Parshas Behar discusses the important mitzvos of shmittah and Yovel. The mitzvah of shmittah is that every seventh year, the farmers in Eretz Yisrael are obligated to let their land lie fallow; the only work permitted is in order to prevent the fields from completely deteriorating, but in no way are they allowed to plant, harvest, or prepare the fields for future use. The Yovel, or jubilee year, is the fiftieth year of the shmittah cycle. The laws of shmittah are again observed and in addition, all Jewish slaves are freed, any property sold since the last Yovel is returned to the original owner, and all debts are absolved. The purpose of all these laws is, among other things, to show us that everything we own really belongs to Hashem. It is only through his kindness that we have these things.
In ancient times, life and death was decided by how the crops went. To not plant anything was suicide! By taking the year off from planting and by returning our hard-earned land, we show how it all was a gift from Hashem in the first place, and He will continue to provide for us in the future. The mitzvah of shmittah, and its’ lesson, is so important, that the pasuk teaches us that the reason for our exile following the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash was because we did not keep shmittah. As the pasuk says in next week’s parshah, “אז תרצה הארץ את שבתותיה”, “Then the land will receive its’ sabbatical year” (Vayikra 26:34), when everyone is in exile and there is no one to plant, the land will finally receive the shmittah years it had coming to it.
“וְסָפַרְתָּ לְךָ שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים” “And you shall count for yourselves seven sabbatical years, seven years seven times.” (25:8). The Kli Yakar points out an interesting idea regarding the time span of Yovel. The pasuk in Tehillim (90:10) says that the typical length of a man’s life is seventy years. Because a person is not considered of punishable age by the Heavenly Court until the age of twenty, you subtract those first twenty years, and it comes out that the average life span of a person is fifty years. So when the pasuk tells you to count forty-nine years, it is not only referring to the Yovel cycle, it is also saying that a person should count the years of their life! The idea of Yovel referring to the life cycle of a person can be explained as follows.
There are two ways to live your life. The first way is to live a life filled with spiritual enjoyment. In this way, you fulfill the Torah and end up creating an amazing reward for yourself in the World To Come. In that way, these years truly become “לְךָ”, for you. They become something you can take pride in and point to as an achievement. On the flip side, someone who lives their life filled with emptiness, this same word “לְךָ” can still be applied, except it will not apply to you as you have not built anything for yourself that you can be truly proud of.
But as long as we can work our fields, as long as we are in this world, what difference does it make! But then, the fiftieth year arrives, the year of Yovel, and according to our parable, the last year of life. At this point, there is nothing left for you to do. You cannot plow any more, you cannot plant anymore. At this point, everyone is equal, everything that you built in this world is given away, you cannot take it with you. But what is the legacy you leave behind from what you built here, is it one of grandeur or one of ruin?
This, explains the Kli Yakar, is why Hashem set up Yovel as a year where we cannot plant and all the slaves are freed and all property is returned. Just as these actions show that the land belongs to Hashem, so too our own actions have a time where they must cease. We are not the owners of our land here, we are merely renters whose lease has expired. The idea of Yovel is to remind us that not only does our property in the physical world have an expiration date, but so do we. And just as we use our property to create something lasting for ourselves before we must return it to the original owner, so too we must make sure our actions create something lasting before we are returned to our owner. If we do this, we can then become more than a “renter” from Hashem, we can become residents of Olam Haba, right next to the Shechinah.
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