“And God told Moses on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: ‘When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord’” Leviticus 25:1-2


The introduction to shemittah – the law that the land of Israel must lie fallow in the seventh year is unique. On no other occasion in the Torah are we told that something was instructed on Mount Sinai. The sages thus famously asked: what is the intrinsic connection between the sabbatical year and Mount Sinai?

Rashi believes that shemittah is taken as the example of all 613 commandments. Mount Sinai is explicitly mentioned to teach us that all the mitzvot were given at Sinai. No mitzvah in the Torah is more or less significant and no detail of any mitzvah is more or less Divine.

The Ohr Hachaim, written in Morocco in the 18th century, understands the connection differently. The introduction specifically mentions Mount Sinai to remind us that it is through the covenant we made with God on Mount Sinai that we merited to inherit the land of Israel. Our connection to the land is intrinsically linked to our faith and our relationship with God.

Nachal Kedumim, written in Warsaw in the 19th century, attributes the connection to the supremely important principle of freedom. God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai in order to free us from slavery.

We are being told to emulate God, constantly driven by the principle of treating every other human being with dignity and respect. Indeed our rights to the land are contingent on this conduct. He also reframes shemittah from an agricultural perspective. For most farmers, they would not have had any time to learn Torah during the harvest months of Nisan and Tishri.

While they knew that their work had huge value, they missed the learning at these times terribly. The shemittah year gave them the opportunity to make up the missed months over the six years prior. By referring to Mount Sinai, it reminds us that the purpose of the shemittah was to allow the opportunity to reconnect to the Torah they had originally invested in at Sinai.

As Shavuot approaches and we revisit the covenant we entered into at Mount Sinai, these three approaches offer much food for thought.

The Torah as our religious guide, our bond to the land of Israel, and the commitment to always champion human justice percolates as three equal pillars of the tripod we call our Jewish lives.


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