Friday Candle Lighting: 7:31 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:31 PM
Holy Crop Rotation!
“For six years you may sow your field” (25:3)
I still remember learning at school about crop rotation. One year the field would be planted with wheat, the next year with barley or some other crop, and the third it would be left to lie fallow. And then the cycle would begin again.
When reading this week’s Torah portion, one could think that the mitzvah of Shemitta, the prohibition of working the fields in the seventh year, is some kind of holy crop rotation. The difference being that in the Torah it says you should work the field for six years and leave it for a seventh.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, there is evidence that working a field for six straight years and then leaving it for one year does nothing to improve its yield and may even have a negative effect. Second, the Torah prescribes dire punishments for the non-observance of Shemitta. The seventy years of the Babylonian exile were a punishment for seventy non-observed Shemitta years during the 430 years that the Jewish People dwelled in the Land of Israel. We know that G-d’s punishment is always measure for measure. If Shemitta was a matter of crop husbandry, how is exile an appropriate punishment? What does exile have to do with the cessation of agriculture in the seventh year? Furthermore, from an agricultural point of view, seventy years without husbandry can have had no possible benefit for the land. Seventy years of weeds and neglect in no way contribute to the lands rejuvenation, so how is this punishment an appropriate restitution?
To answer these questions we must examine what causes a person to violate Shemitta in the first place.
A great malaise of our own era is the compulsion to overwork. The workaholic defines himself by his job. When you meet someone socially, the question of “What are you?” is usually answered by “I’m a doctor,” or “I’m an accountant” or “I’m a rabbi.”
There is a fundamental mistake here. What we do is not what we are.
In our society we have confused what we do with who we are. The underlying belief revealed here is that the more I work the more I become myself. Violation of the laws of Shemitta comes from a belief that the more I work, the more money will I make, and the more I make, the more I am the master of my own world.
When a person is sent into exile, all the familiar comforting symbols of his success are taken away from him. He realizes that what he does is not who he is. Both his survival and his identity are G-d given gifts. The insecurity of exile brings a person face to face with his total dependence on G-d.
It is from the perspective of exile that a person can rebuild his worldview so that he can see that what he does is not who he is.