“VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe b’Har Sinai leimor…” Rashi famously asks on the first pasuk in our parsha, “Mah inyan shemita eitzel Har Sinai?” Why does the Torah need to mention that this mitzvah was given at Har Sinai? All mitzvos were given at Sinai! Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim’s answer: we learn from here that even the details of all mitzvos were given at Sinai. Why single out shemitah as the mitzvah to use to convey that lesson? Rashi explains that the halachos of shemitah were never repeated in Devarim, where other halachos were taught and reviewed. The only source we have for shemitah is Sinai. Shemitah serves as the exception that proves the rule, namely, that all mitzvos, even those reviewed in Devarim, were explicated fully at Sinai.
meforshim offer other explanations along these same lines of shemitah being an exception
that proves some rule regarding mitzvos in general. Chasam Sofer sees shemitah singled out demonstrating
the Divine authorship of all mitzvos, as the promise of a bumper crop in the sixth
year before shemitah can only come from G-d.
Ksav Sofer writes that observance of shemitah is possible only if one has faith that G-d will provide food for the seventh year and
only if Klal Yisrael bands together to help those farmers who have no means
of making a living that year. Shemitah is the
paradigm of emunah and ahavas yisrael, qualities that are basic to a
fulfillment of the rest of Torah.
assumption of all these approaches is that shemitah is no different than any
other mitzvah; there should be no reason to suspect it should not have been
given at Sinai, and no need for the pasuk to mention that fact. R’ Tzadok haKohen with his unique perspective
forces us to rethink those assumptions .
It’s clear from Rashi that there are two “sugyos” in Chumash where Torah
was given to Klal Yisrael: 1) Sinai; 2) Arvos Moav, as recounted in Sefer
Devarim. It’s not just 40 years of time
that separate these events, but rather the two parshiyos address different
generations with different goals and different needs. The generation that stood at Sinai looked
forward to a life of consuming mon, of studying Torah at the feet of Moshe
Rabeinu, a life surrounded by miracles, of living in Eretz Yisrael with the
final geulah realized. We know that was
not to be. The generation that stood at
Arvos Moav forty years later looked to Yehoshua for leadership, looked toward
dealing with the challenge of the physical conquest of Eretz Yisrael, of toil
in the fields and hard work to simply have food to eat and secure homes.
does the mitzvah of shemitah speak to?
It addresses itself to the farmer who works the soil year after year and
now must stop to recharge and remember that his parnasa is really b’ydei
shamayim. The generation that stood at
Sinai and anticipated a life living on mon didn’t need this mitzvah; it’s the
generation that stood at Arvos Moav and would become farmers who needed this
mitzvah. “Mah inyan shemitah eitzel Har
Sinai?” The mitzvah was given to the
lesson here, as R’ Tzadok sees it, is that even as Klal Yisrael was on the
highest and most lofty levels, standing at Sinai, the Torah acknowledged human
frailty and was addressing itself to the challenges of those farmers who would
live 40 years later. Even as a person
grows and climbs to greater and greater heights, he must not lose sight of his
own shortcomings, of the potential to fall and to fail. Even while standing on Sinai, we need to have
in mind mitzvos like shemitah.