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Speak to the children of Yisroel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field, for six years you may prune your vineyard and you may gather in its crop. But on the seventh year a complete rest, shall be for the land, Shabbos for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you may not prune. The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap and the grapes of your keeping away you shall not pick; it shall be a year of rest for the land. (Vayikra 25:2-5).
The above posukim introduce us to the commandment of shmitah. A literal reading of the posukim seem to indicate that there are two shmitahs, one before the six years of cultivation and one after. This is derived from the fact that the posukim mention shmitah twice. The Torah first commands us first to observe shmitah immediately upon entering the land and once again at the conclusion of six years of cultivation. We are aware that the shmitah year is part of a seven-year cycle. In truth every shmitah is both before and after six years of cultivation. It would seem then that the Torah should have described the cycle in such a way that would not include the repetition of shmitah both before and after the six years of cultivation. We may therefore ask, why did the Torah describe shmitah in this way?
The Gemara (Shabbos 118) teaches us that if all of the Jewish people were to observe two Shabbosim, the redemption would immediately arrive. The commentators are perplexed as to why the Gemara specifically chose to mention two Shabbosim and not one. They answer that Shabbos serves two functions. On the one hand Shabbos is the conclusion and climax of the week. It symbolically represents that our weekday labor is directed toward a holy purpose. On the other hand, Shabbos also gives sanctity to the following week. It is only after we experience the Shabbos and are infused with its holiness that we have the ability to go about our activities during the following six days. When the Gemara says that we must observe two Shabbosim it means that we must observe both aspects of the Shabbos. A Shabbos before the six days of the week and a Shabbos after the six days of the week. We must look forward to the coming Shabbos as the climax of the week but we must also preserve the experience of the past Shabbos as well.
The commentators provide us with a more precise definition of the influence that Shabbos casts on the both the past and following week. The week is made up six workdays. The first three days are an extension of the past Shabbos. During these days the holiness and influence of the past Shabbos are still felt. The last three workdays of the week are a preparation for the following Shabbos. During these three days the holiness of the upcoming Shabbos can be felt.
Indeed, this idea has ramifications in Halacha as well. If one forgot or was unable to recite havdalah at the conclusion of Shabbos, he is permitted to recite havdalah until Tuesday. This is because the influence of the past Shabbos remains until the Tuesday of the following week. Likewise, if one is planning to travel a great distance and his travel arrangements conflict with Shabbos, if he begins his trip more then three day before Shabbos he need not be concerned. When Shabbos arrives he will make arrangements the best he can. However if he plans to set out within three days of Shabbos he must be sure to arrange his trip so that there will no conflict with Shabbos whatsoever. This is because within three days of Shabbos one is obligated to prepare for Shabbos.
We may suggest that the same is true with regard to shmitah. In every shmitah cycle there are six years when the cultivation of the land is permitted. The first of these three years are influenced by the past shmitah, whereas the last three years are under the influence of the following shmitah. This may be seen in our parsha where the Torah deliberately chose to describe shmitah as both before and after the six years of cultivation. During the six years of cultivation we must look forward to the coming shmitah but must also preserve the sanctity of the past shmitah.
The Mishna in Bava Basra (28a) teaches that if a person occupies a home or a parcel of land for at least three uncontested years he is believed to claim he purchased or received it as a gift from the previous owner without proof. The Gemara seeks the source for the time of three years. After an elaborate discussion, the Gemara concludes that Chazal evaluated that after a person occupies a home or parcel of land for three uncontested years he feels secure of his ownership to the degree that he decides that he no longer needs to guard his deed. Therefore, after three years one is believed to claim that he lost his deed. We may still ask, why is it that precisely after three years a person feels confident enough to neglect his deed.
Shmitah is the year when all landowners are forced to reflect that they do not have complete ownership of the land. During this year landowners practically abandon the land. Indeed the posuk says with regard to shmitah that it is a Shabbos for Hashem. However, during the other six years a person does exercise his authority over the land. The attitude of ownership and authority during the six years is surely influenced by the lack of ownership of the shmitah year. We see that the seven-year cycle of shmitah it divided into two segments of three. During the three years before the onset of shmitah a person is influenced by the upcoming shmitah. During these years he reflects and prepares for the upcoming shmitah. Likewise, during the first three years, the experience and holiness of the last shmitah lingers on. We may thus derive that three years is a complete unit of time that a person occupies land with an attitude of ownership under the influence of either the past or following shmitah. Perhaps it is for this reason that once this complete unit of time has passed a person feels comfortable enough with his degree of ownership that he decides that he no longer needs to guard his deed.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001