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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai Dvar Torah by Rabbi Pesach Sommer

There’s a long tradition that goes back thousands of years, of trying to come up with possible reasons for the mitzvot that Hashem has given us. At the beginning of this week’s parasha, Rabbi Shlomo Luntschitz, in his commentary Kli Yakar, asks what is the purpose of the mitzvah of shemitah.

Shemitah, the sabbatical year, which was observed most recently by many Israeli farmers last year, occurs every seven years. While farmers who live in Israel are allowed to work their land for the first six years of the seven-year cycle, in the seventh year, the Torah says that they must allow their fields to lie fallow, and for anyone who wants to, to be allowed to take from the produce that grows.

In the Kli Yakar, Rav Luntschitz begins by referring to the Rambam’s reason for this mitzvah. The Rambam seems to see it as being beneficial for the field to have a year of rest, similar to crop rotation. If this is the reason, wonders Rav Luntschitz, why would Hashem give such strict consequences, including exile, in the Torah, for those who don’t observe it? Isn't it just the farmer who is just losing out by not getting the most out of their land?

Instead, he suggests that the mitzvah of shemitah is really about instilling faith and trust in Hashem. As the Jewish people enter the land, they start to work their portion and hopefully achieve a lot of success. There is the very real danger that they will attribute their success only to their own hard efforts, forgetting that without Hashem, all of their hard work would come to naught. Instead, Hashem asks them to break from the normal cycle of working the land, with the promise that if they follow His seemingly illogical and impractical commandment, that they will not only not lose out, but also thrive.

While we are not fortunate enough to live in Israel, we too need to remember that our success ultimately comes from Hashem. We can’t perform the mitzvah of shemitah, but many thinkers connect this mitzvah to the mitzvah of Shabbat. By observing Shabbat, we too can strengthen our faith and trust in Hashem, and realize that, even with our efforts and hard work, all we have and all we achieve is a gift from Hashem.

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