The Foundations of Faith and the Shmita

It is written, “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying…” (Vayikra 25:1).

The Sages ask, “What does the subject of the Shmita [seventh year] have to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments given from Sinai? However just as with the Shmita, its general principles and its smallest details all being given from Sinai, likewise all of them were given – their general principles and their smallest details – from Sinai” (Torat Kohanim, Behar 1). In reality, we need to ask why the Torah reveals this in the passage on the Shmita, rather than elsewhere.

To answer this question, let us first cite a statement made by the Ramban: “The six days of Creation represent the days of the world, whereas the seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your G-d…. It is for this reason that Scripture was more stringent regarding the Shmita than with respect to those guilty of violating all other negative commandments…. Whoever denies it does not acknowledge the work of Creation and the World to Come” (Ramban on Vayikra 25:2). This is difficult to understand. Why is Scripture so stringent for the mitzvah of the Shmita, to the point that if anyone neglects it, it is as if they were denying G-d? We find no such concept in regards to any other Torah mitzvah, with the exception of idolatry.

Let us try to explain this according to what our Sages have said: “It is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one [principle], as it is said: ‘But the tzaddik shall live by his faith’ [Habakkuk 2:4]” (Makkot 24a). From here we learn that faith in Hashem is the foundation of the entire Torah. A person who possesses faith can accomplish all the mitzvot, for if he believes in Hashem he will do everything that He commands him to do. Hence the opposite is also true: One who does not possess faith cannot fulfill mitzvot.

That being the case for all the mitzvot, how much more does it apply to the seventh year! That is, whoever does not have faith in Hashem will not observe it, and whoever has faith in Him will observe it. This is because all the power of the Shmita comes from faith. In fact a person will be certain that G-d will keep His promises to those who observe it, as it is said: “If you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? See, we will not plant or gather in our crops!’ I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it shall yield a crop for three years. You will plant in the eighth year, but you will still eat from the old crop until the ninth year” (Vayikra 25:20-22).

Faith is the Foundation of Man

The Sages have said, “Come and see how severe are the results of [transgressing] the seventh year” (Kiddushin 20a). They explain that a man who sells his produce during the seventh year will eventually be forced to sell his moveable property. If he ignores this punishment, he will be forced to sell his fields, followed by his home, and even his own daughter. In the end, he will even sell himself to idolatry!

Whoever fails to respect the mitzvah of the Shmita denies Hashem and will eventually come to worship idols, by also selling himself. This is why Sinai is mentioned in regards to the mitzvah of the Shmita, in order to tell us that the entire Torah was given on Mount Sinai along with all its great principles and all its details. This is said only in regards to the mitzvah of the Shmita because it is the essence of the Torah. Since this principle is written in regards to what is essential, it teaches us that the same applies to all the mitzvot of the Torah.

One may ask, “Is it only the mitzvah of the seventh year that depends on faith? Don’t all the mitzvot depend on faith, as King David said: ‘All Your mitzvot are faith’ [Tehillim 119:86]?” The answer is that a mitzvah that does not incur a financial loss cannot be compared to a mitzvah that does incur a financial loss, and no mitzvah implies a greater potential for financial loss than does the Shmita. When a person has a field, but neither works nor plants it during the entire year because he is observing the Shmita, this demonstrates that he has faith in Hashem and trusts in His promises.

A person in this world is like a builder constructing a house. How does he go about this task? He first lays the foundation, and then he starts building a house upon it. How does he lay the foundation? He takes sand and earth, adds water to it, and with this mixture he prepares the foundation. If he is missing water, he will not be able to lay the foundation, and whatever he builds will end up collapsing.

Along the same lines, the Torah and faith are two basic ingredients of man. If one of them is missing, there can be no foundation, and it will be impossible to build anything. Even if something were to be built, in the end it would not endure. We may therefore say that it is for this reason that the passage on the Shmita was given on Mount Sinai, for it alludes to faith, telling us that faith cannot exist without Torah. When a person studies Torah, he must precede it with faith. Without faith, it will not endure, even before the slightest wind.

Faith Mixed with Torah

Furthermore, whoever has faith, this faith leads him to love others, and he will especially not be jealous of their possessions. He will not covet them or try to take their money, for because he has faith, he believes that all his sustenance comes from G-d, and he will obtain nothing that has not been given by G-d.

When a person possesses faith in G-d and a love for others, he can devote himself to Torah, which was only given when there was faith and peace among Israel, as it is written: “They had faith in Hashem and in Moshe His servant” (Shemot 14:31). The Sages have said, “The Children of Israel were only delivered from Egypt as a reward for their faith” (Mechilta, Beshalach 6). Peace reigned among them at that point, as we read: “Israel encamped before the mountain” (Shemot 19:2) – “like a single man with a single heart” (Mechilta, Beshalach 1). What does this mean? If it were just to teach us that there was peace among them, the Sages could have said “like a single man.” Why add “with a single heart”? However the expression “like a single man” alludes to the fact that there was peace among them, and “with a single heart” alludes to the fact that they had a single faith, which depends on the heart.

This is why the mitzvah of the seventh year was given on Mount Sinai. It teaches us that it is impossible for a man to study the Torah that was given on Sinai unless he possesses faith and a love for others. Whoever does not love others, this shows that he does not have faith. And since he does not have faith, he does not have the right to study Torah. Hence we find both concepts – Torah study and faith – through the juxtaposition of Parsha Bechukotai (dealing with Torah study) and Parsha Behar (dealing with faith). In fact Torah study is impossible unless it is mixed with faith in Hashem and a love for others.


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