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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai… Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you come into the Land… the land shall observe a Sabbath rest… for six years you shall sow your field… and gather in its crop, but the seventh year shall be a complete rest … for G-d. You shall not sow your field, and you shall not prune your vineyard…' (25:1-4)

Rashi opens his commentary by seeking the connection between Mount Sinai and the laws of Shemitta - the Seventh Year. He quotes the Sifra in reply, to the effect that the otherwise superfluous 'on Mount Sinai' is to teach that all the commandments together with their respective details originate on Mount Sinai - as Shemitta.

Why, however, is specifically Shemitta the mitzvah specially selected as the reminder that all Mitzvot originate at Mount Sinai? What special qualities does the Mitzvah of Shemitta possess for that unique privilege within the text?

Mount Sinai was a total experience. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites had the closest direct encounter with G-d. Indeed, the text states that 'G-d spoke all these words' (Ex. 20:1) to the Israelites (though the commentators differ on the actual number of commandments the Israelites heard from G-d one hand, and indirectly from Moses on the other hand). And it relates that: 'Moses brought the people from the camp to meet G-d, and they stood at the foot of the mountain' (19:17).

The Torah also guarantees that Shemitta observance, against the rhythm of nature, and indeed logic, will be a total experience:

If you say: 'What shall we eat in the seventh year?' … I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three year period. You will sow in the eighth year… but you will eat from the old crop until the ninth year. (25:20-22)

The Hatam Sofer comments that such a promise must come from G-d. (No human being would be foolhardy enough to make such a prediction.)

Shemitta demands singular acts of faith and trust - putting one's very livelihood on the line, with the assurance of G-d's declaration that there will be His Blessing for sufficient food after a seven year rest period. That epitomizes the Israelites' accepting the Torah as an absolute act of faith and trust; when they declared naaseh ve-nishma - 'we will do and we will listen' (Ex. 24:8).

Thus the Shemitta experience is singled out for being coupled with Mount Sinai because it is in essence like Sinai. When the Israelites sensed G-d at the Revelation, they declared: 'We have seen G-d… His Glory and His Greatness, and we have heard His Voice from the Fire. Today we have seen that G-d may speak to Man and he may still live' (Deut. 5:21). And when they display the faith to observe the Shemitta from not working the land during the seventh year, they again see G-d - as though at Mount Sinai - through his granting enough food to last though to the new crops, despite: 'we have neither sown nor gathered in our produce…' (25:20)

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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