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Parshas Behar

Whose Shabbos Is It?

Volume 6 Issue

by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

This week the Torah teaches us about the laws of Shmittah. After entering the Land of Israel and working for six years the Torah instructs that the "seventh year shall be a year of rest. It prescribes that, " your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap and the grapes you had set aside for yourself you shall not pick"

The details of the laws of Shmittah fill myriad volumes and are observed to this very day in the land for which it was proscribed Israel. It is interesting to note the way the Torah describes this rest year. At one point it seems to be a rest for the land, on the other it seems to be a year in which to bask in spirituality a year dedicated to Hashem.

"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them - When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard; and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune" (Leviticus 25:2-4).

The questions are quite obvious. First, the Shabbos, the year of rest, does not begin till after the six years of work. Why then, does the Torah begin the commands by declaring that " when you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem." Shouldn't it have said, "when you come to the land that I give you, you will work for six years and then observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem"?

Second, who is this Shabbos for? At first the Torah defines the rest period as "a Sabbath rest for Hashem" intoning that the Shabbos is "for Hashem." But in the next verse it is written that "the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land." It seems that the purpose of the Sabbath is to rest the land almost like crop rotation with practical implications -- clearly a different rest than "a Shabbos for Hashem." But then the verse concludes, "a Sabbath for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune."

So are there two types of Shabbos and whose Shabbos is it anyway?

Over a decade ago, in an encounter with a Jewish friend who did not observe Shabbos, I tried to stress to him the centrality of the Shabbos day to Judaism. In addition to the spiritual aspects of Shabbos, I tried a more practical approach. He was an executive whose busy life was constantly interrupted by the fast action pace of the business world, where he was called from city to city and from deal to deal.

"Can you imagine," I told him when our family sits around the Shabbos table and the phone rings, no one flinches, let alone moves to answer it!" I went on to discuss the values of taking a day off from work, focusing in on family and friends. I stressed the calming effect of the ability to let you lead your life one day without the forces of the electronic world to dictate your decisions.

Many years later, I met the man again. To my surprise the man had decided to fully observe Judaism, Shabbos of course, clearly at the top of his list.

"So," I asked, "Are you more rested because of Shabbos?"

He laughed. "At first," he explained, "it felt good not to take a long-distance call. But now I have to tell you that Shabbos has taken on a new meaning. And I do some long-distance calling."

Taken aback, I was about to ask, "Why," when he finished his sentence.

"You see, now, I don't only rest on Shabbos It's when I get in touch with G-d!"

The Torah prefaces its concept of rest by initially stating the purpose of the Shabbos. Shabbos is for Hashem. It does so in a way that we understand even before the first trowel hits the soil. "When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem." One must understand the entire raison d'etre of creation. The Torah wants us to understand that before work, understand that there will be a Shabbos. However the Torah reverts to the practical world. "For six years," it continues, "you will toil. You will sow, plant and reap." And then it tells us that there will be a rest. At first it will be a rest for the land. But then it adds the secret. When one starts a proper rest, though it may begin with practical implications, it will be a starting point from which to grow. And ultimately the Shabbos will mean much more than a day off from work. It will mean a new spiritual growth. It will be more than a Shabbos from phone calls and business deals. It will be a Shabbos for Hashem. Good Shabbos! 2000 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.

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The author is the Associate Dean of theYeshiva of South Shore.

Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation



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