This week’s parasha deals mainly with the laws of shemittah – the seventh year and yovel – the fiftieth year – during which the farmer has to leave his land fallow, relying on G-d alone for his sustenance. He thereby acknowledges his trust in G-d, implicitly recognizing His providence over the land and the Jewish people. There is however, one particular aspect of this Mitzvah, which I would like to point out.
The Torah tells us, “And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold we may not sow nor gather in our produce:’ then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce for three years.” (Vayikra, 25: 20-21)
Ramban explains this passage in the following manner: In the seventh year i.e. the shemittah year, the people will be eating from what is left of the previous year’s produce. Consequently, it will be only in the seventh year that they will begin to worry about what they will eat in the year following the shemittah year, the eighth year. Thus, the verse should be understood as follows: “If in the seventh year you ask, ‘What shall we eat?’ the produce of the sixth year, says G-d, will suffice for three years (sixth, seventh and eighth) in the case of shemittah.
The Kli Yakar points out a difficulty in the Ramban. Why should there be cause for worry in the seventh year, seeing that it is promised that the produce of the sixth year will be abundant enough to last three years? Once this has been witnessed in the sixth year, surely one should stop worrying? The Kli Yakar answers that the blessing concerned not the quantity of the food but rather its quality. Even if a small measure of food would be consumed, it would satisfy the appetite. Therefore, the blessing is not apparent before one’s eyes. Satisfaction one day does not guarantee a similar feeling the following day, week, month or even year. If by the seventh year, one is anxious about the gradual depletion of resources, G-d gives the assurance that the special quality of food will be a continuous blessing for three years. Hence, one should trust in G-d and keep the laws of shemittah unhesitatingly.
There is something quite strange, in my opinion, about what we have learnt so far. We know that G-d’s kindness is unlimited; He rewards greatly those who serve Him in truth. We would therefore expect that if we put our full trust in G-d concerning the shemittah year, He will not only compensate us with the bare requirements but shower blessings upon us so as to enable us to enjoy the possession of more than we actually need. Yet we see here that when Israeladhere to the mitzvoth of shemittah, they are rewarded with just what they require: the food will be blessed for exactly three years, no more and no less. What can we learn from the fact that the reward for trust is meted out with such precision?
The intent can be illustrated by an occurrence that happened to a certain man who was learning in Kollel in Israel. After deciding to purchase a new pair of Tefillin, he was quick to change his mind owing to the expense – seventy lira sterling in those days. Nevertheless, one day he suddenly made up his mind that he just had to buy the Tefillin no matter what the cost and immediately went to order them. On that very day, he received a letter. It was from a relative in Americawho wanted him to arrange some legal matters for him in Israeland for the trouble offered to pay him seventy lira sterling. This certainly made a profound impression on the Kollel fellow. After he had put all his trust in G-d in the act of ordering the Tefillin, he unexpectedly received just what he needed to pay for them. He might have been just as happy to receive a hundred lira sterling, but it was the fact that he received the exact amount that revealed G-d’s guiding hand. It clearly demonstrates G-d’s divine providence.
The same idea can be applied to shemittah. One does not require a high level of perception to realise that G-d provides for us. This is obvious to everyone since each person obtains exactly what he needs. Our obligation is simply to recognise this fact.