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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?
In response the Sforno links shemitta to the opening words of the parasha: "When you come into the Land… the Land shall observe a Sabbath rest". He places special emphasis on the new condition that the Israelites will have to face in settling in the Promised Land: no inputs into farming are permitted in one year out of every seven. Indeed, the sabbath of land is so integral to life in the Holy Land that on one hand the Torah guarantees that shemitta observance, against the rhythm of nature, and indeed logic, will be a unique, miraculous experience. The Torah pledges itself that miracles will happen. In extremis, when shemitta is followed by yovel, there will be enough food to go around for three years:
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)
But on the other hand in the next parasha, the Torah warns of the expulsion and exile from the Land if shemitta is not observed:
(When you are in exile, in the lands of your enemies) the Land shall be… left barren… and in resting will be compensated for the shemittot that you did not observe when you lived there… (26:34-35)
Living in the Promised Land, explains the Sforno, will require a set of duties, a set of observances that will be entirely new to the Israelites. Therefore G-d warned them early - at an early stage of their travels at Mount Sinai - so that they might mentally be able to adjust to a system of totally unfamiliar duties.
The Sforno's explanation can be extended by considering the situation of Israelites who had until very recently been slaves, and landless as well. The Israelites were to receive a gift - every male was in due course to come into his very own landed inheritance in the Promised Land within the region allotted to his tribe. By extending the already familiar concept of Shabbat from days of the week to the seven-year agricultural cycle, they would see the laws of shemitta as a means of elevating the gift of land to a Higher Purpose. Perhaps that is the reason why the Torah emphasizes "on Mount Sinai" in connection with shemitta - Mount Sinai was the place that they received the Torah and were fresh and duly inspired from the experience of The Giving of the Torah. They would accept the restrictions connected with the gifts of land with much joy - as a means of keep the edge of holiness on real estate and thus prolong their formative Sinai spiritual experience.
It was that Sinai link that would enable them to accept with joy, rather than begrudge, the demanding rules and restrictions of the Shemitta.
Perhaps also, it may be suggested that when in real life demanding instructions are necessary, they should be given as far enough in advance - and at the right moment - so that the people can mentally prepare, rather than given just before the event, so that people do feel resentment because of the sudden imposition.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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