| Parshah |

In Recent Memory

Why the mitzvah of shemittah is used as the example

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai, saying... ‘The land shall rest, a Shabbos for Hashem.’ ” (Vayikra 25:1–2)


Rashi poses the famous question: Why does the Torah specifically reference shemittah in connection with Har Sinai? Weren’t all the mitzvos given at Sinai? Just as the

mitzvah of shemittah was given with all its details at Sinai, Rashi explains, so too the entire Torah was given with all its details at Sinai.

But why did the Torah choose shemittah specifically to make this point? (Rav Pinchas Gershon Waxman, Kuntres Palgei Mayim)

I have a terrible long-term memory. Terrific short-term, though. I’m great at memorizing things and then forgetting them a short while later, which has its pros and cons. It’s great for cramming for tests, lousy for remembering what I actually learned. I’ve learned to capitalize on it when it’s useful (I rarely use a shopping list) and to put up with it when it’s inconvenient. (How am I supposed to remember birthdays? They only happen once a year!)

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the mitzvah of shemittah is unique because it is categorized as Shabbos, which was included in the Aseres Hadibros at Har Sinai. Shabbos reflects how Hashem rested on the seventh day, the Chasam Sofer elaborates, and shemittah is a resting period within a seven-year cycle.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that shemittah is used as the example to show that all mitzvos were given as Sinai because it shows us the blessings resulting from all mitzvos.

Only Hashem can promise and guarantee that the fields will produce harvest for three years despite being fallow in the seventh year.

Recently I came across my very first siddur from first grade. Staring at the light-blue cloth cover, embossed with the words Siddur Shiloh, I was unprepared for the strong memories it evoked. I could envision in detail the personal meeting each one of us had with our esteemed dean, Rabbi Diskind, to discuss the importance of tefillah. I also remembered how I insisted that my name on the siddur be printed as Faigel and not Faiga, and how surprised he was at how much I knew of my name’s origins, despite my young age.

I opened the siddur slowly; it flipped automatically to Shema. I almost heard my morah’s voice out loud there in my dining room, the way she stressed to us the proper pronunciation of v’ahavta. I could clearly envision my siddur party, what we wore, the songs we sang, right down to the moment we picked up our new siddurim and kissed them tenderly. Gently, I picked up my siddur and once again kissed it.

I propose an additional answer. Most mitzvos — such as tefillin, shatnez, basar b’chalav — became obligatory at Har Sinai. Some, like milah, gid hanashe, and Shabbos, were given prior to Matan Torah, but were reiterated at Har Sinai, where the obligations were renewed. Other mitzvos, such as challah, became obligatory when Klal Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael. And some mitzvos relating to Eretz Yisrael and its crops, as well as the mitzvos related to coronating a king and eradicating Amalek, became obligatory only subsequent to the capturing and dividing of Eretz Yisrael — 14 years following entry.

But shemittah is different. The first shemittah cycle began subsequent to the 14 years of conquering and diving Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the first shemittah only occurred in the 21st year following Klal Yisrael’s entry into Eretz Yisrael — 61 years after Maamad Har Sinai. 

Hence, shemittah is used as the example in Rashi. Just like shemittah was given with all its details at Har Sinai even though it was only implemented so many years later, so too, all other mitzvos that preceded shemittah were given in their entirety at Har Sinai.

I’m not going to confess exactly how many years have gone by since that occasion. But suffice it to say that my siddur party doesn’t exactly fall into the short-term memory category. Why, then, could I access it right down to the smallest details?

I sat there stroking the yellowing pages, the smell of aging paper a comforting scent, and realized that the credit for these clear memories went to my first-grade teacher. I made a mental (short-term memory) note to contact her. Because I was so grateful that she utilized such an essential milestone to create memories that would last forever.

 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 741)

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