And Hashem spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai saying: Speak to Bnai Yisrael and say to them, “when you come to the land that I am giving to you, you should rest the land. It is a Sabbath to Hashem.” (VaYikra 25:1-2)


Rabbi Bernie Fox explains: ‘Our parasha discusses the laws of Shemitah. The Shemitah year is observed in the Land of Israel every seven years. The Shemitah is a Sabbatical year. The land cannot be worked. The produce that is produced without cultivation is shared by everyone.The first passage of the parasha explains that the laws of Shemitah were given to Moshe at Sinai. The commentaries are concerned with this comment. Why does the Torah specify that this mitzvah was given at Sinai? The Midrash discusses this issue. The Midrash explains that the Torah is using Shemitah as an example. The Torah is communicating to us that this mitzvah was given at Sinai in its entirety. We are to extrapolate from this example that just as this mitzvah is derived entirely from Sinai, so too all other mitzvot were revealed in their entirety at Sinai. This revelation encompassed both the general principles of the commandments and their details. The comments of the Midrash are somewhat enigmatic. The Midrash seems to assume that one would presume that the mitzvot are not derived completely from Sinai. Our passage is designed to correct this misimpression. Why would we assume that the mitzvot are not derived, in their entirety, from Sinai? The commentaries offer a variety of answers. Nachmanides explains that the manner in which the Torah discusses some mitzvot can lead to a misunderstanding. The Torah does not always deal with a mitzvah in a single comprehensive discussion. Often the discussion of a mitzvah will be dispersed among different locations in the Torah. Shemitah is an example of this treatment. The mitzvah is first encountered in Parshat Mishpatim.[2] Our parasha continues this discussion. Furthermore, there is an important relationship between the two discussions. The passages in Parshat Mishpatim outline the general concept of Shemitah. Our parasha provides detail. Nachmanides explains that the casual reader can easily misinterpret this presentation and conclude that only the general outline of the mitzvah was revealed at Sinai. This outline is the discussion in Parshat Mishpatim. However, this reader might incorrectly assume that the details, discussed in our parasha, represent Moshe’s interpretation and implementation of the general principle embodied in the commandment. In order to dispel this misconception, the Torah explains that even the details, discussed in this week’s parasha are from Sinai. This example serves as a model for understanding the Torah’s treatment of other mitzvot. Even in cases in which the discussion of the mitzvah is dispersed in the Torah, the entire mitzvah, with all of its details, is derived from Sinai.  Gershonides offers an alternative answer to the original problem. Why is it necessary for the Torah to specify the origin of the mitzvah of Shemitah? Gershonides maintains that, in general, the origin of the mitzvot is clear. The mitzvot are derived from Sinai. Sinai is the source of the general outline and the details. There is no need for the Torah to reiterate this point. However, at the opening of our parasha, there is a specific basis for confusion. He explains that the cause for this confusion is found at the end of the previous parasha – Parshat Emor. There, the Torah relates an account of a person that blasphemed that name of Hashem. The nation did not know the punishment for this crime. The people appealed to Moshe. Moshe could not respond. He turned to Hashem. Hashem instructed Moshe that the blasphemer should be stoned. In this instance, Moshe was confronted with an issue that he could not resolve based on the revelation at Sinai. A further prophecy was needed. Moshe received this prophecy in the wilderness. The reader might assume other mitzvot were also revealed in the wilderness and not at Sinai. Our parasha resolves this issue. The parasha begins with the declaration that Shemitah was revealed at Sinai. Sinai is the source for the Torah. The punishment of the blasphemer represents an unusual and relatively isolated exception to this rule.’

The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers his insights on this verse as well: ‘ Taken on its own, this verse seems to imply that “a sabbath unto G‑d” is to be observed immediately upon entering the Land. But in practice, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel they first worked the land for six years, and only then observed the seventh year as the Shemittah (sabbatical year)—as, indeed, the Torah clearly instructs in the following verses. The Torah is telling us that a Shemittah is to both precede and follow our six years of labor: to follow it on the calendar, but to also precede it—if not in actuality, then conceptually.We find a similar duality in regard to the weekly seven-day cycle. The weekly Shabbat has a twofold role: a) It is the day “from which all successive days are blessed”—the source of material and spiritual sustenance for the week to follow. b) It is the “culmination” of the week—the day on which the week’s labors and efforts are harvested and sublimated, and their inner spiritual significance is realized and brought to light.But if every week must have a Shabbat to “bless” it, what about the week of creation itself? In actuality, G‑d began His creation of existence—including the creation of time—on Sunday, which is therefore called the “First Day.” But our sages tell us that there was a primordial Shabbat which preceded creation—a Shabbat existing not in time but in the mind of G‑d, as a vision of a completed and perfected world. Therein lies an important lesson in how we are to approach the mundane involvements of life. True, we begin with the material, for in a world governed by cause and effect, the means inevitably precede the end. But what is first in actuality need not be first in mind. In mind and consciousness, the end must precede the means, for without a clear vision of their purpose to guide them, the means may begin to see themselves as the end. The spiritual harvest of a Shabbat or Shemittah can be achieved only after a “work-week” of dealing with the material world and developing its resources. But it must be preceded and predicated upon “a sabbath unto G‑d” that occupies the fore of our consciousness and pervades our every deed.’

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim


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