The commandment of Shemitah is a test of our faith and an examination in our true belief in the Almighty’s ability to sustain us. The Torah commands us that every seven years we must let the land of Israel lie fallow, with no harvesting or planting of crops. But Hashem promises us that if “you shall perform My decrees, and observe My ordinances and perform them, then you shall dwell securely on the land. The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it” (Leviticus 25:18-19). Rashi explains the blessing “even if you eat only a little, it will be blessed in your stomach,” The little you eat will grow into a bounty of satiation. But after assuring us that our little will feel plentiful the Torah talks to the naysayers. The Torah talks about that group of people. “If you will say – What will we eat in the seventh year? — behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops!” Hashem assures them as well. “I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period.” (Ibid v.20-21)
The Kli Yakar and a host of other commentaries ask. Why should a Jew ask that troubling question? Didn’t Hashem command his abundant blessing in the sixth year? Didn’t the little bit of food leave them satisfied? Why do they have concern about the ensuing years?
My dear friend Rabbi Benyamin Brenig of Golders Green, London recently related this wonderful story to me: Reuvain and Shimon were two men, who lived on opposite ends of town. They each inherited a fortune of gold. Each of them decided to bury their fortunes in their backyards. They wanted to make sure that they would have something to sustain them in their old age. On their respective properties, they each picked a landmark, paced twenty steps due north and dug a large hole.
Reuvain, the more nervous of the two, was careful to make sure that no one was watching. Every other second he glanced furtively over his shoulder to make sure that no one saw him bury the treasure. No one did.
Shimon, by nature, was trusting and carefree and he was not so careful. He was not worried that anyone would steal his fortune. But he was wrong. He was spotted by a nosy neighbor, who was also a thief.
In the middle of the night, the thief dug up the fortune. Out of mercy, he left few coins at the bottom of the pit, and removed the coins. He refilled the hole and packed the ground perfectly as if nothing was disturbed. Then he took off with the fortune.
Reuvain’s fortune, however, remained intact. But he was, by nature, a worrier. And so, the next day he decided to dig up the hole to make sure that the gold was still there. Accidentally, he counted only fifteen paces from his landmark and dug. There was nothing there. Reuvain was frantic. Someone must have seen him dig the pit, he figured. For the rest of his life, he worried. On his property, he had a pit filled with gold coins, but all Reuvain did was worry!
Shimon on the other hand had nothing but the remnants of a few coins. Everything else was stolen. But he never checked the fortune, and was merrily content, assured that when the time would come he could dig up the pit and retrieve his fortune. Reuvain, the millionaire, died heartbroken and frantic. Shimon, the man with but a few coins left for his old-age lived his life content as if he was the wealthiest man in the world.
The Torah tells us about the different types of blessings. For the faithful, Hashem says, “I will command my blessing in the sixth year,” in which Rashi assures us that even a bit will feel like a bounty. But we must acknowledge that despite Heavenly assurances, there are those who always worry. They need to see the money! They ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops!” Hashem must assure them that he will increase their bounty in a way that is visible to them.
Some of us can believe without seeing immediate results. We can sleep well, with full satisfaction on empty stomachs. The greatest expression of faith is when we do not see the blessing, but we feel it in our hearts and even in our stomachs. That blessing transcends tangibility, and the fear of deficiency. I think that is a noble goal.
For the rest of us, those who keep looking over their shoulder and check their fortunes every day, they need a different type of blessing. Sometimes we dig for tangible salvation, even though the treasure is sitting undisturbed in our own backyard.
Dedicated by Aleeza & Avi Lauer and Family, in memory of Avi’s father, Rabbi Elias Lauer – Harav Eliezer Ben Aharon Dovid, A”H, on the occasion of his yartzeit, 26th day of Iyar, and in memory of Avi’s grandfather, Aaron Lauer – Ahron Dovid Ben Eliezer, A”H, on the occasion of his yartzeit, 28th day of Iyar.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.