Much of today’s daf (Moed Katan 3a-b) explores the various activities which are prohibited during the Shemitta year, and it is here where we are taught that there are also ימים שהוסיפו חכמים לפני ראש השנה – ‘days that the Sages added prior to Rosh Hashanah [when plowing is also prohibited]’.
In seeking to explain this concept, our daf (Moed Katan 3b) quotes Mishna Shevi’it 1:1 where we are taught: ‘Until when may one plow in a field of trees on the Eve of the Shemitta year? Beit Shammai says: As long as it [i.e. the plowing] is good for the fruit [currently growing in the fields], while Beit Hillel says: Until the festival of Shavuot. And the words of this one are close to the words of this one.’
What this means is that there is a prohibition of plowing a field prior to the start of the Shemitta year (nb. for further details relating to this law, see Rambam, Hilchot Shemitta V’Yovel 3:1). Yet while Beit Shammai says that the time when one should stop doing so is when the plowing is no longer directly beneficial for produce of the sixth year, and while Beit Hillel says that one should stop doing so at Shavuot, it is evident from the conclusion of Mishna Shevi’it, as well as from the remarks of various commentaries, that Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel basically agree that the time when the plowing is no longer directly beneficial for produce of the sixth year is, in fact, around Shavuot.
Yet given this fact, why does the Mishna frame the opinions of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel in Mishna Shevi’it as a disagreement when, in fact, it seems that they basically agree?
This question is raised by the authors of the ‘Mishnat Eretz Yisrael’ commentary (on Shevi’it 1:1) where they note that attempts were made by various teachers in the early Mishnaic period to transmit what they had learnt in the words that they had heard from their teachers. In fact, this idea is made explicit in Mishna Eduyot 1:3 where we are taught by Hillel that שאדם חייב לומר בלשון רבו – ‘[a Torah student] is obligated to convey what they have learnt from their teacher using the language of their teacher’.
Having explained this fact, it is clear that while Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai don’t really disagree in Mishna Shevi’it about when plowing should cease prior to the Shemitta year, by each invoking the words of their teachers what emerged was something that appeared – on first glance – to be a disagreement, notwithstanding the fact that ‘the words of this one are close to the words of this one’.
Personally, I think that this simple observation is priceless, because unfortunately all too often we come to the conclusion that we are disagreeing with someone simply because they express themselves differently to how we express ourselves, notwithstanding the fact that – were we to truly listen and think about what they are saying – we would notice that the differences between us are often minimal to non-existent.
Of course, while this mistake occurs all the time, it is especially prevalent when strangers meet, each using the words of their family, background, culture, or faith – which the other hears as being different to their words.
With this in mind, let us try to invest more time to understand what people are saying before judging them on how they are speaking, and commit ourselves to reflect on the content of their words of others rather than just the tone and style of their speech. Because, were we to do so, we may just find that ‘the words of this one are close to the words of this one.’