After conquering and dividing Eretz Yisrael, the Jews finally settled in their homeland and began tilling the soil. However, agriculture is not an occupation they may involve themselves in year after year. Every seventh year, the earth and soil takes a rest, a “Shabbos l’Hashem” a cessation for G-d.
When the Torah transmits this law the implication is that the land takes a break. Surely the commandment is intended for the people; that we should refrain from working the soil, not the ground needing a breather from the people? Yet the terminology is that the land should rest for Hashem.
The Torah records terrible calamities that can befall us if the nation is negligent in it’s toil of Torah. In concluding it comments, that when the nation is in exile, Eretz Yisrael will be appeased for the lack of observing Shmittoh. Again the wording conveys, that the ground needs appeasing. Earth is an inanimate object, why placate the land?
A person can verbally undertake to forbid something that is permitted. For example a person can invoke that ice cream is off limits. There are two possible methods:
- Neder. The ice cream becomes a forbidden entity in much the same way as shrimp and lobster are outlawed. The ice cream undergoes a categorical change and is typecast as taboo.
- Shevuah. The person is now forbidden to eat ice cream. The ice cream does not change; rather he has restricted the action of consuming the ice cream.
It would seem that Shmittoh does not forbid man from working the fields by limiting his ability to engage in planting and reaping. Shmittoh is where the land is reclassified into a new category and therefore Eretz Yisroel is now off limits. In fact the very name Shmittoh meaning “release” implies the land is being released from the people, instead of the people forbidden to work the land.
We can now understand why the land takes a rest. Of course the commandment pertains to the people however the framework of the mitzvah is restricting the object in this case restricting the terra firma. The land is now out of bounds.
If people do not keep Shmittoh they are not only disobeying G-d, they are abusing the Land of Israel, they are tilling a land which is off limits. During exile the land which was mistreated by the people, is now longed for and glorified as the land of G-d. It is recognized as a changing land, an area which at times is designated for our use and at other times it is beyond the pale, thus with exile the land is appeased.
In conclusion: Shimittoh is more than just not working the land, during Shmittoh the land becomes forbidden.
Shimttoh teaches us that Eretz Yisrael is a changing commodity, moving in and out of our grasp.
Moving from Poland to Eretz Yisroel was no easy task. However the hardships involved in the travel paled in contrast to the difficulty of living day to day in the Holy Land. One chossid who had made the arduous journey found that he could not adjust to the austerity and harshness of life in Yerushalayim.
The chossid approached Reb Simcha Bunim Kalish of Worka (1851-1907) to say goodbye and receive a blessing for his return to Poland.
“Oy!” sighed Reb Simcha Bunim. “What a pity. Yerushalayim obviously was not pleased with you. If you had delighted Yerushalayim, she would have satisfied you.”
With a new angle to view his situation. the chossid reconsidered his position, and consequently he decided to remain.
On Shabbos one may purchase a house in Eretz Yisrael from a non-Jew. (Shulchan Aruch. 306:11)