The central theme of this week’s parsha, Behar, is Shmita and Yovel. The idea of the sanctification of the land upon which we live is the third and final aspect of kedusha that has been discussed in the second half of sefer Vayikra.
Starting with the words, “kedoshim tehuyu” , three central ideas of kedusha are raised that teach Bnei Yisrael how to create a relationship with G-d on a national level, separate of the Beit Hamikdash: Kedushat Haadam, the sanctification of man by avoiding forbidden relationships; Kedushat Hazman, the sanctification of time through the celebration of Jewish holidays; and Kedushat Hamakom, the sanctification of Eretz Yisrael as seen through the mitzvot of Shmita and Yovel. These three essential ideals teach the Jewish nation to distance itself from society at large and its associated values and to instead follow the laws that G-d has set forth.
Our parsha is the second time that the laws of shmitah are mentioned in the Torah, after our introduction back in parshat Mishpatim. In parshat Mishpatim the laws of shmitah are praised due to their social value. G-d states that the reason the land is to lie fallow is so the needy can come and eat from the land. Yet, here in parshat Behar, the focus is entirely different. The words “Veshavta Haaretz Shabbat Lahashem” and “Shabbat Shabbaton Yehiye Laaretz Shabbat Lahashem” highlight the holy aspect of the shmita year. The land is G-d’s land and we give it back to Him once every seven years.
This idea is mirrored by The Sefer Hachinuch who writes that the reasons for shmita are twofold: as a social tool to teach generosity (from sefer Shmot) and as an educational tool that teaches man to trust in G-d (from sefer Vayikra). In the end, though, both aspects reinforce G-d’s ultimate ownership of the Land of Israel.
We here in Israel were reminded of this just a short while ago when it unexpectedly stormed in spring, a storm that brought a severe weather pattern of the like not seen even in the winter. Fruits and flowers in my garden that were supposed to be guaranteed to withstand normal spring weather, were knocked off of the trees by hail and severe winds.
Our power pales in comparison to that of Hashem’s and it is only through his generosity that we thrive. How else can you explain the stark contract between Lag Ba’omer and the recent national holiday of Yom Haatzmaut? Why did we lose so thoroughly two thousand years ago when Bar Kochva, backed by Rabbi Akiva, rebelled but we were victorious just 70 years ago? One confrontation resulted in the murder of many of Rabbi Akiva’s students and provides one of the sources of our mourning during this sefirah period while the other created the modern State of Israel. Our recent victory could easily have mirrored other tragedies if not for the intervention and generosity of G-d.
May our continued faith in Hashem and our adherence to His mitzvot bring us continued prosperity and another 70 years-and-beyond of continued bracha.