This week Parasha describes the laws of Shemita, which at first glance, seem to be challenging to any human being trying to make an honest living through farming. The laws of Shemita command the farmer to desist from all agricultural work every seventh year (see Vayikra 25:1-24). Every 50th year, there is an additional year called Yovel, Jubilee, in which one cannot engage in working the land either. This means that both the 49th and 50th years are off limits to all farming.
Yet, the Hashem feels for the farmer and states; ‘The people will be concerned and worried when they hear of these laws.’ Consequently, Hashem promises that every sixth year they will receive a special blessing of a triple crop (25:21), which would suffice for the sixth, seventh and eighth years.
It is the natural survival’s instinct to want to control one’s destiny. A man prefers to oversee his destiny, rather than being assured that tomorrow will be fine. Going for a whole year, without farming brings about mental distress and fears, even when it is obvious Hashem’s blessing occurred. Hashem recognizes that these fears are indeed legitimate, and the Torah states: “If you enquire what will we eat during the seventh year … I will order my blessing on the sixth year … (Leviticus 26: 6). The Torah responds to this anxiety with the promise of a tremendous gift. An entire Sabbatical year without loss of income “the land will provide for three years on the sixth year.” It addresses the financial concern, but despite it, true trust in Hashem’s blessing remains challenging. There are other difficult commandments: Sabbath observance is very demanding and requires an extensive knowledge of laws; The mitzvah related to pilgrims, pilgrimages, etc. But no Mitzvah resembles the degree of difficulty and risk as the Mitzvah of Shemita. This Mitzva pushes the individual into the deepest and most hidden part of his soul, the part even his siblings are unaware of. This is the part of the soul that makes every individual unique. There, the person is alone and confronts his personal fears. It is therefore not surprising that the Torah addresses the pre-Shemita concern, which cannot be found in any other Mitzva. However, it is surprising that the Torah revealed the supernatural solution to the problem as it seems to totally remove the challenge to have Bitachon. After all, every sixth year, the Bnei Yisrael will see the harvest, and will understand that there is no reason to fear the seventh year, in contrary they will welcome the sabbatical year. Why did then Hashem reveal that everything will be fine since they would see it with their own eyes? This question has been contended with for years by the greatest commentators, Rashi and Rabbi Ovadia Sforno. They explain that the abundance will not be in quantity but in quality, just as the ‘Man’ they ate in the desert, a small portion will totally satisfy. However, the Verse clearly states that the blessing will be translated into an abundance in the harvest and does not hint anything about the quality. Simply put, is that the Torah does addresses the concern that it will be ingrained in the hearts of everyone in Israel, even though it will see the harvest increase in its sixth year, it is still natural to be anxious about tomorrow. One prefers to control his destiny, rather than all the assurances that tomorrow will be fine. A whole year with no possibility to sow and reap brings about mental distress and existential concern, despite the pledge that Hashem will prevent any food shortage. The Torah teaches us in this verse that there is legitimacy for one’s concerns. The Torah does not state that “if you say what we will eat in the seventh year” you will be severely punished, and your harvest will not be blessed. On the contrary, Hashem acknowledges the human emotions, He understands their hearts, and therefore, not only does he solve their existential problem, but also attaches a formal promise designed to address the natural concern that lies in the heart of every human being. It is indeed particularly important to have complete trust in Hashem, but it is similarly critical to know if our natural fears are legitimate, because of the concern that our apprehensions may be at odds with Bitachon, do the human emotions impede that trust? Various scholars pointed to different sources in Torah as commanding this requirement. According to the Ramban, the obligation emanates from the Verse “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem you G.d” (Deuteronomy 18:13). Rabbi Yona from Gerona and Rabbi Elazar Azikri learned the Bitachon commandment from the verse “Do not fear them” (Deut. 7:17, 20:1), which was said about the war against our enemies, while Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen wrote in his book “Meshekh Chochma” that Bitachon is included in the commandment “In Him you shall hold fast” (Deut. 10:20). When one seeks ‘Deveikus’ to Hashem, it will engender the complete trusting in Hashem. Maimonides did not count the Mitzvah of Bitachon as an independent obligation, rather it is included in the commandment of the faith. According to the Vilna Gaon, it is hinted in the first word of the Torah “Bereishis” as it is the cornerstone of the very being of a person. One’s identity and life direction are directly impacted by the level of trust one has in Hashem. Is Bitachon that one should believe that everything will be fine, and no evil could happen? Obviously not! That person is deemed to bitter deceptions that will erode his Bitachon. These are two different concepts. A well-known story illustrates the difficulty of reaching complete Bitachon. A student of Rabbi Yisrael Salenter, (some say it was the Chaffetz Chaim), purchased a raffle ticket, and said confidently to his Rabbi that he trusted Hashem that he would win the big prize. Rabbi Yisrael asked him: “Are you ready to sell me the ticket for half the potential earnings? The student replied that he was ready. Rabbi Yisrael said: “If so, your Bitachon is flaky, as if you genuinely believed you would win, you would never agree to sell it at half of the full prize. Trusting that success is the only outcome is not part of the concept of Bitachon. Rabbeinu Bayei of Pekuda in his essay “The duties of the heart” points that it is an old delusion that has taken root in many hearts, as the Talmud states that hardship will be the lot of the Just. Rather the essence of Bitachon is the peace of mind that Hashem only does what is best for the person. It is human to fear hardship and to welcome success, and it does not run counter to having Bitachon. However, the Holy Baal Shem tov reveals that indeed, a person with positive thoughts can prevent a host of deceptions. The thoughts are more powerful than actions as they provide the direction to one’s life. A person only moves in the direction of his thoughts. In other words: “You are your thoughts” and positive thinking will provide positive outcomes.
By Rabbi Fridmann * firstname.lastname@example.org * 305.985.3461
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