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Food for Thought

The portion of Behar relays the laws and opportunities of the Shmita year, which we are still observing. The Torah explicitly poses the question that surely must have been on our minds almost by design, 25:20;

וְכִ֣י תֹאמְר֔וּ מַה־נֹּאכַ֖ל בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑ת הֵ֚ן לֹ֣א נִזְרָ֔ע וְלֹ֥א נֶאֱסֹ֖ף אֶת־תְּבוּאָתֵֽנוּ׃

And should you ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?”.

It evokes the same conundrum expressed by the people as they received the instructions regarding the Manna. Shemot 16:16;

זֶ֤ה הַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר צִוָּ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה לִקְט֣וּ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ אִ֖ישׁ לְפִ֣י אָכְל֑וֹ עֹ֣מֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּ֗לֶת מִסְפַּר֙ נַפְשֹׁ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם אִ֛ישׁ לַאֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּאָהֳל֖וֹ תִּקָּֽחוּ׃

This is what God has commanded: Each household shall gather as much as it requires to eat—an omer to a person for as many of you as there are; each household shall fetch according to those in its tent.” This incidentally gives a whole new meaning to counting the Omer! The narrative continues;

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אִ֕ישׁ אַל־יוֹתֵ֥ר מִמֶּ֖נּוּ עַד־בֹּֽקֶר׃

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”

וְלֹא־שָׁמְע֣וּ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיּוֹתִ֨רוּ אֲנָשִׁ֤ים מִמֶּ֙נּוּ֙ עַד־בֹּ֔קֶר וַיָּ֥רֻם תּוֹלָעִ֖ים וַיִּבְאַ֑שׁ וַיִּקְצֹ֥ף עֲלֵהֶ֖ם מֹשֶֽׁה׃

But they paid no attention to Moses; some of them did leave it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank. And Moses was angry with them.

We can surely understand those for whom this instruction was difficult, even distressing. This was a particularly challenging requirement for slaves and as we know from survivors, who would always leave food for their next meal, never knowing when or if one would be fed again. Rabbi Soleveitchik in The Festival of Freedom – Essays on Pesach and the Haggadah, argues that these directives that followed the instructions regarding no leftovers of the Pascal lamb, were fundamental lessons and experiences for our long march to freedom.- Trust and Faith, qualities inconceivable under the pressures of oppression and genocide.

Returning to the precepts regarding Shmita. In the verse immediately following the understandable concern of what will there be to eat in the seventh year if the people may neither sow nor gather their crops, there is an astonishing expression; 21:21

וְצִוִּ֤יתִי אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי֙ לָכֶ֔ם בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַשִּׁשִּׁ֑ית וְעָשָׂת֙ אֶת־הַתְּבוּאָ֔ה לִשְׁלֹ֖שׁ הַשָּׁנִֽים׃

I will ordain (command) My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.

Why does God need to command Himself to provide this blessing? What is being added by inserting that term? We surely would have understood the intent if the verse would have simply stated I will bless the produce of the sixth year…In what circumstances do we have to command ourselves to perform a task? Evidently this is no small ask for either the people or God. For both, the commandments lead to commitments. These stages of a true reciprocal relationship began for slaves through commands, perhaps God in a compassionate empathetic manner, mirrors these demands on Himself. The command reflects an outside force whereas a commitment is self driven. 

Perhaps this too further illuminates Rashi’s opening iconic question to the portion of Behar;-  מָה עִנְיַן שְׁמִטָּה אֵצֶל הַר סִינַי  What has the matter of the Shmita have to do with Mount Sinai? Shmita affords the emergence of a relationship of trust, faith, love and empathy. These are the qualities that enable us to receive both each other and as a result … The Torah.  

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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