U’sefartem lachem sheva shab’sos shanim sheva shanim sheva pe’amim (Vayikra 25:8)
After relating the mitzvah of allowing the land to rest every seven years during Shemittah (the Sabbatical year), the Torah adds an additional requirement to count a series of seven cycles of Shemittah, as well as the years within each cycle, at which point working the land is once again forbidden during the 50th year, which is known as Yovel. Although we certainly must keep track of the years and cycles in order to know when to allow the ground to lie fallow, why does the Torah mandate an actual mitzvah of counting the years and cycles?
In Pirkei Avos (1:15), Shammai teaches that one should make his Torah study fixed. In his commentary on this Mishnah, Harav Ovadiah Bartenura explains that a person’s primary occupation throughout the day should be studying the Torah, and whenever he grows weary and needs a break, he may engage in mundane work. He should not adopt the opposite approach of spending the bulk of his waking hours involved in his job and studying Torah only when he has a bit of free time.
While it would certainly be ideal if everybody could devote the bulk of the day to Torah study, the Sfas Emes acknowledges that this is not always a realistic plan. Therefore, he suggests an alternative explanation for the obligation to make one’s Torah-study fixed. He explains that the factor which determines what is considered the primary focus of a person’s day is not the number of hours in which he is occupied in each activity, but what he mentally prioritizes and looks forward to as the most important part of his day.
If he works long hours to provide for his family but is constantly gazing at the clock to see how many hours remain until the shiur that he attends, he has made Torah study the primary activity of his day. By the same token, somebody who is enrolled in a yeshivah but regularly checks his watch to see how much time is left until the end of the learning period or how many weeks remain until the end of the zman is demonstrating that even though he spends countless hours in the study hall, the activities to which he most looks forward are mundane in nature.
In light of this explanation, the Sfas Emes explains that farming is an extremely labor-intensive profession. The amount of time and physical energy that a farmer must devote to his field in pursuit of a successful harvest is tremendous. In order to help him keep his priorities straight, the Torah commands the Sanhedrin to count the Shemittah cycles and years as a means of reminding the farmers to focus on looking forward to the Shemittah and Yovel years, during which they will be required to put their farm equipment away and spend an entire year engaged in uninterrupted Torah study.
Parashah Q & A
Q:The Torah addresses the potential concern over lack of food to eat in the Shemittah year by stating (25:21) that Hashem will bless the crop and cause it to suffice for three years. Is this blessing still in effect at present?
Q:The Gemara in Shabbos (69b) records a dispute regarding the law for somebody who finds himself lost in the desert, and because he doesn’t know what day it is, is unsure when to observe Shabbos. One opinion maintains that the person should observe the next day as Shabbos and then count an additional six days before again observing Shabbos, while the other opines that he should first count six days and only then observe the first Shabbos. In the event that one is lost in Israel and doesn’t know when the Shemittah year is, would the same dispute apply as to how to proceed, and if not, what should one do if he finds himself in such a situation?
A: The S”ma writes that while we are in exile, the current obligation to observe the laws of Shemittah is only Rabbinical in nature. As such, he maintains that this blessing is not presently in effect. The Darkei Mussar derives from here that a person should not observe mitzvos because he may receive reward for doing so. For example, although it is true that observing Shabbos brings blessing to the rest of the week, this should not be one’s rationale for keeping Shabbos. A true acceptance of Hashem’s rule requires one to perform the mitzvos solely because Hashem commanded him to do so, even if he will become poor as a result. Similarly, the Torah gives the mitzvah of Shemittah in absolute terms. Although the Torah later adds that if one is concerned about what he will eat in the Shemittah year Hashem will bless his harvest so that he will have enough food to eat, this is not a condition for one’s observance of the laws of Shemittah. As proof, we are still required to keep these laws even though the S”ma says that the blessing is not presently in effect. The Chazon Ish disagrees with the S”ma and writes that the blessing is still applicable.
A:The Mishmeres Ariel notes that the Gemara explains the reason for each of their positions. The first opinion derives his opinion from the first person, Adam, who was created on Friday. For Adam, Shabbos was the next day, followed by six days of the week and then another Shabbos. The other position focuses on the Creation of the universe, and from this perspective, first there were six days of the week and only then came Shabbos. According to their reasoning, in the case of Shemittah, where the Jewish people entered the land of Israel and spent 14 years conquering and dividing it before the laws of the Shemittah cycle became applicable, both opinions would agree that somebody in such a situation would first plant for six years and then observe the seventh year as Shemittah.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.