The Torah is Acquired By Humility

Appearing at the beginning of Parsha Behar (Leviticus ch. 25) are the laws concerning the Shmita year. We are commanded to observe the Shmita after having worked the land for six years. For one who observes it, the Holy One, blessed be He, promises that blessings will rest upon the work of his hands during all those years, as it is written: “Then I will command My blessing for you” (ibid. 25:21). On the other hand, we read at the beginning of Parsha Bechukotai: “If you walk in My statutes and you will keep My commandments…then I will give your rains in their time” (ibid. 26:3-4). What is the meaning of, “If you walk in My statutes”? Rashi cites the Midrash in explaining this to mean: “That you should labor in [studying] Torah” (Torat Kohanim).

This means that when a person puts an effort into studying Torah, he merits all the blessings mentioned in the Torah. From here we may draw two lessons: When someone observes the Shmita year according to Halachah – this applying not only to a farmer in the field, but to each and every person who has to observe the laws of the Shmita year – he then merits all the blessings mentioned in the Torah. Similarly, when someone studies Torah with fervor and puts an effort into it, he also merits all the blessings mentioned in the Torah, and furthermore he receives rain at the proper time to water the earth.

It would therefore seem that these two things – the observance of the Shmita year and the diligent study of Torah – are linked by a powerful bond.

What is the mitzvah of the Shmita year? A farmer is the master of his fields for a period of six years. His fields are off-limits to the public, and he works, sows and reaps, collects and stores up his harvest and its fruits. Yet come the seventh year, he has nothing to do! He is in no way the master of his possessions in that year, and his fields are open to everyone. Anybody can walk into his fields and take whatever falls into his hand. A farmer cannot feel proud during the Shmita year. He cannot say, “Everything belongs to me, and I’m the master of my fields.” It’s out of the question! He is not the master during the Shmita year, for then he must conduct himself with modesty and humility, yielding before everyone, for each and every person is as much the master of his fields as he is, and perhaps even more.

As for the study of Torah, what does it consist of? The Sages have explicitly said that the words of the Torah resemble water (Taanith 7a), and furthermore that “water signifies the Torah” (Bava Kama 17a). Just as water moves from a higher level to a lower one, words of Torah move from a higher place to a lower one. This means that words of Torah cannot entrench themselves in, or even penetrate, the heart of the proud. The Holy One, blessed be He, says of a proud person: “I and he cannot both dwell in the world” (Sotah 5a). A person who is proud cannot study Torah or learn it from someone else, for he feels greater than him and thinks, “How can this unimportant person explain the Torah to me?” Hence the Torah can only penetrate the heart of someone who is humble.

From this we see that humility is the principle means of acquiring the values of the Torah. It is only when a person conducts himself with humility and modesty that he can study Torah. Only in this way can he learn it from someone else, and only in this way can he elevate himself in learning.

Consequently, we see that everything mentioned with regards to the mitzvot of the Shmita year and Torah study are related. The central component of the mitzvah of Shmita is humility – to be self-effacing before each and every person – and the central component of diligent Torah study lies in humility. What lesson can we derive from this?

When a person conducts himself with humility, he merits the Torah. He also merits performing the mitzvah of the Shmita year according to Halachah, in the minutest detail, and through this he merits every blessing mentioned in the Torah. The painstaking study of Torah also provides a person with all his material needs, without interruptions or the need for calculations, because he conducts himself modestly, as he should.

If unfortunately we do not conduct ourselves properly, then we will be punished for not having observed the Shmita year, as well as for not having studied Torah, and the punishment for both will be the same! Our Sages have said, “By the sin of not observing the Shmita year, the Children of Israel are exiled from their land, the Temple is destroyed, and the land becomes a desert” (Tanhuma, Behar 1). In the Gemara (Nedarim 81a), the Sages give a lengthy explanation for a verse in the book of Jeremiah: “Who is the wise man who will understand this? … For what reason did the land perish? … Because they forsook My Torah” (Jeremiah 9:11-12).

From here we see something amazing. Be it by not observing the Shmita year or by not studying Torah, in either case the Temple is destroyed and the Children of Israel are exiled from their country to lands unknown. That being said, we must ask the following question: In every generation there are people who observe the Shmita year but do not study Torah, and conversely there are people who study Torah but do not observe the mitzvah of the Shmita year. How is it possible to sort these things out? The answer is very simple, and it is given by the verse: “If you walk in My statutes” (Leviticus 26:3). That is, we must put an effort into studying Torah. It is true that anyone can study it, yet if he fails to put an effort this study, his Torah will be of little value and punishments will start to bear down on him. We must therefore acquire humility, put an effort into studying Torah, and observe the Shmita year. In this way we will merit all the blessings mentioned by the Creator of the universe in His Torah.


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