The Torah instructs us to work for six days and rest on the seventh day –
In this week’s parsha, we are informed of two additional seven-year
cycles. Six years we tend our fields, and we rest on the seventh –
Shmitah. And after seven Shmitah cycles, we observe the Yovel year –
another year of rest.
The Kli Yakar offers several possible reasons for the mitzvah of Shmitah.
He mentions that a number of meforshim explain that Shmitah allows the
earth much needed rest and the opportunity to replenish its nutrients.
According to this line of reasoning, the Torah is mandating that all
farmers follow the sound practice of allowing ones fields in Eretz Yisroel
to remain perpetually productive.
The Kli Yakar notes, however, that this explanation for Shmitah seems to
have an overriding flaw. The Torah informs us in Parshas Bechukosai
(Vayikrah 26:34) that the punishment for not observing Shmitah is galus
(exile from Eretz Yisroel). How does that represent middah k’neged middah –
the punishment matching the misdeed? If the purpose of Shmitah is for the
fields to rest, Hashem should punish the B’nei Yisroel with exceedingly
poor harvests as an outcome of not observing Shmitah. Why would exile be a
Additionally, he asks, Shmitah is referred to as a “Shabbos l’ashem"
(Vayikrah 25:2), a Shabbos [designated for] Hashem. If the purpose is
merely an opportunity for the land to rest, it should be presented as a
Shabbos for the earth?
A SECOND POSSIBILITY
The Kli Yakar shares with us a second possible theme for Shmitah – as a
public statement that Hashem created the world – congruent with the weekly
cycle of Shabbos. This approach would maintain that Shmitah serves as a
reminder of the message of Shabbos.
Again, the Kli Yakar feels that this explanation is lacking. If the weekly
reminder of shabbos were not effective, how would once-in-seven-years
Shmitah be any more helpful?
A RENEWAL OF FAITH
The Kli Yakar therefore offers his understanding of the mitzvah of shmita –
to ingrain in Klal Yisroel a meaningful and sincere faith in Hashem.
He explains that it was the practice of farmers to plant their fields for
two years and allow parts to remain fallow for the third year. Upon
entering Eretz Yisroel, we were instructed to plant our fields six years
in a row, and Hashem assured us that the last of the six years would be as
productive as the first. More surprisingly – and contrary to the laws of
nature – was the guarantee that the land, in the sixth and most depleted
year, would deliver enough food three years!
As the Bnei Yisroel entered the holy land of Eretz Yisroel, we were given
the mitzvah of Shmitah to remind us that we are mere custodians of
Hashem’s earth. By living spiritual lives, we give meaning to creation and
are worthy of His blessings.
In the event that we stray from our mission, c’has v’shalom, and begin to
forget the lessons of Shmitah, we relinquish our right to dwell in Eretz
Yisroel – and the result is an inevitable and tragic galus (exile). Each
week, the Shabbos reminds us of Hashem’s role in the creation of the
world – and the necessity of living our lives according to His Torah.
Once every seven years, we are reminded of a similar concept. We work hard
for six years. We take pride in our accomplishments and watch our fields
thrive and blossom. At that point, we need to step back, thank Hashem, and
publicly demonstrate that it was His Hashgacha (Divine Providence) that
afforded us our success.
A CYCLICAL REMINDER
I would like to suggest that the timing of the Shmitah cycle – every
seventh year – reflects this philosophy. Living in a house or working in a
field for three years running denotes a chazakah, a form of ownership that
has significant halachic implications. Perhaps the Torah is teaching us a
powerful lesson in emunah, faith in Hashem, by instructing us to
relinquish control of our fields every seventh year.
Once we ended our forty-year sojourn in the desert, we were each rewarded
with a portion in Eretz Yisroel – the land of our dreams and aspirations.
Hashem instructed us to till the soil and reap the harvests. We were
encouraged to feel a sense of ownership – to enjoy a three-year chazakah.
And then another three-year cycle. However, before we started a ‘chazakah
squared’ – a chazakah of chazakos – the third cycle of three years, the
Torah instructs us to step back and be reminded of our role as stewards of
Hashem’s earth – and guardians of His sacred trust.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.