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PARASHAT BEHAR 5757
WHAT HAS SHEMITAH TO DO WITH MOUNT SINAI?
And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mt. Sinai saying, "Speak to the People of Israel and say to them, 'When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land should have a period of rest ("Shabbat") in Hashem's name."(Vayikra 25:1)
What do the laws of Shemitah have to do with Mt. Sinai [more than any other of the Mitzvot of the Torah]? Were not all of the commandments given to us at Mt. Sinai?
[The verse is teaching us that] just as all the general and specific laws of Shemitah were given to us on Mt. Sinai so, too, all the general and specific laws of all the Mitzvot were given to us on Mt. Sinai (Torat Kohanim, quoted by Rashi ibid. Rashi and the Ramban discuss at length the meaning of the Torat Kohanim's answer)
The Torat Kohanim makes it clear that the mention of
Mt. Sinai by the Mitzvah of Shemitah is meant to teach us
something not just about Shemitah, but about all of the
Mitzvot of the Torah. Nevertheless, it was specifically
the Mitzvah of Shemitah that was associated with Mt.
Sinai in order to give us this insight. This leaves us an
opening to find additional connections between
specifically the Mitzvah of Shemitah and Mt. Sinai. The
Malbim (in his "Eretz Chemdah" on the Torah)
suggests the following interesting explanation, based on
In Midrashic literature, the number "7" is accorded special significance: Hashem created seven lands (i.e. seven types of land; alternatively Hashem took the Bnai Yisrael through six lands upon leaving Egypt, before they arrived in Eretz Yisrael). Of these lands, He chose one [for His people]: Eretz Yisrael.
Hashem created seven mountains (i.e. mountains in Eretz Yisrael that were mentioned in the Torah, Vilna Gaon; alternatively, the Bnai Yisrael passed seven mountains in the desert on the way to Eretz Yisrael, Rav David Luria). Of these, He chose Mt. Sinai.... [for the Giving of the Torah]
Hashem created seven days [of the week]. Of these, He chose the 7th [and made the Shabbat unique].
Hashem created seven years, and them he chose the year of Shemitah [to be unique]. (Pirkei D'rebbi Eliezer, end of ch. 18)
All "7ths" are precious to Hashem.... The 7th generation counting from the first of our forefathers was the most precious to Hashem: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, Levi, Kehat, Amram, *Moshe*. (Vayikra Raba 29:11)
In light of the above Midrashim, the different ideas in our verse can be clearly related to each other: "Hashem spoke to 'Moshe' (the 7th and chosen generation) on 'Mt. Sinai' (the 7th and chosen mountain) saying, 'When you come to 'Eretz Yisrael' (the 7th and chosen the land) you shall reserve the *7th* year as a year of rest for the land unto Hashem (since all 7's are precious to Him). It should be just like 'Shabbat' (the 7th and chosen day of the week), which was reserved as a day of rest unto Hashem!"
Perhaps we may suggest another reason to associate Shemitah with Mt. Sinai. The Tur quotes a Midrash which says the following regarding the day of Shabbat: The Torah complained before Hashem, saying, "When the Bnai Yisrael enter the Land of Israel, everyone will become preoccupied with their agricultural pursuits -- what, then, will become of *me*?" Hashem answered her, "I have an excellent mate for you -- the Shabbat.
On that day, the Jews will not be busy with their daily responsibilities and they will be free to occupy themselves in your study.
(Tur Orach Chayim #290 -- see also Tana D'vei Eliyahu Raba, ch. 1)
This theme is actually a common one in the words of Chazal. As Rabbeinu Bachye puts it:
"How I love Your Torah; it is my speech all of the day" (Tehillim 119:97). The verse does not say "it is my speech *all day*," but rather, "it is my speech all *the* day." *The* day is a reference to the unique day, the Shabbat. On Shabbat, David would dedicate himself completely to the joy of the study of the Torah. (Rabbeinu Bachye, Shmot 20:8)
In Shabbat 86b the Gemara records an argument as to whether the giving of the Torah took place on the sixth or the seventh day of the month of Sivan. However, the Gemara emphasizes, both sides agree that the day of the *week* that the Torah was given was Shabbat. What is the significance of the fact that the Torah was given on a Shabbat? Perhaps it is to teach us that Shabbat holds the secret for the perpetuation of the Torah. On the Shabbat day, when we are free from our mundane responsibilities, we are given the opportunity for spiritual renewal through the study of the Torah.
Shemitah may serve a similar purpose. During Shemitah it is not permissible to till the soil of Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish People, which was in large part an agricultural population, would therefore be able to take advantage of this year of rest for the study of Torah, which they could not concentrate on due to their work in the fields during the other six years. In that case, it is appropriate for the Torah to emphasize here that Hashem told Moshe on "Mt. Sinai," i.e. when he received the Torah, that when the Jewish People enter Eretz Yisrael, and each of them busies himself with his field or vineyard, they should rest the land during the year of Shemitah, just as they do on the Shabbat day, in order that the Torah should not be forgotten after the Jews become farmers!
Actually, the two themes outlined above (Shemitah the chosen 7th and Shemitah the year of Torah study) are themselves related. As Rabbeinu Bachye tells us (beginning of Parashat Shmini), the number 7, which corresponds to the number of days in which Hashem created the heavens and the earth (including the day of Shabbat), is a number that represents the entirety of Creation. Of any group of 7, the 7th is chosen to be holier than the others. That is, the 7th represents a higher level of Creation just as Hashem's "creation" of the Shabbat day was an entirely spiritual creation -- "with the arrival of Shabbat, Hashem brought rest and calmness into the world" (Rashi Bereishit 2:2).
Maharal (Gevurot Hashem ch. 46 and many other places) explains the choice of the number 7 in physical terms. Every three-dimensional, physical object can be said to bounded by six surfaces (since each of the three dimensions of the object begins at one surface of the object and reach to the opposite surface of the object). These correspond to the six working days of the week. Besides these six physical edges of an object, there is a 7th point which relates to the form of the object: its center point. This point transcends the physical (since it is just a point and not a physical surface). Shabbat corresponds to this seventh, non-physical point.
The chosen 7's all relate to a higher level of Creation, in which a person can live a non-physical life while still in this world. This is the life of those who study and analyze the Torah and its Mitzvot. May Hashem grant us a life of Torah in this world and in the World to Come!
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