“Six years shall you sow your field, and six years shall you prune your vineyards, and gather its produce. But in the seventh year, it will be a Holy Sabbath, a Sabbath to God; you shall not sow your field, and you will not prune your vineyards.” [Leviticus 25:3-4]
The commentary of the Kli Yakar teaches a powerful lesson from this verse, which is elucidated in the Yalkut Lekach Tov. A person could think that the land is his, and he can do as he wishes with it. If he is intelligent and uses good strategic planning, then his fields will flourish — and he will deserve credit in accordance with his intelligence and expertise.
This is a mistake. With the mitzvah of Shmittah, the Sabbath of the land in the seventh year, God delivers the message that the land is His, and all success is His. “Six years shall you sow your field” — the Kli Yakar says that this is a guarantee. You can plant your field for six years, and it will not become weak. You need not employ the standard strategy — at least, before fertilizers — of planting the field for two years and then letting it rest in the third.
Not only this, but your field will flourish precisely at the point where it should be weakest. “And if you will say, ‘what will we eat in the seventh year, when we will not sow nor will we gather our grain?’ I have commanded my Blessing to you in the sixth year, and you will produce grain for three years.” [25:20-21]
This being the case, there would be no natural reason to let the field rest in the seventh year. Shmittah is not for the good of the land, but for our good — to realize that we do not own the land, nor anything else, and in the end it is not our own efforts that bring success. While we must make appropriate efforts to support ourselves, success is not dependent upon extraordinary effort. This cannot be our focus.
Where, then, must we devote our efforts? The answer comes in the next reading, Bechukotai. “If you will follow My statutes and observe My laws and you will do them; then I have given your rains in their time and the land will give its produce, and the tree of the field will give its fruit.” [26:3-4] And Rashi asks, if the Torah says “observe My laws,” than what is intended by “follow My statutes?” And he answers: “that you will toil in Torah.”
The Torah first tells us, don’t waste your time investing your efforts in material success — that’s not going to work. Hashem determines who is truly successful, and we must merely make the efforts necessary for Hashem’s blessings to rest upon them. So where should we invest our efforts? We must “toil in Torah,” and that will bring — material success! Doing mitzvos and learning Torah is what brings true riches into our lives.
We find an allusion to this concept in the “Hadran” recited when celebrating the completion of an order of study — a Tractate of Talmud, or an Order of Mishnah, for example. The Hadran includes this passage: “we toil, and they toil; we toil and receive reward, and they toil, and do not receive reward.” And the classic question goes: how can we say that “they toil, and do not receive reward?” People are paid for their work!
Yet this is not necessarily so. A mechanic can spend six hours with your car, but if it is just as broken at the end of the day as it was when he started, you are not going to pay him for six hours of poking around. If a dry cleaner burns your shirt, you’re not going to pay him for his efforts.
And that is the point: for the dry cleaner, it is not the toil that earns the money, but the successful result. There is no reward for toil, only for successful production.
The very opposite is true of Torah. It is the energy we invest in Torah, the efforts we make, which bring the reward.
This is where we need to invest our efforts, to learn and to grow. And it is the one area where we are guaranteed to see our efforts meet with success!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.