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Parshat Reeh: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17; I Samuel 20:18-42.

In the Land of Israel now, there is a feeling of purposeful and reverent determination. From the Galil to the Negev, farmers are preparing to observe shemitah, the Biblical command outlined in this week’s Torah portion not to work the field in the seventh year.

It’s not for nothing that farming is referred to as husbandry, as tending to the land is a consummate, lifelong mission, paralleling the way we continuously work on our relationships at home.

Every seventh year, the Jewish farmer relaxes, confident that his field (and his bottom line) will be OK without his efforts. Why? Because God assures us that there is nothing to worry about. He will send enough blessings in the years preceding shemitah to tide us over until we can again enjoy the bounty from our farms. 

So, we know that the farmers don’t work the land in the seventh year. But what do they do? Our sages tell us that this year and the free time it affords are to be allocated toward Torah learning and increased spiritual involvement. We can each take the lessons of shemitah and the example of our farming brethren in the Holy Land and apply them to our own lives. 

We can live with a faith so real that we are prepared to lose an entire year’s revenue without compunction. And we can use every free minute to serve God, recognizing that every moment is a gift that we dare not squander. 

Our dear mentor and teacher, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, pointed out an anomaly in the text in which we are introduced to shemitah: “The earth shall rest a Sabbath unto God. Six years shalt thou plant thy field.”

Now, the six years take place before the seventh year of rest, so why does the Torah mention them afterward? The answer, the Rebbe explains, is that in essence shemitah comes first, and it influences and uplifts all the six years that come before it. From year one, the farmer is preparing for shemitah, excited to be able to rely on God and His kindness for an entire year. Thus, the entire cycle is elevated and made holy.

We can apply this to our lives as well. There are the shemitah moments like Shabbat (which comes after six days of work), when we attend synagogue or a Torah class, or otherwise connect with our souls. 

The lesson is to make the mundane spiritual, injecting holiness and godliness unto every aspect of our lives. Consider packing Shabbat essentials to celebrate wherever you may be when the sun sets on Friday. Or start each morning with a moment of gratitude, Modeh Ani. 

Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov is spiritual director of The Shul in West Bloomfield.

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