Behar 5784: Relinquishing Ownership to G-d

This week’s parsha, Parshas Behar, teaches us about the mitzvos ha’te’luyos ba’Aretz (the land dependent mitzvos) of Shemitta and Yovel – the seventh Sabbatical year and the fiftieth Jubilee year.  During these years, which are only applicable in the Land of Israel, all land lays fallow.  The landowner is not allowed to seed, sow, harvest or reap, and does not act as the owner of the land during this year.  The fruits of the trees and produce of the field are his for eating, as well as for anyone else who wishes to take from the produce.  Shemittah and Yovel teach us that כִּילִי, הָאָרֶץfor the whole earth is Mine (Vayikra 25:23); the fields, the fruits, the grains, and the vegetables all belong to Hashem.

These years are a powerful reminder that it is G-d, and not man, Who runs the world and all that is in it – לַההָאָרֶץ וּמְלוֹאָהּ תֵּבֵל, וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָהּto Hashem is the land and its fulness, the world and all who dwell in it (Tehilim 24:1).

So often in life, we forget Who is in charge.  I once heard a beautiful hashkafic idea on the meaning of why we daven three times a day: Shachris, Mincha and Arvis.  In a powerful statement, Rabbi Menachem Penner (Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America, the RCA) explained that “it only takes a few hours for a man to think he is in charge.”  Hence, from the time we daven the morning tefillah of Shachris, until the afternoon when we daven mincha, we start to rely on our power, wisdom and success.  Just like the Shemittah and Yovel years, Tefillah thrice daily reminds us that all that we have is from Hashem, and that He is the Sustainer, Provider and Controller of all.

Yes, man must exert effort and do his normal hishtadlus (effort to succeed and produce) in this world; ain som’chin al ha’neis – we do not rely on miracles.  And today, it is true that mannah does not fall from heaven every morning to take care of our physical needs.  And so, the Torah commands and permits that for six days, and six years, work shall be done, but on the seventh day, and in the seventh year, all work ceases.  For no one can accomplish even one iota more than what G-d decrees or wills, and no amount of extra effort can override the Rulership of Hashem, our Creator and Provider.

The Torah warns us that when we become satiated (Devarim 8:10) and successful (Devarim 8:12-13) the yetzer harah (evil inclination) of kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es ha’chayil ha’zeh, the strength and might of my hand made me this wealth (8:17) is a powerful enemy against emunah, faith, in Hashem.

Shemittah and Yovel, and the mentality they teach us (even when it’s not a Shemittah or Yovel year) allow us to recalibrate spiritually and reconsider Who is in charge.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch teaches, “The difference between Sheviis (the 7th Sabbatical year) and Shabbos (the weekly 7th day of rest) hinges on the difference in their meaning.  Shabbos expresses homage to G-d as the Creator and King of the universe.  Man subordinates himself – and all the powers at his disposal to control the world – to G-d.  Man ceases from creation when he recalls G-d’s creation.  Hence, all exercise of creative power over matter is considered melacha (work) which is prohibited on Shabbos…

“Sheviis, on the other hand, expresses homage to G-d as the Master of the Land of Israel, and for this purpose it suffices to subordinate the land to G-d’s rule.  A man in Israel remembers that his land belongs to G-d, and that he is merely a stranger and a sojourner with G-d; he then neither works his land nor gathers in its produce to ensure his livelihood.  When he ceases sowing and pruning, and when he refrains from reaping the produce that grows on its own, so as to bring it into his home, his land does not provide his livelihood that year.

“Thus, the soil of the whole country is stamped as ownerless, and for a whole year declares before all that (the nation of) Israel is not master of its land.  As our Sages put it: Omer HKB”H l’Yisrael, zaro shesh vi’hash’mitu sheva, k’dei she’teidu she’ha’Aretz sheli hiHashem said to Israel, sow in the sixth year, and rest/cease in the seventh year, so that you will know that the earth is Mine (Sanhedrin 39a)” (RSRH commentary to Vayikra 25:4).

Sefiras Shemittah v’Yovel of the nation signifies that through seven Sabbath years the nation pays homage to G-d as the Owner of its national land. On this basis it strives seven times toward internal political freedom, rendering itself worthy of the Yovel rebirth of the state.  Accordingly, the Torah tells us that: you shall count for yourself seven Sabbath years, and these seven periods shall, at the same time, form one consecutive period of forty-nine years” (RSRH commentary to Vayikra 25:8).

Of his saintly wife, Henny a’h, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis relates, “What was Henny’s yetzer harah?   She would say: ‘Thinking that it’s me.’  It’s easy to get carried away by success.  There’s a whole long list of people who are frum today because of Henny.  I would say that remembering that it wasn’t her was a struggle she worked on.  She always knew it was G-d.  But she worked on internalizing that knowledge.  She would say, ‘Do you think I’m capable of having 14 children?’

“Henny worked hard at understanding that human excellence comes only from G-d.  Humility is not a repudiation of accomplishment.  Humility means, for example, that I understand that I play an instrument well, but it’s a talent from G-d.  In the end, Henny knew she didn’t do anything on her own – not having hundreds of weekly Shabbos guests, not raising a family, and not all of her acts of chessed.”  She understood it was all from Hashem (Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, The Shaar Press, p.431-432).

No matter what year it is, this is a mentality and Torah hashkafa that we all must cultivate in our every day lives.  While our successes – in all realms of life – may be many, it is only with the benevolence, kindness and grace of Avinu she’ba’Shomayim, our Compassionate Father in heaven, Who enables us to succeed.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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