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PARSHAT BEHAR – THE EARTH BELONGS TO G-D

בס”ד

PARSHAT BEHAR 5784

Introduction

Although Shemitah*  is specific to the Jewish people, it offers valuable lessons for us all. For the Jewish people the Shemitah is a time of  spiritual connection and trust in G-d’s providence. In Israel, Shemitah is more than just an agricultural rest period; it’s a profound reminder that the earth belongs to G-d. It reminds us of our dependence on Him and the importance of social equality. By which I mean that the rich and the poor are equal. They can both walk to the same field or tree to take fruit from it, without one being more or less than the other, coming into contact with each other more easily than in a “normal” society.

Spiritual Connection

Leviticus 25:2-4


Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of Hashem
 דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֨אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָֽׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַֽי”הֹוָֽה
Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. שֵׁ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ תִּזְרַ֣ע שָׂדֶ֔ךָ וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְמֹ֣ר כַּרְמֶ֑ךָ וְאָֽסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבֽוּאָתָֽהּ
But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of Hashem you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַֽי”הֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר

G-d commanded the Jewish people the law of Shemita, the letting of the land lay fallow (in Israel) in the seventh year. The land is connected to Hashem.

Respect for Divine Ownership

You might think that G-d gave this commandment to the Jewish people because it’s good for the land to have rest, to be able to recover from the activities humans exert on it, and to be able to produce again in full force after a year of rest.

The Shemitah commandment was never intended to preserve or heal the soil, as some suggest. In the past, there were other equally effective methods for reclaiming land.

For example, you could rotate crops or implement sustainable farming practices to allow the soil to rest and replenish its nutrients without strictly adhering to Shemitah. These methods, just as efficient as letting the land lie fallow every seven years, can help maintain soil fertility and prevent depletion.

The real reason for the Jewish mitzvah of Shemitah is clearly stated in the Torah: “The land shall observe a Sabbath for Hashem.”

Therefore, while the concept of Shemitah may seem beneficial for land preservation, its true purpose is rooted in spiritual observance rather than agricultural conservation. That’s what we see in the text: it is a Sabbath to Hashem.

The Shemitah is likened to the Sabbath, because both bear testimony to G-d’s creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh. Thus, taking a year of rest serves as a lasting reminder that, even though the people of Israel inhabit the land, it does not belong to them, but rather to Hashem. And not only does the land of Israel, in particular, belong to Hashem, but the entire earth, as we read in Psalm 24:1.

Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the L-RD’s and all that it holds,
the world and its inhabitants.
 לְדָוִ֗ד מִ֫זְמ֥וֹר לַֽד’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ תֵּ֜בֵ֗ל וְיֹ֣שְׁבֵי בָֽהּ

Shemitah is only observed in the land of Israel, not elsewhere, and it’s also not something non-Jews should observe. However, the awareness that the land on which you live, the land that G-d uses to provide you with food, is not human property, is important to reflect on regularly.

Acknowledgment of Blessings we all receive and share

We should always realize that our food comes as a gift from His hands, and although farmers have to work hard, they should acknowledge that the ultimate yield of the land depends on the gift that G-d wants to give. For farmers in Israel, this awareness is taken to a higher level. It’s no small thing to leave your land fallow for a year and thus miss out on income. This requires complete trust in G-d that He will provide enough yields in the year before the Shemitah to compensate for the “loss” of a whole year of fallow ground.

The prohibition on working the land does not mean that you cannot eat from what the land produces that year. The land becomes hefker (ownerless), which means that everyone is allowed to take what they need from any field for personal use. During that year, all people, rich and poor alike, can take the fruits of the land – but not in quantities that would require storing them in a barn – and eat what G-d provides that year. Imagine the rich and the poor together in an orchard picking apples? It’s a way to get to know each other better, understand each other’s situations more, build friendships, and hopefully, in other years, for the wealthy to pay more attention to the needs of the poor as well.

Learning Points and Practical Implications for Non-Jews

Learning Points

1. Spiritual connection: The concept of Shemitah can remind us of our spiritual connection to the land, which belongs to G-d, fostering respect for His ownership. Non-Jews should realize that the entire world belongs to G-d and He determines to whom He gives it and what the land produces.

2. Trust in G-d’s Providence: Allowing the land to lie fallow during Shemitah requires trust in G-d’s provision, strengthening faith in His care and guidance. Non-Jews should learn to recognize that the yields of the land – or of any other work – are a gift from G-d. Your livelihood is a gift.

3. Social equality and community building: Shemitah promotes social equality by making the land ownerless, encouraging cooperation and solidarity, and leading to a stronger sense of community. Non-Jews can learn from this to be mindful of the less fortunate in society.

Practical Implementation

1. Spiritual connection: Non-Jews can express their gratitude to God for natural resources by consciously living and acting in harmony with nature. They can do this by regularly spending moments of silence and reflection in nature, expressing prayers of thanks for food and other provisions. See suggestions for expressions of thanks on our blog: PARSHAT EKEV – GRACE BEFORE AND AFTER A MEAL

2. Trust in G-d’s Providence: When realizing that one’s livelihood comes from God, gratitude can be expressed by showing generosity to others. This can be done by volunteering, contributing to charities, and supporting the needy in society.

3. Social Equality and Community Building: Non-Jews can contribute to promoting social equality by actively participating in community initiatives and programs. This includes participating in food banks, organizing neighborhood meetings, and supporting education and mentoring programs for underprivileged youth.

May this blog inspire everyone to show their gratitude for what they receive from Hashem to Hashem; realizing that everything comes from Him. And let’s treat all the people around us as equals without regard to how rich or poor they are.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources and notes:

  • * The Shemitah, also known as the Sabbatical Year, is a concept from Jewish law where every seventh year, agricultural lands in Israel are left fallow, debts are forgiven, and private land holdings are opened to the public. It is a year of rest and release mandated by the Torah, primarily described in Leviticus 25:1-7 and Deuteronomy 15:1-11. The practice emphasizes faith, social justice, and ecological sustainability.

    The Shemita-Year by Rabbi Yaakov Ariel
    Rabbi Nachmans Torah Parashat Behar

Texts from Sefaria.org

With thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton for the feedback

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