Jewish farmer praying in his field during the 'Shmita' year. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

The Jewish people were not going to be in the Land of Israel for another 40 years. Why the urgency?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s double Torah portion is “Behar-Bechukotai” (Leviticus 25:1-27:34), and with it we conclude our reading of the book of Leviticus.

Among the issues the reading discusses is “Shmita,” also known as the “Sabbatical Year” – the seventh year in a seven-year cycle when all working of the Land of Israel is forbidden. The land is given a rest. As the verse says, “God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and said . . . Six years you may plant your fields . . . and the seventh year shall be a Sabbath. You shall not plant . . .”

This mitzvah, or Torah commandment, is still observed nowadays, and in fact, last year was a Sabbatical year. During the Sabbatical year, fruits and vegetables are imported from other countries, among other methods for supplying the Israeli people with produce.

The question is asked: Why was the commandment of Shmita given specifically at Mt. Sinai at the time of the Revelation of the Torah? The Jewish people were not going to be in the Land of Israel for another 40 years. As such, the issuing of this commandment certainly could have waited. Why now?

It is explained that Shmita is the mitzvah that tests a Jew’s faith, more so than any other. Can you imagine? The Jewish farmer is essentially being told not to work for a year. Not to engage in pursuing one’s chosen livelihood and profession. The Torah tells us, “If you ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year—we have not sown and harvested?’ [Don’t worry] I will give you My blessing . . .” Still , it is a test of faith for the farmer to put away his tools for an entire year.

Such a daunting commandment had to be given at Sinai to demonstrate God’s direct involvement with those who properly fulfill it. Mt Sinai is synonymous with all of Judaism and devotion to God.

Taking this idea to a Kabbalistic level, metaphorically, the seven-year shmitah cycle corresponds to the seven millennia of history. For 6,000 years, we “labor” in preparation for the seventh millennium, the era in which we are told that the Messiah will arrive. We are currently in the sixth millennium, with the Jewish year being 5783. As such, if he doesn’t come sooner, the Messiah’s arrival is assured by the Kabbalists within 250 years.

But this idea continues to be developed in the verses cited earlier. We may wonder: “What will we eat in during the seventh year?” As if to metaphorically be suggesting, that if the spiritual giants of earlier generations failed to bring about a perfect, tranquil world, and failed to bring the Messiah, how can our merits possibly bring the Messiah?

But it is explained that precisely because our spiritual levels are lower than the generations that preceded us, every mitzvah we do is that much more beloved before God. We have the power to bring the Messianic era closer by doing one good deed at a time. If we work hard at being good Jews and good people, we may very well bring the entire world a “Sabbatical year.” May the true messianic era “Sabbatical Year” be ushered in speedily in our days.

For more insights from Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.