“When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord.”
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the biblical commandment to observe the shemita year. Shemita is the seventh year of an agricultural cycle, when farmers are commanded to rest their land.
When the Jews entered the land of Israel, a seven-year cycle began in which every seventh year, the farmers would refrain from sowing or harvesting, and would observe the sabbatical year. This commandment, and the meaning behind it, is similar to the weekly Shabbos, when we are commanded to rest on the seventh day following six days of work. We work and conduct our mundane lives, and then take a weekly pause to recognize that all that we have earned is as a result of G-d’s blessing to us. On Shabbos, we conduct ourselves in a holy manner, we celebrate and pray in a manner befitting for the service of G-d.
On the seventh year of the agricultural cycle we are commanded to rest our land, symbolizing that all we have reaped over the previous six years has been possible only because G-d has granted it to us.
Commentaries ask, if the commandment to observe the sabbatical year only begins on the seventh year, why does the verse state, “When you come into the land…the land shall rest,” which seems to indicate that the land must rest and the shemita year must be observed immediately upon entering it in the very first year?
To understand this we must first explain the deeper meaning of Shabbos observance. One is not meant to begin thinking about Shabbos only on Friday afternoon. Rather, during your entire work week, you must always recognize that the work you do today is so that on Shabbos you can honor G-d.
Every day of the week our personal and mundane affairs should be infused with a sense of holiness. We work today so that on Shabbos we have things with which to honor G-d.
It is easy to lose focus and to begin acting as though G-d and spirituality are reserved for one day of the week, Shabbos. The rest of the week, one may think, is exempt from spiritual intent.
The same is so for the shemita year. One may think that for six years the land and spirituality remain separated, and that recognition of G-d’s blessing are reserved for the seventh year.
The Alter Rebbe explains that this is what the verse is relaying to us when it states, “When you come into the land…the land shall rest” — immediately upon entering, still in the beginning of the agricultural cycle, one must begin preparing for the honor to be bestowed upon G-d in the seventh year.
Although the exclusive observance of shemita is reserved for the seventh year of the agricultural cycle, the preceding six years must be infused with a sense of spirituality. All of one’s mundane matters must be conducted with the intent of honoring G-d, as a preparation for the seventh year when this purpose is realized.
Each of us has our own spiritual comfort zones. You may think that celebrating G-d and honoring Him is reserved for when you are in your zone. The message of shemita is that honor of G-d has no exclusive time or place. In each and every place and time we find ourselves, we must always seek ways to honor His name. PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is the dean of Yeshiva Schools and Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.