This week I’m going to start with the question that everyone asks on this parasha:
The question is two-fold: why mention the location that the commandment was given? The answer cannot be that only this commandment was given at Sinai! And the beginning of this ספר tells us that the entire book was given in the אהל מועד:
So is this paragraph chronologically out of order? That’s possible: אין מקדם ומאחר בתורה, but why? And the second question is, why is שמיטה different from any other mitzvah?
Rashi starts by citing the ספרא:
But that raises more questions than it answers, so he explains:
The Torah records the vast body of laws in three places, in ספר שמות, in משפטים; in ספר ויקרא, from קדושים on; and in ספר דברים, from כי תצא on. Thus the gemara says (סוטה לז,ב) ר׳ עקיבא אומר כללות ופרטות נאמרו בסיני ונשנו באהל מועד ונשתלשו בערבות מואב. The details of שמיטה are only given here (which explicitly says it was at הר סיני), not in the list that was in the אהל מועד, and not in ספר דברים at all. This teaches us that the details of this mitzvah were given on Sinai. But still, how can we extend this to the ספרא's כלן נאמרו כללותיהן ודקדוקיהן מסיני?
Mizrachi (16th century commentary on Rashi) brings the ברייתא that we say every morning:
The Torah brings one example to teach us about an entire class. This isn’t completely satisfying, and the Maharal has a long discussion justifying the extension. But I will not go into that now.
But we still have to understand Rashi:
The general rule about שמיטה is in משפטים:
And the laws of שמטת כספים is in דברים, but nothing about the land itself:
שפתי חכמים points out that all the laws in ויקרא are summarized at the end and noted to have been given at Sinai:
But the דרשה in our pasuk is to tell us that it wasn’t just the general categories that were given but even all the details of each mitzvah. Why is that so important?
Even the greatest prophet, Moshe himself, in the משכן itself, cannot claim to have received a new law of the Torah. A commandment that was not part of the corpus at Sinai is not דאורייתא, is not part of the Torah. Maintaining that clear, bright line is a fundamental principle of Jewish belief:
And I think the reason שמיטה is used to prove that is that at הר סיני, then laws of שמיטת הארץ were useless. They would not be going into the land for another 40 years. We usually think of the laws of ספר דברים as the laws that were necessary for the settling of the land and of establishing an independent Jewish state there. If it were appropriate for any law to wait to be given until then, it would be the laws of שמיטה. The fact that it was given בהר סיני makes the point that everything was given at Sinai.
But we can still look for a more fundamental reason that שמיטה was chosen as the archetype of the connection to Sinai. I’d like to repeat what I said at Chana’s bat mitzvah last week. Rabbi Herschel Reichman brings an answer from the שם משמואל. Why was the Torah given on Mount Sinai? We know the Talmud’s answer (from the Marvelous Middos Machine song): it wasn’t a tall mountain. It was one of the smallest mountains, to teach us the value of humility. But then why a mountain at all? Give the Torah in the flat featureless desert; that’s even more humble than even a “little” mountain!
The שם משמואל explains that not showing off because you are flat and featureless is not true humility. Everyone has strengths and assets, and you need to be aware of those assets. Be a mountain! But don’t show off, don’t draw attention to your strengths. Use them appropriately without making a big deal about it. No paralipsis, no “look how humble I am since I am not telling you how tall I am!”
שמיטה is the mitzvah that expresses this idea. It can only be performed by a land owner, but he or she has to take those assets and offer them freely to the entire world, has to acknowledge that what she has is a gift from ה׳. There can’t be anything to draw attention to, not even an “Anonymous” on the donor’s plaque that you can feel high-and-mighty about.
And one final thought from the כלי יקר, connecting שמיטה to הר סיני through the עומר period that we are in now, and to pull all these aspects of קדושת זמן which concludes ספר ויקרא: