Shmittah: The 7th-Year Trust Challenge
Parsha Behar-Bechukotai - Wayyiqra/Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34
This week, we read a double portion of Torah: Parsha Behar and Parsha Bechukotai. We see one major connection between the two readings - the Shmittah, the seventh year Sabbath for the land.
Wayyiqra/Leviticus 25:2-4 - “Speak to the children of Yisra’ĕl, and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall observe a Sabbath to יהוה.
(3) Six years you sow your field, and six years you prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit,
(4) but in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to יהוה. Do not sow your field and do not prune your vineyard."
Every seventh year, no crops were planted, and the land rested.
The details of this mitzvah are in Parsha Behar, and then in Parsha Bechukotai, we see the punishment for not obeying this mitzvah - exile from the land.
Wayy/Lev. 26:33-35 ‘And I shall scatter you among the gentiles and draw out a sword after you. And your land shall be desert and your cities ruins,
(34) and the land enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies waste and you are in your enemies’ land. Then the land would rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.
(35) As long as it lies waste it rests, for the time it did not rest on your Sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
They were exiled because they didn’t let the land rest?
Surely, there should be consequences for disobeying a command of YAHUAH, but doesn't this seem a bit harsh? Maybe for something major like idolatry, but exile for something as seemingly “non-spiritual” as planting seeds?
What makes this mitzvah so important that the entire nation’s homeland was at risk?
Taking a Year Off
Suppose your spouse was the breadwinner of your family, and one day, s/he came home and said, “I quit my job today. I decided to take a year off. Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.”
Would you be fine with it?
Or would worry start to creep up in your mind: “How are we going to pay our bills? How will we feed our family? Are we going to lose our home? How will we make it?”
Would you be able to trust YAH to provide for you… for a whole year?
That’s what it was like for Yisrael every seven years. They were an agricultural society, so their livelihood depended on their crops. If they didn’t plant, they didn’t eat.
YAHUAH commanded that every seven years, they were to essentially quit their jobs and not work for a whole year - no planting, no reaping, no pruning, no gathering.
How would they survive? What would they eat?
They couldn’t go to the market because NO ONE in all Yisrael planted that year. The whole country stopped food production.
There was only one thing they could do...
The Real Issue
So, they couldn’t plant in the seventh year, but didn’t YAHUAH provide?
YAHUAH provided the solution before the “problem” even started. He promised that in the sixth year, He would command a blessing on the crops so that it brought forth enough to last for three years!
So, if YAHUAH blessed them with enough food to last three years, there really shouldn’t have been an issue. Yisra'el should’ve been able to keep shmittah with no problem, right?
Also, even though they didn’t sow in the seventh year, the fields would grow on its own. They could eat whatever grew on its own; they just couldn’t reap, store, or sell it. They could only gather what they would immediately eat.
Furthermore, whatever did grow on its own was deemed “ownerless.” Meaning anyone could go into any field and get something eat. It didn’t matter who “owned” the field. In the seventh year, it was considered public property, and all food that grew on its own was available to any and everyone.
Sounds like a good “back-up plan” to me. Now, there really shouldn’t be any problem keeping shmittah, right?
Well, did the sixth year really produce enough? Would it really last three years?
What if the “back-up plan” falls through? What if the field hardly produces anything on its own?
What if too many people start taking out of “my” field? What if they don’t leave enough for us?
Doubt is a funny thing. If you let it, it could make even a sure-fire thing seem impossible.
Even though they were blessed in the sixth year, Yisrael still had to trust that it would indeed be enough for them. They had to trust that YAHUAH really did provide like He said. They had to trust that they would be okay until the ninth year when they would reap again.
They had to trust YAHUAH.
The seventh year was all about trust.
Essentially, in the mitzvah of shmittah, YAHUAH is commanding His people to trust Him.
If they didn’t keep shmittah and continued to plant and reap, it was because they didn’t trust Him.
So, they weren't exiled just because they planted some seeds. They were removed from the land because they didn’t have trust in YAHUAH.
Earlier, I said that perhaps exile was an appropriate punishment for something like idolatry, but maybe not so much for shmittah.
Well, not keeping shmittah was a form of idolatry.
If we don’t trust in YAH, then who do we trust?
If we trust in anyone or anything besides YAHUAH, then it is idolatry.
If we place our trust in the work of our own hands, then we are guilty of idolatry.
The True Source
Our work does not provide us with our livelihood like we think it does.
Not planting in the seventh year proved the disconnect between livelihood and labor. No labor was done, but the people still received their livelihood because it came from YAHUAH - not the work of their hands.
Yes, we are required to work - “six days you labor,” “six years you sow your field.”
We’re supposed to work. We’re supposed to be productive and be actively engaged in creative pursuits.
But our work is NOT the Source of our livelihood.
YAHUAH is the Source of our livelihood!
YAHUAH gives us what we need, and the seventh year shmittah proved that.
It’s easy to fall into the mode of thinking we provide for ourselves, but every seven years, YAHUAH broke Yisrael out of that mindset. He caused them to remember that He alone was their Provider and the sole Source of their livelihood.
In our times, it doesn’t really seem like the shmittah applies to us (unless we're a farmer), but the lesson definitely still applies.
We’ve all faced times in our life when our livelihood was in question. Maybe it was job loss, health problems, unexpected expenses, or maybe YAHUAH was leading us through a transitional phase.
It’s at these moments when our livelihood seems to cease that we have to put our complete trust in YAHUAH.
If you find yourself in such a position, trust in YAHUAH. He has already provided the solution for you. All our livelihood comes from Him. So, somewhere in the Heavenlies, He has something stored up for you that will carry you through this time.
If you feel like you’re just getting by day to day, then look at it like you’re eating from what grew on its own. You can’t store it up, but you have enough for today.
Continue to trust in YAHUAH.
Work to increase your trust. That’s our real work. When the work of our hand slows or ceases, use the time for spiritual work. Build your relationship with YAHUAH so that your trust increases.
The ceasing of our labor teaches us to trust YAHUAH.
YAHUAH alone is our Elohim. YAHUAH alone is our Provider.
YAHUAH alone is the Source of our livelihood.