This week we once again have a double Torah portion: the portions of “Behar” and “Bechukotai” (Leviticus25:1-27:34). We will focus on the portion of “Behar” in this week’s UWI Torah portion.
The reading of Behar opens with the fascinating laws of the shmita year, also known as the Sabbatical year. The shmita year is the seventh year in the seven-year agricultural cycle that must be observed in the Land of Israel.
For six years it is permitted to work the land: to plow, plant, prune, cultivate, gather and sell the produce of the land. But in the seventh year, most of that is forbidden.
Farmers are required to take a year off and allow the land to lie fallow. Just like the Jewish people have to rest on Shabbat – the seventh day of the week – so too the Land of Israel has to rest on its Shabbat – the seventh year.
But there’s a question that many commentators ask regarding the connection between the name of the Torah portion and the mitzvah (commandment) of shmita. The name of the portion, Behar, means “at the mountain,” referring to Mount Sinai, of course, and the opening verse tells us – seemingly redundantly – that the mitzvah of shmita was given at Mount Sinai.
But wait a second. Weren’t ALL mitzvot given on Mount Sinai! What is so special about the mitzvah of shmita that it was singled out among all the rest to specifically tell us that it was given on Mount Sinai?
The answer is that this mitzvah is indeed unique This is because it takes solid and unwavering faith in God in order to properly observe this mitzvah. Imagine. How would you feel if you were told – as Jewish farmers are told regarding the laws of Shemitta – that you are forbidden to work for an entire year? No work. No paycheck. And there was no social security back then! A farmer lives off the land. He lives off his crop. He lives off the sales of his produce.
Not during the shmita year!
The number one question that every new and inexperienced farmer asks is: How will I survive? How will I make ends meet? How will I pay the bills?
The answer, the Torah says, is NO PROBLEM! Don’t worry… be happy! You will be fine because God promises you that you will survive! Shmita teaches all of us – not just the farmers – that GOD alone decrees how much each of us will make this year and every year. No Jewish farmer ever starved to death for observing the laws of shmita. You don’t lose for observing the Torah… you can only gain.
Yes, sometimes mitzvot appear to be difficult and challenging, but like all mitzvot that were given at Mount Sinai, they are opportunities for personal growth and getting closer to God. No Jew is starving because he does not work on Shabbat. Nobody ever went bankrupt for buying a set of the “four species” for the Festival of Sukkot, a tallit (prayer shawl), a mezuzah or kosher food in order to observe these beloved commandments.
But everyone becomes a more spiritually sensitive and happier person for performing them. The lesson of the portion Behar and shmita: Pretend you’re a farmer once in a while!
*The next shmita year begins September 2014 – September 2015*