Devar Torah – Parshas Behar/Bechukosai 5781

Just over a year ago, most governments around the world told their citizens to stop working for two weeks. Just to “flatten the curve”. Those two weeks soon became another two weeks. Then a month. Then another month. After about a full year most entities finally began to open up again.

But imagine if the government had said up front, “We want you to shut down your business for a full year!” Most people would balk at that. “How will we survive? How will we be able to pay rent and utilities or buy food?” would be the outcry from most of the citizenry.

A year has passed, and you could understand that for many people – maybe most people – the inability to work has been devastating.

And the governments that insisted on this secession from work have not necessarily stepped in to help.

But this essay is not about COVID or governments. It is about this week’s parsha, Behar/Bechukosai.

In the opening of the Torah portion, G-d tells the Jewish people that after they enter the land of Israel they are to work the land for six years, and then in the seventh year they are to stop working (in Hebrew, this year is called “Shemitah“). No planting. No pruning. Not only that, but all the fruit that grows during this seventh year belongs not to the owner of the orchard, but to anyone who wants to come and pick it. FREE.

“But what will we eat?” asked some of the Jews. “Not to worry,” says G-d. “I will provide a bumper crop in the sixth year that will cover you for the sixth year, the seventh year, and even halfway into the eighth year.” (To the people who didn’t ask this question, G-d blessed them with the ability to get by with less. For example, they might not have needed as much food to feel satiated.)

Some people today have suggested that the Torah was not written by G-d. Major university “scholars” with fancy titles and even major figures in the Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism religions claim that the Torah is not Divine.

Yet can you imagine an author trying to make up a religion? Would he ever put into the “rule book” a claim that every 7 years the adherents to his new religion would have to leave their land fallow – yet through a specific miracle everyone would survive? As everyone reading this today can attest to, if some government told you to not work for a full year (not just “two weeks to flatten the curve”), but they’ll make a miracle and you’ll survive, would you trust them?

Only the Creator of the World can make such a demand on His people, and only the Creator of the World can be relied upon to back up his promise that He will ensure that his people will survive. Not only that first shemita year, but each and every shemita year after the Jews entered Israel – repeating this demand and promise about 470 times so far!

Wishing everyone a Good Shabbos, and I hope you will all be ready for the upcoming Shemitah year, which will begin on Rosh Hashanah Eve, September 6, 2021.

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