This e-mail is dedicated to a Midreshet Harova bogeret, Michal Sharona Bat Rachel Rut, who was recently in a very bad accident which resulted in a spinal cord injury.
Parshat Behar deals primarily with the laws of Shmeetah–giving the land a year’s rest from all agricultural work every seven years and Yovel (Jubilee) in which slaves are freed and properties go back to their original owners. The parsha ends with the command (26:2) “Keep my Shabbatot and fear my Sanctuary, I am Hashem”. As to why Shabbos would be mentioned in a parsha that deals with Shmeetah, the obvious answer would be that both Mitzvot involve resting from work. The commentaries take it further and say that both Mitzvot are testimonies to the fact that Hashem created the world. In other words, by refraining from work once a week on Shabbos and for a year in Shmeetah, we are demonstrating our belief that our sustenance really only comes from Hashem because He created everything.
But Rashi tells us that the reason why Shabbos is mentioned in connection with Shmeetah is because people might think that in the year of Shmeetah, Shabbos can be disregarded. Therefore, according to Rashi, the Torah is telling us that even in a year of Shmeetah, Shabbos still applies. It seems quite unusual that Rashi would think that anyone would consider doing away with Shabbos just because they are letting the land rest for a year. The Midrash Mechilta explains Rashi’s statement by noting that whenever the Torah mentions Shabbos, it tells us “Six days you shall work and on the seventh you shall rest”. In other words, six days of work are a pre-requisite for Shabbos. In fact, the Gemarra discusses what happens if a person is in jail and does not know what day is Shabbos. One of the opinions is that the person must count six days and then whatever the seventh day is, for him it is Shabbos (even if in the outside world, it is only Tuesday). This opinion is based on the fact that Shabbos must be preceded with six days of work, in order that the individual can feel he has “done his all” so that he will be able to rest on Shabbos without any financial worries or other concerns. Says the Midrash “Since in the year of Shmeetah no agricultural work is being done, people might think that since they don’t have six days of work preceding Shabbos, they don’t have to keep Shabbos. Therefore, the Torah comes to tell us that even without those six days of work in the Shmeetah year, Shabbos must still be kept”.
But perhaps there is another idea to be added here. Regarding the Yovel (Jubilee) year, the Torah says (25:10) “And there will be called a free-for-all in the land for all her inhabitants and each man will go back to his inheritance and his family”. The Yalkut HaDrush says that here is something deeper being referred to here and explains the pasuk as follows:
“And there will be called a free-for-all in the land”–when the Jews find themselves living in a land where it is free for all to worship and live as they please “each man will go back to his inheritance”–do not get comfortable there, rather return to your true inheritance–i.e. the Land of Israel “And to his family”–and to the people you were truly meant to live with–i.e. your fellow Jews.
In a similar vein, R. Shmuel Mohilver says that this pasuk is telling us “When you live in Galus, you feel free to do whatever you want. As a result of that freedom, your children won’t remain Jewish for very long. But when each man goes back to the Land of Israel, our true inheritance, he also goes back to his family, because his children have a greater chance of remaining Jewish.”
In the year of Shmeetah, when people aren’t working the Land, they start to worry how they will support themselves. They might be tempted to do away with Shabbos because “Saving a life takes precedence over Shabbos and therefore, we have to work to keep ourselves alive!” Or more likely, they will decide to leave the Land and live in Galus where they are “free” from keeping Shmeetah entirely and thus free from all the worry. In Galus, that freedom will be enjoyed so much that soon they may say “Why keep Shabbos? It’s the same limitation of our freedom that Shmeetah was in the Land of Israel!” Soon, Shabbos will fall to the wayside as well. So the Torah is telling us
“Keep Shmeetah”–stay in the Land of Israel despite what appears to be the difficulty because, “My Shabbatot you will keep”–you are more likely to continue keeping Shabbos there, than in another country.
Good Shabbos ,