Parshat Behar-The Earth’s Inner Reality

12 05 2011

Based on shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Parshat Behar discusses the mitzva of shemitta. What is the deeper meaning behind this unusual commandment?

Earth is finite and physical, while heaven is infinite and transcendental.  Because we are so involved in physicality, it is easy to get lost in it.  Somehow our material existence becomes real to us, while our spiritual essence remains vague and distant. Other religions preach that earth is the enemy and heaven is where your heart should be. In contrast, Judaism teaches that the earth was created to be the agent of our spiritual expression. This is especially true in the land of Israel. Indeed, Hashem chose to define us as a nation specifically there.

Everything physical has six sides: left, right, front, back, up, and down. The surface of reality is symbolized by six. The word six in Hebrew is shesh, two letter shin and atop the letters, six crowns – exactly the picture of six. Seven is inner reality, the part you don’t see. It is what gives something purpose and what makes it real and eternal.

In the seventh year, the farmers don’t work their land. They basically stop their daily business activities. By letting go of the cycle of earning and spending, one year out of seven, we can come to terms with the fact that there is something deeper and more purposeful than external reality. We become attuned to the Divine Providence that is specific to the land.

Many years ago I lived on a moshav in the north of Israel. There was a secular moshav nearby that employed Arabs to grow their flowers. The year before Shemitta, the Arab chief asked the non-religious moshav secretary to move their resources to something else other than flowers. The man refused and the next year they planted as always.  At first the rains were late in coming. This destroyed their first crop. After they replanted, the rain began falling in torrents and the seeds were swept downhill to the valley. They lost everything again.

When they asked the Arab chief how he had known, he answered, “Don’t you know? For Jews nothing really grows well in the seventh year.” He thought it was self-understood. In fact, the promise that this is how it will be is dependent on many factors including our collective level. Still it is something we can all see, at least to some degree.  Shemitta opens us up to the idea that there is an inner reality. During the year this reality becomes experiential, instead of just intellectual. Even those of us living out of Israel know it and learn it. By sensitizing ourselves to the intricate Divine Providence prevalent in our every-day life, the message of Shemitta will live on in our hearts.



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