“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
“Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.” — Exodus 23:10–12
The Torah portion for this week is Mishpatim, which means “laws,” from Exodus 21:1–24:18, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 34:8–22.
Between the laws of justice and the laws regarding the three festivals, Scripture places two laws together. One is the law regarding the weekly Sabbath and the other is the sabbatical year, which occurs once every seven years. On the Sabbath day, people rest. During the sabbatical year, the land rests. Rest is one theme that both commandments share. The other is faith.
Imagine if the President of the United States made an executive order that no one is allowed to plant or harvest any food for an entire year. I would venture to say that his days in office would be numbered! But that’s exactly what God says, only when it comes to the Lord, we can trust His word even when it doesn’t make sense to us.
He makes a promise, too, regarding that commandment. He says, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years” (Leviticus 25:21). In essence, God is saying, “Trust me. There will be enough.”
The Sabbath works on a similar principle. For someone trying to make money, closing up shop every single Saturday may seem illogical. But the fact is that it is beyond reason and logic. Yet, for thousands of years, Jews who observe the Sabbath have refused to work on that day. They trusted that their sustenance would come from above and that they would be blessed.
Rose Goldstein was only 12 years old when she arrived in America in the early 1900s. As her father sent her off from Poland, he implored her to remember who she was, to stay true to her Jewish values, and to keep the Sabbath. But as Rose quickly found out, hardly any American Jews kept the Sabbath laws in America.
Soon everybody was pressuring Rose to work on Saturdays – her boss, her relatives, and her friends. She struggled with the decision but resolved to observe the Sabbath and trust God. When the Sabbath arrived, Rose told her family that she was going to work although she really went to the synagogue. When she arrived home, she was in for a shock. The infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on Saturday, March 25, 1911, claimed the lives of 146 immigrant workers. Because she kept the Sabbath, Rose Goldstein was not there.
The laws of the Sabbath and the laws of the Sabbatical year teach us that we must include God in the workplace. We must follow His laws even if it puts our monetary gains in jeopardy. As Rose’s story demonstrates, along with countless others, while we may think we are making sacrifices for God’s sake, the truth is that it is He who is doing much more for our sake.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President