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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

VaYikra: BeHar

Do you reap and sow?

"If you will say: What will we eat in the 7th year, when we may neither sow nor gather our crop? I will ordain My blessing for you in the 6th year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years. You will sow in the 8th year but you will eat from the old crop; until the 9th year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old" (VaYikra 25:20-22).

Rashi elucidates that the 6th year’s crop would be used for the latter part of year six, the whole of year seven and at least the beginning of year eight until the new crop had grown. Siftei Chachamim adds that although the crops of the 8th year would have been reaped by the spring month of Nisan, there would be such a surplus of crops from the 6th year that the crops of the 8th year would remain in storage until the supply from the 6th was exhausted at the beginning of the 9th year.

Rashi also mentions that there were times when the 6th year had to produce crops for four years, namely in the 6th year which precedes the 7th Shmittah of the Yovel cycle. The land could then not be worked in the 7th year or the Yovel year! Our verse above which mentions only three years is stated with regard to all of the other Shmittah years.

Rabbi Chaim Berlin asked why did the Torah text not refer explicitly to the greater miracle of surplus crop in the 6th year which precedes the 7th Shmittah of the Yovel cycle, when the 6th year would produce crops for four years?

A further question concerns the structure of this chapter in the Torah. Chapter 25 begins with the laws of Shmittah until verse 7. This is followed by the laws of Yovel until verse 19. Then we seem to return to the laws of Shmittah?!

In actual fact, our verse "If you will say: What will we eat in the 7th year, …" (VaYikra 25:20) relates specifically to the foregoing section regarding the sale of fields. The Torah states: "According to the number of years after the Yovel, shall you buy from your fellow; according to the number of crop-years shall he sell to you" (VaYikra 25:15). Rashi explains (in his commentary on Gemara Arachin 29b) that if you are selling a field 10 years before the Yovel with an annual yield of 1 kilo then the price should be 10 kilos, because the law is that the buyer of ancestral land must return it to the seller in the Yovel year. But why count all 10 years until the Yovel thereby including a Shmittah year in which the land will not be worked? Surely the Torah taught "according to the number of crop-years shall he sell to you" (VaYikra 25:15)!

The Torah addresses exactly this question. "If you will say: What will we eat in the 7th year, when we may neither sow nor gather our crop?", i.e. if you will ask how can we include Shmittah years as crop-years when calculating the price of a field until the next Yovel, the answer is "I will ordain My blessing for you in the 6th year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three years."

We can now understand why the Torah did not mention the greater miracle of surplus crop in the 6th year which precedes the 7th Shmittah of the Yovel cycle, when the 6th year would produce crops for four years. The Torah does not intend to focus here on the greatness of the miracle; rather, the Torah wants to clarify why even Shmittah years count as crop-years in respect of land purchases. This issue is not relevant over the Yovel year because land was never purchased for a period including a Yovel year since it was then always restored to its original owner.

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