The Sabbath of the Land and Being Prepared for Hardship (Parsha B’har and B’chukkotai)

Once again this week we have another double parsha with B’har (Lev. 25:1-26:2) and B’chukkotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34). This weeks reading includes the laws concerning the Sabbatical year:

[1] And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
[2] Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.
[3] Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
[4] But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.
[5] That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.
[6] And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee,
[7] And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.
(Lev. 25:1-7 KJV)

Philo of Alexandria writes concerning the law of the Sabbath of the land:

(86) In the next place Moses commands the people to leave the land fallow and untilled every seventh year, for many reasons; (Lev. 25:4.) first of all, that they may honour the number seven, or each period of days, and months, and years; for every seventh day is sacred, which is called by the Hebrews the sabbath; and the seventh month in every year has the greatest of the festivals allotted to it, so that very naturally the seventh year also has a share of the veneration paid to this number, and receives especial honour. (87) And the second reason is this, “Be not,” says the lawgiver, “wholly devoted to gain, but even willingly submit to some loss,” that so you may bear with the more indifference involuntary calamity if it should ever fall upon you, and not grieve and despond, as if at some new and strange occurrence; for there are some rich men so unfortunate in their dispositions, as, when want comes upon them, to groan and despond no less than they might do if they were deprived of all their substance.
(Special Laws II, 86-87)

Philo is telling us that this provision in the Torah teaches us self control. He is teaching us that this planned hardship of not planting a crop every seven years helped and conditioned the ancient Hebrews for unexpected hardships that might come upon them. Moreover this principle teaches us that exercising self control can help us be conditioned and prepared for planned hardships that may come upon us.

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