Rabbanit Taragin addressing the Mizrachi–TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program in Jerusalem
Bringing us Back to the Future
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
The Torah’s first reference to the laws of Shemitta appears in Parashat Mishpatim, where it is juxtaposed to the laws of Shabbat (23:10–12). In Parashat Behar, the relationship between these mitzvot is made even more explicit when the Torah refers to the Shemitta year as “Shabbat.” These mitzvot share a deeper meaning; they are not merely times of rest and relaxation but also remind us that Hashem is the Creator of the world. Both mitzvot recall the ideal Gan Eden state of creation, in which G-d provides human beings and animals with sustenance in perfect equilibrium and the fruit of the trees and produce of the fields are available to all as food to eat, “לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה”:
I have given you every herb yielding seed on the face of all the earth and every tree which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, that has a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ (Bereishit 1:29–30)
And the sabbath-produce of the land shall be for food for you, your servant and your maid, and for your hired servant and for the settler by your side that sojourns with you, and for your cattle, and for the beasts in your land, shall the produce be for food. (Vayikra 25:6–7)
The Ramban (Vayikra 25:2) emphasizes that Shemitta is not only a testimony to the creation of the past but also testifies to the continued existence of the world and the ultimate goal of the Shabbat of Hashem we will experience in the future:
The [seven] days [of the week] allude to that which He created in the process of creation, and the [seven] years [of the Sabbatical cycle] refer to that which will occur during the creation of all “the days” of the world. It is for this reason that Scripture was more stringent regarding [the transgression of the laws of] the Sabbatical year than with respect to those guilty of transgressing all other negative commandments, and made it punishable with exile… This stringency of punishment is because whoever denies it [i.e., the law of the Sabbatical year], does not acknowledge the work of creation and [life in] the World to Come.
Shabbat and Shemitta enable us to reflect upon the weeks and years gone by and to chart our goals for the future. Shabbat is a taste of the Gan Eden of the past, when we remember how G-d rested after creation, while Shemitta is a taste of the Olam Haba of the future, paralleling Hashem’s future rest in the seventh millennium and our yearning for an exalted moral state.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l beautifully depicts this ideal: “In the society of the Shemitta year, equality reigns, produce has no owners, there is no employer and no employee, but rather all share the same status. Such a society acquires new and revolutionary qualities that can change the nature of that society, at least during the Shemitta period.”1
The social revolution of Shemitta restores our pre-banishment state from Gan Eden and provides a glimpse of the future, when “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb” (Yeshaya 11:16). This was the idyllic condition at the beginning of human history, before the Earth was cursed with thorns and thistles and animals began to tear each other apart for food. The mitzvah of Shemitta is not only a command, but also a promise. “And for your cattle, and for the beasts in your land, shall the produce be for food” (Vayikra 25:7). If you keep the Shemitta and abandon your produce to the beasts of the field, the time will come when man will no longer have to earn his bread through the sweat of his brow and the wild animals will no longer harm the cattle of the fields. “Whoever observes the mitzvot which signify this, will be privileged to experience all of these things” (Rabbi Saul Mortera, 1596–1660, Sefer Giv’at Shaul).
This Tu BiShvat, as we enjoy produce infused with kedushat shevi’it, may we reflect upon this year’s special opportunity to recreate the past and build a magnificent future through Shabbat and Shemitta, renewing our days and years, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם!
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi–TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.