the benefits from the human standpoint.  The Rabbis declare “Beneficial is Talmud Torah which is combined with an occupation.”  In many places the Torah decries idleness and laziness.  In the famous composition of King Solomon the Eishet Chayil (woman of valor) is praised for her energetic enterprising skillfulness which does not allow her to “eat the bread of idleness.”  Having a sabbatical every six years may sound enticing, but, the question is; what is a person supposed to do in that year?

The pasuk says, “And the land shall observe a Sabbath unto the L—d.”  Rashi comments: “to the name of Hashem as it says by the weekly Shabbat….and the seventh day shall be a Shabbat unto the L—d.”  This means that just as on Shabbat abstaining from labor is not an end in itself but a means to allow the person to become immersed in spiritual pursuits, the same is true for Shmitta.  Hashem grants us a vacation from our physical labors, so that we can dedicate an entire year to spiritual elevation through study, mitzvot and perfection of the soul.  It is only through this that the year can be rendered into a Sabbath unto Hashem.  We can learn a lot from the mitzva of Shmitta.  We must relinquish our false sense of ownership and permanence and acknowledge that we are just temporary sojourners in the world which was created by Hashem.   We should not squander the time and resources that Hashem has granted us for the purpose of recognizing Him and perfecting ourselves.  We should not become consumed by our physical labors.  Hashem promises that if we pursue “parnasa” for the right reason he will make our burdens easier so that we will have more time to devote to studying His Torah and emulating His Ways of Righteousness.  May we have the wisdom to discern what is of true importance and be worthy of His Kindness and abundant blessings.