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Parshat Behar

The Torah has many elements that are designed to show our reliance on Hashem, the concept of Shemitta is really fascinating especially since it was given before the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel.

For agricultural societies of that time, dependence on farming and raising livestock was critical -

To leave the land to fallow is an important farming technique:

[1]Fallow is a farming technique in which arable land is left without sowing for one or more vegetative cycles. The goal of fallowing is to allow the land to recover and store organic matter while retaining moisture and disrupting pest life cycles and soil borne pathogens by temporarily removing their hosts.

However, this method of farming makes sense only when we take into account cyclic crop rotation systems in which the farmer strategically selects the fields so that agricultural livelihood can safely continue:

In the Torah the entire nation is forbidden from working the soil for an entire agricultural year: Shemittah in Hebrew שמיטה, literally "release", also called the sabbatical year or shǝvi'it (שביעית‎, literally "seventh"), or "Sabbath of The Land" is not a clever farming strategy but a profound mechanism of national trust in Hashem – all agricultural production ceases and the farmers and labourers instead learn Torah knowing that Hashem promises to provide enough for the entire population of Israel.

This already sounds like a stretch – but the Torah continues, every 50 years we celebrate the Yovel: Like the shmita year, the jubilee is one in which no agricultural work is to be done and the land is to lie fallow. But jubilee also has some additional rituals.

According to Maimonides[2], there is a commandment to consecrate the jubilee year and to sound the shofar (9 times) on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. This idea is drawn from the verse[3] “Then shall you cause the shofar to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom Kippur shall you sound the shofar throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee (Yovel) for you.”

Aside from the additional year of Shemittah, all Hebrew slaves and land holdings were returned to their original owners – the coming of the Yovel was a profound economic and social event and since the land was forbidden to be cultivated for the seventh Shemitah year that preceded the jubilee year and during the jubilee year itself it thus follows that all the produce harvested from the 48th year had to suffice for the entire population for three years! (the 48th itself, the 49th (shmita), 50th (jubilee)).

Hashem makes us a promise in our Torah that the produce grown and harvested in the year prior to Shemittah and Yovel will suffice for all these years and that there will also be surplus!

Today although the Shemittah is kept in a Rabbinical sense it has been over 2000 years since we have celebrated the Yovel, the Rambam[4] is holding that all 12 tribes need to be present in the land for this to occur, and like many examples of things to come in the times of Moshiach a Sanhedrin (Great Court) seems an obvious prerequisite to the subject.

For the average person, to simply wait (without action) and expect blessings is very difficult: for us to strain, till the soil, plant the seeds and water our investments makes far more sense than to simply trust everything will still be okay.

The Torah mandates both experiences: a time of labour, dedication and creativity, and also a period to rest and trust in the power and blessings of our Creator: it is for this reason that the Shemittah is referred to as a “Shabbat for the Land”, we need to inculcate both experiences into our everyday lives: hard work as well as trust that everything will ultimately turn out according to His highest wisdom.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©

[2] Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Shemittah:10:10

[3] Vayikra/Leviticus 25:9-10

[4] Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Shemittah:10:8

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