Parsha Thought – Behar

Wheat growing in the Hula Valley

Parsha Behar is one of those portions of the scripture that we look at and immediately have more questions than answers. This week’s Parsha deals with some seemingly outdated topics about farming. Leviticus 25:1-2 begins with the command that when we should come into the land, we are to let it rest and have its own Sabbath. It goes on to clarify:

“Six years you sow your field, and six years you prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit, but in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to HaShem. Do not sow your field and do not prune your vineyard. Do not reap what grows of its own of your harvest, and do not gather the grapes of your unpruned vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food, for you and your servant, and for your female servant and your hired servant, and for the stranger who sojourns with you, and for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land. All its crops are for food.”

Leviticus 25:3-4

It is exactly as it sounds. In the seventh year you will do no planting, reaping or harvesting. In fact, the Torah is explicitly reminding us that this plot of land that was set aside as ours is now open to the servant, your neighbor and wild animals to eat from. You’re welcome to eat from it, but so is everyone else. How are we supposed to sustain ourselves if we can’t harvest our own fields?

It would make sense to say that HaShem asked us to leave the land to rest so that it could replenish the nutrients in the soil. This is what as known as “fallowing” and is something that is still used today by some farmers. While researching the modern day implementation of this method, I have learned one thing; it can be seen as a controversial conversation between different parties. One side will argue that farmland not planted and harvested equates to a lack of income. The opposing side explains that while the short term seems like a loss of revenue, the long term effects are invaluable.

Planting one crop for long periods of time can leach certain nutrients from the soil. Doing so without allowing for a rest period can guarantee that your future crops will suffer. This “land Sabbath” can also disturb the natural cycle of pest insects and reduce the need for chemical pesticides. While cutting down on the bad bugs, the rest encourages the growth of beneficial microbes in the soil. So maybe HaShem knew all of this ahead of time, right?

‘And since you might say, “What do we eat in the seventh year, since we do not sow nor gather in our crops?” ‘Therefore I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth the crop for three years.’

Leviticus 25:20-21

Interestingly enough, the blessing on the bounty is not from the year after the Shemittah, but for the year before it, the sixth year. Perhaps He orchestrated it in this way so that it was clear that He alone was the source of the blessing. The physically impossible was made possible, by our obedience alone. We can glean a bit of understanding from this and apply it to our own lives. To put it simply: when we are doing what He asks us to do He blesses us both spiritually and materially. He makes a way for the uncertain to become certain.

We should remember this when it comes to some of the mitzvot that He gives us. One might wonder, “How are we to ever have enough if we can’t work overtime on the Shabbat?” This brings to mind the one side’s argument; hours not worked equal a lack of income. Our job is not to worry about that, but to tend to our proverbial gardens for six days and let Him handle the seventh. And those “nutrients” that get used up all week are replenished each and every Shabbat when we come before Him in loving obedience.

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