SHABBAT READINGS & COMMENTARY

Friday, May 19, 2006 | 

B’Har & B’Hukkotai (On the mountain & in my statutes): Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34; Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

This Shabbat we finish the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, and again this week, with the last three chapters, we have a double portion. The main subject of this week’s Torah reading is the shmita year, the year in which no work is done on the field, neither sowing nor harvesting. This commandment has to be kept every seventh year in Israel. Verse 4: “But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a shabbat for the Lord; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. The after growth of your harvest you shall not reap.”

Like Shabbat, the seventh day, is a spiritual break for the individual, the seventh year is a spiritual break for the nation!

Of course, this begs the question: What would the Israelites eat in the seventh year? (Verse 20) God had that covered. He would provide a special blessing on the harvest in the sixth year, so that it would last up to three years. With such a promise, we have nothing to fear. It is an act of faith—absolute trust in God! And again, it is a reminder that “the land is mine,” as we read in Leviticus 25:23.

The test of faith goes even further, because after another seven times seven years is a yovel year (year of jubilee; verse 10). This 50th year will be another rest for the land and it calls for the release of prisoners and the release of debts. It is proclaimed with the sound of trumpets on the 10th of Tishrei, on Yom Kippur. The original owners of the land regain their rights to it.

That means supplies and storage have to be planned from the 48th year for the next three years. The new harvest will not be until the end of 51st year. God promises to provide enough for everyone to be satisfied and it is repeated that “the land will live in safety.”

There is a heavy punishment for not keeping this commandment: the expulsion from Israel! For each shmita that was not kept there will be one year of exile. With this we see that God takes this command seriously. He will even force the land to become deserted if He must so that it can come to rest. See verse 26:33-35.

The 70 years of the Babylonian exile show this. According to Rashi, from the time of the first temple in Jerusalem (approximately 1000 BC) until the exile, the shmita year was not kept. Therefore, the 70 years until Nehemiah rebuilt the temple (the Jews had already returned earlier) were apparently punishment for each shmita year not kept.

A wise rabbi who lived before the Ottoman period foresaw that the Turkish Empire would rule the land of Israel for eight jubilee years. And they did: from 1517 to 1917. The Balfour declaration, promising Jews a homeland in Israel after almost 2000 years of exile, was signed in 1917. The following jubilee year, 1967, brought the liberation of Jerusalem. Other opinions count different jubilee years. Some say that the year 1897, with the first Zionist congress of Theodor Herzl in Basel was a jubilee year, and the next the founding of the state 1947-1948.

If we would observe these special years, we would have peace in Israel and we would chase pursue every enemy, even “five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you” (Leviticus 26:8-9). This promise is the exact opposite of expulsion and exile: You just have to have trust and faith.

It is also worth reading the passage of the prophets, Jeremiah 17:7-10,13.

-Michael Schneider

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