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Shemitah: A Window to the Future

On Har Sinai, God told Moses to speak to Israel and say to them: “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath to the Lord.” This reference to the Shemitah opens Parashat Behar (Lev. 25:1-26:2). The land lies fallow during 7th year but during the previous year, HaShem brings an abundance of crops.

“And should you ask, ‘What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will still be eating old grain of that crop; you will be eating the old until the ninth year, until its crops come in.” - Leviticus 25:21-23

The Torah likens the Shemitah to Shabbat. There is yet another agricultural parallel to Shabbat in the the Counting of the Omer that began at Pesach and continues this week. Originally, the omer was the daily measure of Manna sufficient to sustain each person in the wilderness. Since no manna fell on Shabbat, HaShem provided a double portion on erev Shabbat to sustain Israel until Yom Rishon.

The 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer arrives on the 18th of Iyar. Known as Lag B’Omer, it was on this day that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, passed away. He was a student of Rabbi Akiva, also remembered on this day. The many disciples of Rabbi Akiva were dying in a plague that came to an end on Lag B’Omer. The counting ceases on the 49th and on the 50th day is Shavuot, when the Torah was given to Israel at Har Sinai.

Seven cycles of the Shmitah or 49 years brings the 50th year, known as a Yovel or Jubilee. The 50th year is like the Shemitah and the land is not planted. In addition, slaves are set free and the land reverts to its original owner.

The reader might notice that the number 50, like certain other numbers in the Torah, has much significance. From the beginning of the Exodus until the giving of the Torah at Sinai, 50 days elapsed. The Sages relate that Israel had fallen to the 49th level of degradation before the Exodus. When they departed from Egypt each day of their journey, the people rid themselves of their impurities in preparation for receiving the Torah. They were ready by day 50. According to Rabbi Shimon, that is why the Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah.

Here are just a few other examples of the importance of the number 50:

  • The width of Noah’s Ark is 50 cubits

  • Avraham Avinu begins asking HaShem to spare the city of Sodom, if he can find 50 righteous people.

  • The coverings on the Tabernacle are fastened by 50 loops and hooks

  • An Israelite man is eligible for military service until the age of 50

  • The gematria of the word kol (all) is 50

Obviously the mitzvoth of Shemitah, as well as the Yovel require that the Jewish People to reside in eretz Israel. They are so connected to the Land that they can only achieve full potential as God’s model nation—within their land. One of the principles we glean from Shemitah is to trust in HaShem for our sustenance just as Shemitah teaches Israel to live by the bread of Torah that will abundantly sustain them for their task of teaching the nations the reality of the One True God.

According to the Vilna Gaon, the world’s agriculture obtains a blessing from the Land of Israel. As Rav Kook said, Shemitah is a window into the future when, “….working the land will not be an obligation but a privilege and a pleasure.”

The people of Israel will experience a quality of life so abundant and joyful that—in a happy reversal—the nations will desire to be like Israel. And that will bring the redemption of the entire world.

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