Commentary for Behar-Bechukotai

19 May

In the first of this week’s two parshahs, we learn the laws of the Shmitah year. Every seventh year we are required to let the fields in the Land of Israel lay fallow so that the land itself may have a Sabbath. This is a huge sacrifice for a heavily agrarian society to make. Not planting any crops for an entire year would almost certainly mean a year full of food shortages.

Usually when God commands people in the Bible to do something so counter-intuitive to their instincts, the following of that commandment is portrayed as a test of faith. When the ninety-nine year old Abraham circumcised himself, he was not only putting himself through immense pain and risking an infection, but his advanced age made the pain harder to bear and made the risk of infection both greater and more deadly. But Abraham, pious man that he was, had faith that God would help him bear the pain and protect him from infection, and that is exactly what happened.

In the case of the Shmitah year, though, the exact opposite is true. God preemptively addresses the concerns the Israelites were sure to have by saying “And should you ask, ‘What are we to eat in the seventh year if we man neither sow nor gather in our crops?’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years, so that when you sow in the eighth year, you will still be eating old grain of that crop (Lev. 25:20-22).” God is not just promising us ahead of time that God will ensure that the sixth year’s harvest will be enough to last us until the end of the eighth, but God is actually giving us the food in advance. This means that if you really wanted to, you could (extremely inadvisably) try to “cheat” God by eating the extra produce from the sixth year and also just go ahead and plant crops during the Shmitah year anyway.

This begs the question of why God would set up a situation that allows us to cheat the system in the first place? After all, if God wanted to feed us during the Shmitah year, God could just cause manna to fall from the sky every day like during the Israelites’ journey through the dessert.

By giving us three years’ worth of crops at once, God is teaching us that we have to manage our resources. God does God’s part by providing us with all of the food we will need, but after that it is up to us to ensure that we allocate it correctly. Just as we put our faith in God to provide us with the ability, guidance, and resources we need, so to does God put faith in us to use those gifts correctly.

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