This weeks parsha, B’har, begins with the mitzva of shmita. “Shesh shanim tizrah sadecha… uvashanah hashevi’is, shabbos shabason yihyeh la’aretz, shabbos laHashem“- six years you will plant your field… and on the seventh year, a sabbatical will be for the land, a sabbatical for Hashem (25:3-4).
The Kli Yakar brings numerous opinions explaining the reason of this mitzva. Many explain that it allows the earth to rebuild itself in terms of its ability to provide the necessary nutrition for proper growth. However, he asks, if this mitzva is simply an ecological consideration, why would the punishment for lack of observance be exile?! The natural punishment should be the natural consequence of his actions- a depleted field producing a poor harvest. Furthermore, how could this year of ‘save the planet’ be termed a “shabbos laHashem“- a sabbatical for Hashem- it’s a sabbatical for the earth!
Others, the Kli Yakar states, explain this mitzva as a reminder of creation. The ‘six time unit work, seventh time unit rest’ cycle shows our belief in Hashem having created the world with such a cycle. However, he asks, if the weekly shabbos doesn’t suffice for us to internalize that concept, it’s hard to see how a mitzva observed once every seven years will do the trick!
The Kli Yakar therefore explains that the mitzva of shmita is to instill in Klal Yisroel a deep, firm emunah and bitachon – belief and trust – in Hashem. As we enter Eretz Yisroel we face a danger far graver than any physical threat. With the cessation of the manna we must begin to plow, plant and harvest in the way of the rest of the world. Perhaps we will start to think that it is the strength of our own hands that is supplying us with our needs. We are the owners of our land! We are the sole controllers of our own destiny! A dangerous thought process that strikes at the very core and purpose of Klal Yisroel!
The normal procedure was to plant two years and let the land lay fallow for one. We are told to plant for six years straight, and guaranteed that the land won’t lose its strength! To add to this miracle, the sixth year, the year when the land should be, by then, exhausted, will be the most productive year, yielding sufficient produce for three years!
A miraculous cycle for a miraculous nation situated on a miraculous land. Know to where our faith must be directed! Know Who is supplying our needs! Know Who owns and controls our land! Know Who controls our destiny!
If we keep the laws of shmita, we are told: “The land will give its fruit and you will eat and be satisfied (25:19)”. Rashi explains and the Sforno elaborates that the fruits will be of super nutritional value in that a small amount will satiate. In other words, the produce of the sixth year will be quantitatively equal to that of other years, but will miraculously supply you for the additional time.
“And if you will ask: what will we eat on the seventh year? I will send a blessing on the sixth year and it will yield produce for three years (25:20-21).” The Sforno explains that this means a visible blessing that will quantitatively suffice for three years.
The Lev Eliyahu explains as follows. If you will have the proper faith in Hashem and will not ask what will you eat the seventh year then the amount grown will be the usual amount. No additional harvesting or storage for you to contend with. You’ll eat a small amount and be fully satisfied and nutritionalized.
If, however, you’ll have doubts about what you’ll be eating the seventh year. If your level of faith will be low, then Hashem will be ‘forced’ to send enough in the sixth year to assuage your worries. You’ll have the trouble of harvesting three years worth of produce in the span of one year and the bother of transporting and storing such a large amount.
This is the way that Hashem deals with us, not only during shmita, but every day of our life. We act and He reacts. Our level of emunah and bitachon determines what sort of bracha, what sort of miracle, He will send to us. As we’ve discussed earlier, we’re surrounded with miracles. Nature is nothing but a miracle that we’ve grown accustomed to. As we say in our shmone esrei prayer, “v’al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu“, and for your miracles that are with us every day.
However, our level of trust will determine the level of the miracle that is sent our way. Can the bracha can come in an easy way for us or must it come in a bothersome way. Can we invest less time toward our physical and materialistic needs, thereby allowing us to invest in our avodas Hashem, our spiritual pursuits, and yet come out with enough? Or must we spend every ounce of our strength on our livelihood in order to come out with that, very same, enough!
These are the lessons in emuna and bitachon that are instilled in us by the mitzva of shmita.
When discussing the ultimate redemption, the geulah, the pasuk most quoted is, “b’eto“- in its time, “achishena“- I will hurry it. The gemara (Sanhedrin) explains that if the generation will merit, the redemption will be hurried and come early. If we will not merit, then it will come in its preordained time.
The Chafetz Chaim asks how can we hope for an ‘early’ geulah? If the earlier generations, with their tremendous merits, weren’t able to bring the geulah, how can we have the audacity to believe that we can!!!
He explains that the answer can be found in our parsha. “(If a Jew) sells himself to a non-Jew living amongst you” (25:47). The parsha explains that he can be redeemed until yovel, the fiftieth year. The calculation of the redemption price is to divide the years that he was sold by the sale price. If he was sold for 40 years at $40,000, then the redemption rate is $1,000 for every year. If he’ll be redeemed one year after the sale, the cost will be $39,000. After twenty years it will cost $20,000. After 39 years of work it will cost a mere $1,000 to redeem him. If he won’t be redeemed at all, then at yovel he will go out free.
The Chafetz Chaim explains that the same principle can be applied to our ‘sale to the nations’, our exile. There was a predetermined end time set for the exile. That is what we referred to as ‘b’eto‘ – in its time. The further we are from that time, the greater amount of merit necessary to bring the geulah. The closer we are to that point, a lesser amount of merit is needed.
It is true that the earlier generations were on a much higher level than we and yet were unable to bring the geulah, but they needed to ‘pay’ that much more than we! We, who are so much closer to the end point, need that much less than they did! We can’t give up hope in our ability to ‘hurry’ the redemption!
We also must keep in mind that even if we won’t come up with the necessary merit, “And he will go out at the yovel year” (25:54). When the ‘b’eto’ arrives, the redemption will come regardless of the merits that we have to offer.
If that is what the Chofetz Chaim wrote so many years ago for his generation, then certainly we of the 90’s must keep our faith in the Moshiach coming. With all of the sacrifices that have been offered, with all of the Torah that is now being learned, with the few remaining years left until the Moshiach must come, we must believe in and work toward that ‘achishena’ – that hurrying of the redemption.
May we merit that the trust and faith that we learn from shmita will elevate us and our generation, ‘pushing’ the hand of Hashem to send us Moshiach tzidkenu, speedily in our days.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Zion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).