G‑d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying . . . (Leviticus 25:1)
What has the Sabbatical year to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all commandments given on Sinai? But the verse wishes to tell us: just as with the Sabbatical year both its general principle and its minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai, so, too, was it with all the commandments—their general principles as well as their minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai.
(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)
Rabbi Akiva says: The general principles and the details were given at Sinai. They were then repeated in the Tent of Meeting, and enjoined a third time in the Plains of Moab (i.e., in Moses’ narrative in the book of Deuteronomy).
(Talmud, Chagigah 6a–b)
When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall rest a sabbath unto G‑d (25:2)
Taken on its own, this verse seems to imply that “a sabbath unto G‑d” is to be observed immediately upon entering the Land. But in practice, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel they first worked the land for six years, and only then observed the seventh year as the Shemittah (sabbatical year)—as, indeed, the Torah clearly instructs in the following verses.
The Torah is telling us that a Shemittah is to both precede and follow our six years of labor: to follow it on the calendar, but to also precede it—if not in actuality, then conceptually.
We find a similar duality in regard to the weekly seven-day cycle. The weekly Shabbat has a twofold role: a) It is the day “from which all successive days are blessed”—the source of material and spiritual sustenance for the week to follow. b) It is the “culmination” of the week—the day on which the week’s labors and efforts are harvested and sublimated, and their inner spiritual significance is realized and brought to light.
But if every week must have a Shabbat to “bless” it, what about the week of creation itself? In actuality, G‑d began His creation of existence—including the creation of time—on Sunday, which is therefore called the “First Day.” But our sages tell us that there was a primordial Shabbat which preceded creation—a Shabbat existing not in time but in the mind of G‑d, as a vision of a completed and perfected world.
Therein lies an important lesson in how we are to approach the mundane involvements of life. True, we begin with the material, for in a world governed by cause and effect, the means inevitably precede the end. But what is first in actuality need not be first in mind. In mind and consciousness, the end must precede the means, for without a clear vision of their purpose to guide them, the means may begin to see themselves as the end.
The spiritual harvest of a Shabbat or Shemittah can be achieved only after a “work-week” of dealing with the material world and developing its resources. But it must be preceded and predicated upon “a sabbath unto G‑d” that occupies the fore of our consciousness and pervades our every deed.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Rabbi Yosei the son of Rabbi Chanina said: Come and see how harsh are the results of [violating the provisions of] the seventh year. A man who trades in seventh-year produce must eventually sell his movables, for it is said, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return every man unto his possession,” and immediately after it says: “If you sell aught to your fellow.” If he disregards this, he eventually sells his estates, since following that it is said: “If your brother becomes poor, and sells some of his estate.” Before he knows it, he is selling his house, for next it is written: “If a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city” . . . Before he knows it, he is compelled to borrow on interest, for next it is written: “If your brother becomes poor, and his hand fail with you . . . take no usury of him.” And before he knows it, he is selling himself, as it is said, “If your brother becomes poor with you and sells himself to you” . . .
(Talmud, Kiddushin 20a)
The first verse refers to financial fraud. The second verse forbids verbal fraud—speaking hurtful words or giving bad advice. That is why the second verse adds “but you shall fear your G‑d,” lest a person say: Who will know that my intention was to do him evil?
(Torat Kohanim; Rashi)
Legally, it is only forbidden to defraud one’s fellow. But a chassid must go beyond the letter of the law, and take care not to delude himself, either.
(Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)
If you shall say: What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce! But I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years . . . (25:20–21)
The question “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” is even more pressing in light of the fact that, the land having been depleted by five years of planting, the sixth year’s yield is naturally less than average. Yet G‑d promises that it will provide not only for a full year’s sustenance, but also for the seventh year and beyond.
Our sages tell us that the seven-year Shemittah cycle corresponds to the seven millennia of history. For six thousand years man labors in the fields of the material world, in preparation for the seventh millennium—a millennium that is “wholly Sabbath and tranquility, for life everlasting,” the era of Moshiach.
Thus, the question “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” can be asked on the historical plane as well. If the spiritual giants of earlier generations—the patriarchs and the matriarchs, the prophets, the sages of the Talmud—failed to bring about a perfect world, what can be expected of us? If the first five millennia of history could not provide for the universal Sabbath, what can be expected of us, we of the “sixth year,” exhausted and depleted of spirit?
Yet the sixth year will be the one to yield and sustain the seventh. Precisely because our resources are so meager, our every trial and achievement is so much more meaningful, so much more precious to G‑d. He therefore promises to command His blessing to our efforts, so that they shall nourish the sabbatical millennium and beyond.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
At the time of the Exodus, G‑d made freedom the inherent and eternal state of the Jew. From that point on, no power or force on earth can subvert our intrinsic freedom.