Our parashah begins with the commandment of shemittah (the Sabbatical year), which means that every seventh year in Israel, the land must lay fallow. Interestingly, the Torah introduces this commandment by stating that God commanded this mitzvah at Mount Sinai, which, at first glance, appears rather enigmatic, for we know that every mitzvah - all the commandments - were given at Sinai, so why should the Sabbatical year be singled out for special mention? In the answer to this question is to be found the foundation upon which our Jewish faith is built, and that is total trust in God.

Ancient Israel was an agricultural society. The nation's survival was totally dependent upon the produce of the land, but the laws of shemittah required that after every seven-year cycle, the land be allowed to rest; no tilling, no planting, no harvesting of the earth was to take place, which in essence meant that the harvest of the sixth year had to last for three years (the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth, since no work was done in the seventh). For an entire nation to come to a standstill demanded complete and utter trust in God. Just try to visualize what would happen if, in our contemporary world, we were told that we had to shut down our businesses, our farms, etc. every seventh year and rely upon income from the sixth year to sustain us for three years! There would be total and utter chaos. Panic would break out, and this, despite the fact that many of us have some savings and our government has reserves to fall back on, and we have the wherewithal to preserve food, so that famine would not become an issue. Therefore, the very fact that our forefathers accepted this mitzvah unquestioningly testifies that it had to come from Sinai, for such a demand could only be made by God, Who sustains us in all seasons. Hence, that is the reason for the mention of Sinai in connection with the Sabbatical year.

Additionally, when we observe shemittah, we declare to the world that the true owner of the land is God, and it is only with His permission that we till the soil and reap the harvest. Such an admission makes us keenly aware that it is our Heavenly Father Who is in control and not we who are in charge - an admission that renders us humble and compassionate, mindful of that which is of paramount significance in life.

NO EXPLANATION REQUIRED

From the very genesis of our history, it is this total trust that shaped our relationship with God. At Sinai, we proclaimed, "Na'aseh v'nishma - We will do and we will obey,"[1] without really knowing what would be demanded of us. Our unequivocal response was based totally on trust, and it is this trust that is the basis for the observance of all our 613 mitzvos. More than logic and reason, our commitment is rooted in the knowledge that God is there, that it was He who spoke, so no commandment can be too difficult, even if at times the challenge might appear to be so. We rely totally upon God, trust Him implicitly, and know that, since He created us, if He commanded it, we have the ability to deliver.

The Jew who is imbued with this faith does not need any explanation as to why he should observe a mitzvah; the very fact that God spoke is reason enough, and he does not need any better rationale than that. Over the years, we have seen science catch up to us and substantiate many of our commandments, pronouncing them medically sound. Society has also come to appreciate the wisdom inherent in our ethical and moral laws, but whether science or conventional wisdom verify our commandments is irrelevant. Ours is a commitment of total faith and trust, for the voice of God forever reverberates in our hearts. This faith and trust are at the root of our survival. We are a minuscule minority and by every law of logic, we should have long ago disappeared.

Nor is our situation different today. Our brethren in Israel are surrounded by a sea of hostile nations who seek her destruction. How can we possibly survive? The Passover Haggadah gives us the answer: In every generation our enemies seek to annihilate us, but the Almighty God always saves us.

TAKE CARE NOT TO INFLICT PAIN

Our parashah coincides with preparations for the holiday of Shavuos, when God gave us His Torah. Therefore, most appropriately, this parashah imparts mitzvos that teach us how we may best prepare ourselves for this awesome day. Not only are we called upon to intensify our faith and place our trust in the Almighty God, but we are also reminded how to be more sensitive toward our fellow man:

"Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow,"[2] meaning that we must be very careful with our words and with our comments so as not to embarrass or hurt others. The use of derogatory language or offensive nicknames is not permissible under any circumstances, nor are we allowed to remind people of their past misdeeds, even if we claim that we are just joking.

In our society, "ranking out people" and "telling it like it is," regardless of how much pain is inflicted, has become the "norm." Taunting, hurling insults, name-calling start at a very young age, and many children are psychologically destroyed by their peers in school or in summer camp. The use of abrasive, cutting words continues throughout life. It mars our marriages and our relationships; it is at the root of our broken homes and our angry, bitter personal lives. Our parashah speaks to us with great urgency and reminds us that basic to a stable, harmonious society and family life is the art of communicating with kindness and love.

NOTES

1. Exodus 24:7.
2. Leviticus 25:17.

Find what you’re looking for – in the weekly Torah portion. ArtScroll has a large and exciting variety of books on the weekly Torah portion. For personalized recommendations for aish.com readers, click here.