Faith in Lying Fallow by Eli Scharlat


Small as it may be, Parashat BeHar contains numerous fundamental Jewish ideas. The biggest and perhaps most important topic is Shemitah, the requirement to let the land of Israel lie fallow every seventh year. The first lesson that is derived from Shemitah is the land owners’ tremendous faith in Hashem. The Emunah of every farmer is tried during these stressful years, because their income is halted, putting everything in the hands of Hashem. But is it really such a trying time? A look at the Pesukim in Parashat BeHar might suggest otherwise. “VeTzivtii Et Birchati Lachem BaShanah HaShishit VeAsata Et HaTevu’ah LiShlosh HaShanim,” “I will give my blessing to you in the sixth year, and your fields will yield a crop sufficient for a three year period” (VaYikra 25:21). Hashem is promising us, quite clearly, that we will be taken care of if we take the year off. There is no uncertainty regarding the question of sufficient food during Shemitah. We are not being asked to take a leap of faith into the sea or the Kivshan HaEish, fiery furnace, with no way of understanding how we will be safe. In the case of Shemitah, Hashem is not leaving anything to our imagination: the Pasuk tells us to follow the rules and we will have food. So how exactly does the concept of Shemitah test our Emunah?

 Perhaps the Emunah that Shemitah teaches us to maintain is a different kind of Emunah. It is the Emunah of the privileged. The Or HaChaim tells us that the Pasuk immediately preceding this explicit promise of food during Shemitah contains the key to understanding the kind of Emunah that Shemitah teaches us. The pasuk anticipates a basic question: “VeChi Tomeru Mah Nochal Bashanah HaShevi’it Hein Lo Nizra VeLo Ne’esof Et Tevu’ateinu,” “If you will say: ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? We cannot sow or gather our crops!’” (VaYikra 25:20). The question is not a defiant one, but one asked with disbelief and desperation: What in the world will we eat? How can we be asked to endanger ourselves for a year or more? The Or HaChaim explains that the way we approach the problem determines whether we will receive the benefits and protections that Hashem promises us during the three years around the Shemitah year. If we approach it with disbelief, then we will not be fortunate enough to receive Hashem’s help. However, if we address the problem with the belief that Hashem will provide for us, but we just don’t know how yet, then we will receive the benefits of Hashem’s promise.

It may be that the different approaches reflect different attitudes toward the circumstances that the farmer experiences before the Shemitah year. As the Pesukim tell us, we were very fortunate during the six years leading up to the Shemitah year! We had full fields, lots of crops, and plenty of food. Now, at the end of six abundant years, we are told by Hashem to take a year off, to remember that everything comes from Hashem. Regardless of a farmer’s hard work, the past six years of success could not have happened without Hashem’s help. Now, with what attitude do we take that reminder? We just proved that we were capable of working the land successfully, so we feel proud and accomplished. Unfortunately, the sense of success becomes an Emunah trap. Shemitah is not intended to instill Emunah through an extreme trial; the need for Emunah in such cases could not be more obvious! Rather, Shemitah reminds us that we must have the same level of Emunah when we are not faced with desperate circumstances as we are when the circumstances practically force the Emunah into us. We must recognize that in the end, we always rely on Hashem, even when we have cabinets of food and full stomachs.

We need this reminder from Shemitah because it is very easy to feel that we have accomplished everything on our own, especially after six years of success. Shemitah tests us deeply, because Hashem’s promise to provide for us during Shemitah requires us to take a leap of faith out of our comfort zone, to make us remember that while we will always be provided for, it is Hashem Who does the providing. Finally, Shemitah teaches us that Hashem is most willing to provide for us when we identify that even our own triumphs belong to Him.

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