Shemittah and Shabbos

May 2, 2010

6 min read


Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

The entire parsha is occupied with the laws of shemittah and yovel, the seventh and fiftieth years of the agricultural cycle, in which the fields in Eretz Yisrael must lie fallow and a plethora of other laws apply. Some of the laws of shemittah have already been mentioned in Parashas Mishpatim:

Six years you shall sow your field, and you shall gather in your produce. In the seventh you shall let it rest and be fallow. The poor of your people shall eat, and the excess may be eaten by the beasts of the field. So shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may rest; and the son of your maidservant and the stranger may be revitalized. (Shemos 23:10-12)

Let us focus on the connection between the shemittah year and the weekly Shabbos, which is the subject of the last part of this quote.

And on the seventh day you shall rest - even in the seventh year, the Shabbos which recalls Creation [the weekly Shabbos] is not canceled. We should not think that since the entire shemittah year is called Shabbos, the Shabbos which recalls Creation should not apply. (Rashi loc. cit.)

This is very odd. A quick comparison of the laws of shemittah with those of Shabbos reveal that they are hardly alike. The shemittah restrictions apply solely to farming. One may not sow seed, harvest crops, or perform a wide range of other agricultural activities during shemittah. While all of these laws certainly apply to Shabbos, they are only a tiny fraction of the restrictions of that day. On Shabbos, we may not cook, carry, write, sew, or cut, to name but a few of the additional prohibitions. Desecration of the Shabbos is treated far more strictly than transgression of the shemittah laws. It is perfectly apparent that Shabbos is far holier and its infraction more severe than shemittah. What, then, does the Mechilta mean? It seems unthinkable to propose that the weekly Shabbos should be canceled in the face of the far weaker and more limited restrictions applicable during the shemittah year, for in truth, the shemittah laws are entirely subsumed by those of Shabbos.

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Whenever the Torah mentions the laws of Shabbos, it is always in juxtaposition to the six days of the week. This is apparent in the above quote and in other similar verses:

Six days' work may be done, and on the seventh day it is the Shabbos of rest; it is holy to God... (Shemos 31:15)

Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh day it is the Shabbos of rest, a holy gathering... (Vayikra 23:3)

There are other examples, but all point to the same concept: Shabbos must be preceded somehow by six days. This means that Shabbos is so holy, so removed from our day-to-day experience, that we cannot utilize it without divorcing ourselves from our usual lifestyle. The contrast to the weekdays is essential. When Shabbos arrives, we must throw off our weekday attitudes, our concerns for our livelihood, and any worries we may have. Our constant involvement in the physical realities of weekday life must depart to allow the holiness of Shabbos to permeate our souls. This aspect of Shabbos is described by the Shabbos song which claims that "Shabbos is a taste of the World to Come." Olam HaBa, the World to Come, is entirely different and separate from Olam HaZeh, our physical world. Only by divorcing oneself from the exigencies of this world can we prepare ourselves to enter the next. In this respect, the relationship between the weekdays and Shabbos is analogous to that between Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa. This concept is encapsulated by the following midrash:

Who can bring forth purity from impurity? Not one (Iyov 14:4) - for example, Avraham from Terach, Chizkeyahu from Achaz, Yeshayahu from Ammon, Mordechai from Shim'i, Olam HaBa from Olam HaZeh. (Bemidbar Rabbah 19:1)

The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that Olam HaBa can emerge from Olam HaZeh by divorcing oneself from Olam HaZeh. This results in a person imbued with the spiritual aspects of life; thus he creates his own Olam HaBa. This conforms with the view of the mystics who note that the more one flees from superficiality, the greater one connects to truth and spiritual reality. Moshe Rabbeinu himself discovered this when he left Egypt for the first time:

...and Moshe fled from before Pharaoh, and he dwelt in the land of Midian, and he sat by a well. (Shemos 2:15)

In symbolic terms at least, Moshe fled from the forces of evil, represented by Pharaoh, and immediately found a source of spiritual inspiration, symbolized by the well.

This helps us to understand the similarity of Shabbos to Olam HaBa. Both the weekdays and Olam HaZeh are essentially physical. By overcoming their influence, we merit, respectively, Shabbos and Olam HaBa. It is now clear why the Torah always precedes Shabbos with an account of the six workdays, for the two are inextricably linked.

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We may now return to our original discussion - the possibility of canceling the weekly Shabbos during the shemittah year. As we have mentioned, most agricultural tasks are prohibited during this seventh year. The Torah refers to shemittah as the "Shabbos of the land." As such, the workdays during this year are not complete, for only non-agricultural work is allowed. We have theorized that for the weekly Shabbos to be successful it must be preceded by six, full, productive days. In the shemittah year this cannot be achieved. Thus the Mechilta suggests that during the seventh year the weekly Shabbos should be canceled, for it would not achieve its intended aims. But this, of course, is only a proposal, for the Torah chooses to juxtapose Shabbos and shemittah. This informs us that during shemittah, despite its restrictions, Shabbos will occur weekly, just as in every other year.

Excerpted from Shem MiShmuel by the Sochatchover Rebbe, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, published by Targum Press. Click here to order.


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