Yaakov Astor

Many years ago I was zocheh to work with Rabbi Shmuel Waldman on a book that became somewhat of

a classic in kiruv circles, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: Convincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism

(Feldheim). You can get a feel for the book by some of the chapter titles such as “Compelling Evidence of

a Creator” “The Divine Origin of the Torah” “The Seven Wonders of Jewish History” and “Understanding

God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will.”

One of the reasons for the book’s success is that Rabbi Waldman’s style is casual and chatty, which

makes the subject matter approachable. The book was based on recorded classes Rabbi Shmuel Waldman

delivered to bachurim when he taught in a mesivta and one of my jobs as editor was to retain his style.

Indeed, with its broad array of topics and approachable style, the book immediately provided chizuk and

turned around the lives of many young men, as attested to the haskamah by Rav Mattisyahu Solomon:

“I have personally ‘tested out’ this sefer. There was a young teenager who was very perturbed, and he

did not wish to accept upon himself the ways of our Torah, nor did he wish to attend Yeshiva anymore.

However, after he read this sefer, his eyes lit up, he found peace of mind, and he accepted upon himself

to follow the ways of our Torah. After such an episode, one does not need any other testimony, or

approbations [about the value of this sefer], since even one such episode proves more about the sefer

than a thousand words of approbation.”

Given that, I want to share one idea in the book, which is found in this week’s parshah. An Argument For The Divine Origin Of The Torah

Imagine someone getting up at the committee meeting and proposing another commandment

(assuming, as we have been saying, that this is a man-made Torah). The commandment is Shemittah

(Vayikra 25:1-7,19-22), the “Sabbatical” year — letting the fields lie fallow for one out of every seven

years. After it is initially proposed, you, as a member of the committee, think, “Hey, a Sabbatical. That’s

a pretty good idea.”

In a split second, you think to yourself: How should we do it? Hmmm. Divide the land into seven parts.

That’s it. In year one, one seventh of the land won’t work; year two, the second seventh won’t work;

year three, the third seventh, and so on. The more you think of it, the more you like the idea. Every year,

six-sevenths of the land is working while one-seventh rests. Furthermore, those who are working have

to give a portion to those who are not working. Everyone chips in to give the Sabbatical group a

livelihood. Great idea.

However, imagine if the committee leader proposed the following: “In our Shemittah year no one is

going to plant during the seventh year. Nobody. The entire land will remain unplanted. You’ll have to

leave your land free — hefker, “ownerless” — and everyone will be allowed to come into your field and

take whatever he needs.”

I Object, Your Honor

Stunned by the irrationality of it, you stand up and protest, “Mr. President, sir, the concept is good, but

I’d like to suggest a modification. Let’s make it that each year only one-seventh of the land lies fallow.

Over a seven year period, then, everyone will experience one Shemittah.” Proud of your idea, you sit


However, the President says sternly, “The whole land at once! Or none at all.”

You retort: “But what are we going to eat that year, not to mention the year after Shemittah when the

new crop is first growing, if no one in the entire land is allowed to plant during the seventh year?

“Oh, I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he says. “We’ll promise everyone a bumper crop in the sixth year. The

land is going to grow so much in the year before Shemittah that they’ll have plenty for the seventh and

eighth years, until finally late into the eighth year they’ll have their new crop.”

How can you Promise a Bumper Crop?

“Begging the President’s pardon, sir,” you reply, “but who are you to make that promise? Can you

control the land? How can you promise a bumper crop?”

The President sticks to his guns, though. “Everyone lets their fields lie uncultivated or no Shemittah.”

Your comrades on the committee side with you. “There’s no shortage of commandments, Mr. President.

Let’s drop it. It’s too difficult. No one’s going to go for it.”

Now, let’s not forget that we are talking about an agricultural society where there were no factories and

just about everybody was a farmer depending upon a plentiful harvest. All of sudden, you are telling

them to stop working for a whole year! A whole year! Does that make sense? Clearly a committee of

sane people would never pass it.

However, in the Torah it states explicitly that everyone has to let his land lie fallow in the seventh year.

Everyone. No exceptions. But don’t worry, the Torah says, because a bumper crop in the sixth year is

promised. Ridiculous! No one is going to keep it. The only one who can promise a bumper crop in return

for nationwide Shemittah is G–d. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the only one who would have

authored such a law is G–d.

Two Years in a Row!?

But we’re not finished with this commandment. Let’s return to our committee meeting and take things

one step further.

Yovail, the Jubilee year, occurs after the completion of seven Shemittah years. In addition to letting the

fields lie fallow the seventh year, i.e. the forty-ninth year, you have to let the fields lie fallow during

Yovail, the fiftieth year. Two years in a row of fallow fields! A man-made law would never go so far. You

reluctantly succumbed to the pressure and agreed with the President of the committee to pass the

Shemittah laws, but now he expects you to add the stipulation of Yovail? Is he out of his mind!

“We’re trying to sell a new religion, sir,” you tell him. “No one is going to buy into it. It’s too difficult.

You’re going to lose all your new dues-paying members.”

“But Yovail is a good idea,” the President says. “All it really amounts to is two years in a row of


“Two years! Are you crazy!? Who’s going to keep it? You know, if we thought they were going to rebel

when they heard Shemittah this one will really get them. They’re just going to forget the whole Torah

that we’re presenting them. It will undermine all the other commandments put together. You’re pushing

your luck.”

Are you Out of your Mind?!

Nevertheless, the President persists. “I’m not done,” he says. “There is another law I’ve connected with

Yovail. Every landowner has to return his field to its first original owner no matter how many times it

was bought and sold over the last fifty years.”

“Give back all the fields to their original owners?! What? I happen to own a lot of land. I’m accustomed

to it here. I built my house here. I’ve invested everything in these fields. I have great neighbors. Now you

want me to give it all back? I have to move!? Do you think anyone is going to want to do that? Excuse

me, sir, but use your brains. You have a house for many, many years; you put in a new carpet; you put in

this and you put in that; now you have to give it all back?”

“Well, you can expect to be reimbursed for the improvements you made.”

“How much does that really amount to? The bottom line is I put my heart and soul into it for so many

years into these fields and you tell me I have to give it back? It has sentimental value to me, and,

besides, moving is a big headache. Who are you? You’re just another human being. Who are you to tell

me or anyone else for that matter to keep such laws?”

There’s no question about it. No one would listen to him. No one would be crazy enough to put into a

Torah something that’s going to ruin the whole religion.

Only Hashem

On the other hand, if G–d says, “Because to me belongs all the earth” (Vayikra 25:23) only then does it

makes sense. Shemittah and Yovail are designed to remind us that G–d is the Boss. It is not rooted, in

the final analysis, in the agricultural gains of letting fields lie fallow. Every seventh year you have to

break your dependence on your fields, and bring yourself to rely on G–d.

Even more so, every fiftieth year you have to relinquish a field you may have been on for decades. Do

you think you’re going to stay there forever and forget about the real purpose of life? Thus, in order that

we should not get too involved with our fields, our business, our livelihood, G-d shakes us up from our

spiritual sleep every once in a while.

He teaches us through Shemittah and Yovail that worldly pursuits aren’t the important commodities of

life (since they have no permanence). It’s only spiritual commodities that are truly worth pursuing. And

of course it teaches us who the Real Boss is. It’s a reminder for us to pledge our allegiance to the One

and Only Boss.

The bottom line is that human beings would never have enacted such a commandment. And there are

many, other commandments whose very logic reflect the divine nature of Torah, as well.

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