Sabbatical Year: Unraveling the Torah's Authorship

May 8, 2018

5 min read


Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

The laws of Shmita provide compelling evidence that a human being did not write the Torah.

It is wrong to live by rote. Living as mechanical robots contradicts spiritual growth. We need to know why we are Jewish and why we believe what we believe.

Every now and then, it behooves us to spend time and effort comprehending and cementing our belief in Torah and Judaism. Parshat Behar affords us such an opportunity.

The Torah portion of Behar begins with:

"God spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying..." (Leviticus 25:1)

It then describes the laws of Shmita, letting the land lie fallow during the sabbatical year. Rashi there asks the obvious question: Usually, God introduces a set of laws with a statement of His speaking to Moshe without mentioning where Moshe heard it. Why here does the verse say that God spoke these words to Moshe at Mount Sinai? Besides, weren't all the laws stated at Sinai?

Rashi answers that this unique method of writing teaches us that just as all of the laws of the sabbatical year were said at Sinai, so too, all of the Torah's laws, in all detail, were said at Sinai.

But the question remains, just re-framed: Why then were the laws of Shmita chosen to teach this concept? Couldn't God have used any of His Mitzvot to convey this lesson?

The answer leads us to a most relevant discussion as to why we should believe that God authored the Torah and gave it to us at Sinai. The laws of Shmita go a long way in showing that a human being could not have invented Judaism and could not have written the Torah.

The laws of Shmita seem to be irrational and are indicative of their Divine origin. Would any human being write laws that seem impossible to accept and observe? The laws of Shmita command the Jewish people to desist from all agricultural work every seventh year (see Vayikra 25:1-24). Every 50th year, there is an additional year called Yovel, Jubilee, in which they cannot engage in working the land either. This means that both the 49th and 50th years are off limits to any and all farming.

Why would a human being write such a ridiculous law? It is akin to commanding the people to starve to death every seventh year.

Yet, the author of the Torah goes further. The people will be bothered and worried when they hear of these laws. They will ask, 'How will we survive in the seventh year?' (see 25:20). The author, consequently, makes a guarantee. He promises that every sixth year they will receive a special blessing of a double crop (25:21) which would suffice for both the sixth and seventh years.

Could a human being guarantee such an occurrence? The very first time the 6th year comes without yielding a double crop, the people will see that it was a lie! They will see that God could not have written the Torah and it was made up by a human being. If a human being did invent the Torah, why would he devise a law that risks destroying his concocted religion? Is there a law such as this in any other religion that exposes itself to falsehood and absurdity? Only God could have authored the laws of Shmita.

There is another law that similarly proves that only God could have written the Torah and not a human being. Three times a year, ALL Jewish male adults are commanded to travel to Jerusalem to visit the Temple. This law is called 'Shalosh Regalim', the 'Three Festivals' pilgrimage.

This sets up a very scary phenomenon. The Moabites were waiting along Israel's borders to wipe out the Jewish nation. The Ammonites, Philistines, Amalekites, were also looking for their chance to invade. How is it rational to command all men to simultaneously leave their homes, exposing their cities to the possibility of total and utter destruction by their enemies?

The author of the Torah says the people shouldn't worry. He guarantees that while they are in Jerusalem, nothing will happen to their homes, their crops, their animals, and all their possessions(see Shemos 34:24). What human being can produce such a guarantee? After the enemies do indeed attack the first time, the law and most likely the entire religion is finished. Why would any human author create a law that feeds the Jews into the hands of their enemies?

But if God wrote it, it does make sense. He could give the guarantee that enemies will not come to destroy.

Can a reasonable person, using his reason, believe that a human being wrote the laws of the sabbatical year and the 'Three Festivals' pilgrimage? Only if God wrote them can the existence of these laws be understood.

Traditional Jews have claimed for 3,000 years that God revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and presented the Jews with the Torah. An honest study yields many factors that indicate the clear plausibility of this traditional belief. The explanation of the laws presented in this essay are a few of these factors.

We don't take a leap of faith when we choose to believe the Torah as truth. Our belief in the Divine authorship of the Torah makes rational sense. We need only investigate and we will see what makes Judaism's claims to truth unique and compelling.

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