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Posted on May 23, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying…the Land shall observe a Shabbos rest for Hashem.[1]

What does shemitah have to do with Har Sinai? Why does the Torah mention Har Sinai as the location from which the commandment emanated, when it does not do so for any other mitzvah? This most famous of questions has an equally famous answer. Chazal say that the Torah emphasizes Har Sinai here to prove a hugely important principle. Shemitah was introduced to us in Shemos[2] – but in a most general manner. The Torah returns to the topic in our parshah, to fill in what was missing in our first encounter with it. Just as all the fuller development of the mitzvos of shemitah were given at Sinai, so it is with all the details of all other mitzvos. They, too, were all conveyed at Sinai.

While this certainly answers the question, it raises another one. Why was shemitah selected to teach this lesson? Seemingly, any one of the 613 mitzvos could have been used to convey this message. I will suggest an explanation, based on a new understanding of another famous passage in Chazal[3] – the incident of the would-be ger who came to Hillel and asked the great sage to teach him the entire Torah while the potential convert stood on one foot.

There may be more to the gentleman’s question than a combination of impatience and chutzpah. It may have been quite different. He perhaps noted that the Torah could have been given to the Jewish people some time before the first Shavuos, but Hashem waited for the people to encamp at the mountain, united as one people, with one heart. Why? He reasoned that, from the little he already knew about the mitzvos, it is literally impossible for any one Jew to observe all the mitzvos of the Torah! Some apply to men and not women; to kohanim and not others; to non-kohanim and not kohanim!

The only conceivable way that people can observe the entire Torah is when there is so much love and unity among people, that they all become as one. What one Jew then does is shared by all the people whom he loves as himself. In other words, v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha – whose practical, normative definition is Hillel’s “What you find detestable, do not do to your fellow” – is the klal gadol that binds the nation together and makes it one. It is the meta-principle that makes it possible for individuals to be regarded as fulfilling all the demands of the Torah, through the participation of other people. The love that one feels for others joins one soul to another. This was the essence of Hillel’s response to the ger.

The mitzvah of loving other Jews requires more than simply feeling love. To be significant, it must morph into action. We are bidden to respond to the pain and need of another. To help the downtrodden and offer our support. Most importantly, to provide sustenance to those who do not fully have it on their own.

The shemitah year comes with its challenges. The growing seasons of three successive years are impacted. People necessarily must make do with what they have, and make it last. At precisely such a time – when people would worry about their own survival and best interests, and have little room left to think of others – the Torah demands that we take all the available produce and give equal access to absolutely everybody! The poor man takes as much as he wants from the field of the well-to-do landowner. There is no greater mass exercise in v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha than this!

So we understand full-well what shemitah is doing at Har Sinai. The mitzvah of shemitah – like no other – evidences the connection of all Jews to each other. Through its observance, the mitzvos of one Jew can be shared with others. Only in this way can it be said that a Jew can observe literally all the mitzvos of the Torah, with all their details.


  1. Vayikra 25:1-2
  2. Shemos 23:10-11
  3. Shabbos 31a