By Rabbi Dovid Siegel | Series: | Level:

Yirmiyahu 16:19

This week’s haftorah shares with us an important insight regarding faith and sustenance. The prophet Yirmiyahu directs his words towards the Jewish people and sharply reprimands them for their lack of faith. He states in the name of Hashem, “And you will be withdrawn from your inheritance which I’ve given you and I will force you to serve your enemies in a foreign land.” (17:4) The Radak and other commentators take note of the expression Shmita-withdrawal used in this passage. They understand this to mean that the Jewish people will be withdrawn from their land because of their own failure to do so during the Shmita years. Every seventh year the Jews were prohibited from working the land and demonstrating their ownership. Their maintaining ownership and failure to withdraw from the land resulted in their forfeiting Eretz Yisroel. This understanding is based on the comments of Rashi in this week’s parsha which support the idea that the seventy years of Jewish exile replaced the seventy years of Shmita. (see Rashi on Vayikra 26:34)

But the prophet continues and states, “Cursed is the person who trusts in man and makes man’s arm a source of strength turning his heart away from Hashem.” The position of this passage, immediately following the early one, indicates a specific relationship between lack of faith and the Jewish exile. Apparently the failure of the Jews to observe the Shmita laws was rooted in their reliance upon man rather than upon Hashem. One can ask, “Why was the violation of Shmita regarded so serious an offense to actually cause the Jewish people to be rejected from their land?”

It seems that the prophet Yirmiyahu addresses this point and provides us with a startling perspective. In truth, the laws of Shmita are very demanding and quite difficult to observe. It takes tremendous perseverance to abandon one’s source of sustenance for one entire year, relying totally upon Hashem. Our Chazal (Midrash Shochar Tov 103) liken the conviction of the Shmita observers to the steadfast commitment of the angels themselves. If so, can the nation be held so severely at fault for failing to live up to the standard of angels?

In response to this question Yirmiyahu enlightens us with the true assessment of this matter. He draws our attention to the rationale behind one who works his land during the Shmita year. After all, our sustenance is ultimately derived from and determined by Hashem. Although we are involved and obligated to be engaged in the pursuit of our livelihood the success and result of our efforts is completely in the hands of Hashem. The practical means through which we attempt to secure our sustenance is only one part of the equation. The other half is the will of Hashem and His blessing that our efforts prove fruitful.

With the above in mind let us study the mind set of the Shmita farmer. He is fully aware that Hashem forbids work on the field during this year. There is therefore no doubt in his mind that he cannot include Hashem in this year’s equation for sustenance. Obviously Hashem does not approve of these intended means for provisions and will certainly not assist in bringing them to fruition. One who works the land on Shmita therefore makes an unequivocal statement regarding his personal control over his livelihood and its success and must view his personal efforts as the sole source of his sustenance. This arrogant demonstration of total lack of faith can not go unnoticed by Hashem and calls for an honest response.

In general, Eretz Yisroel represents the constant focus of Hashem upon His people and their land. In describing Eretz Yisroel the Torah states, “It is a land which Hashem examines, constantly; the eyes of Hashem are upon it.” (Dvorim 11:12) Our homeland is unique in that our existence in it depends solely upon Hashem’s direct involvement in its every detail. When we fail to recognize this and actually perceive it as being under our control we begin to forfeit it. The Shmita farmer’s display of total faith in his labor and efforts is the antithesis of what Eretz Yisroel stands for. Once the entire nation began viewing their land this way the value of Eretz Yisroel was lost to them. Having perceived their success in their land the total result of their efforts required that Hashem remove His focus from the land. Without this key dimension the Jews could not exist in Eretz Yisroel and were eventually forced to leave their homeland.

We learn from this that the key to maintaining Eretz yisroel is our recognition of Hashem’s involvement in the land and our lives. Let us pray that this perspective is shared by all our brethren and that we merit soon our total return to our homeland.

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