“But in the seventh year, there shall be a complete rest for the Land…” (Lev. 25:4)
It is a Biblical law that fields in the Land of Israel must lie fallow every seventh year (shmittah.) Our Sages teach that the punishment for not observing the shmittah year is exile from the Land (derived from Lev. 26:34). But why such a harsh punishment? It seems there are much worse sins that aren’t punished by exile.
The Kli Yakar (1550 – 1619) explains that God is the Owner of the land, and we are His fortunate guests. But once we start disobeying the “house rules” and acting like we own the place, we will no longer be welcome. Rabbi Moshe Kormornick likens it to “Mr. Cohen,” the generous host of an outdoor barbecue. The food is delicious, the drinks are top-shelf, and music plays from a state-of-the-art sound system. Mr. Cohen tells his guests to have fun and do whatever they want, but the music must be off by eleven o’clock and they shouldn’t go in the house. At eleven, Mr. Cohen turns off the music, but one of the guests turns it back on. Then Mr. Cohen sees him going into the house and taking food from the fridge. When confronted, the rude guest doesn’t apologize but rather sits in the host’s chair and puts his feet on the table. At this point, we can understand why Mr. Cohen tells all the guests to leave.
Most of us are not Israeli farmers, but this lesson is relevant to everybody. We are all guests of the Holy One, and we must respect God’s world and follow His rules. If we are gracious guests and behave with an attitude of gratitude, we will become closer to our Host and even get invited to the after-party…
Image: Field left uncultivated in observance of the shmittah year, near Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel