When I was a graduate student at Rutgers, I had a good friend whose name was Baruch (not his real name). Baruch was a brilliant young chemist, and in the 70’s, he discovered a catalyst that proved useful for the oil industry. This earned him a lot of money, and if I had his resources at my disposal I would trot directly off to Kollel. Baruch, however, has since then spent the preponderance of his time trying to protect and expand his wealth. The last we spoke, he was pursuing a law degree to that end.
By contrast, I remember how one of my Rebbeim, Rabbi Naftali Reich, emphasized to us in shiur the amount of faith that was required for Jewish farmers to abandon their fields during the Sabbatical (seventh) or Shemittah year. What were they supposed to eat? How were they to support their families?
Rabbi Reich explains that the farmers are supposed to be at ease, because Hashem promises to deliver bumper crops during the sixth year. But we find this puzzling, because it is the eighth year that is in jeopardy, not the seventh. The sixth year’s bumper harvest assures food for the seventh year, and the seventh year’s harvest would have provided the food for the eighth year. Temporarily abandoning the fields would have placed the eighth year in jeopardy, not the seventh. Why be concerned over the seventh year, and not the eighth?
The answer, according to Rabbi Reich, is that a person who has faith in Hashem is not overly concerned about the future. He is fully aware that he does not control his own fate, and that everything is in Hashem’s hands. He puts forward his best efforts, follows Halacha, and leaves the rest to Hashem. A person without such faith finds himself operating under enormous pressure and anxiety, believing that he alone stands between his responsibilities and starvation. This in turn led to Baruch’s unhealthy and all-consuming drive to protect his wealth.
Baruch’s attitude is exactly what the Torah was anticipating concerning the Shemittah year. Rabbi Reich continues by explaining how farmers of weaker faith worry irrationally about the seventh year, even though the granaries are still full from the sixth year’s harvest. It is of course wise to save and invest, but if the future is perceived as an endless succession of unrelenting attacks on our resources, a person could wind up throwing his life at his business. Rabbi Reich ended shiur by noting: “At times like these, we need to reaffirm in our own minds that everything comes from Hashem and that there are no rainy days for Him. If we relegate the final responsibility for our lives to Hashem, He will enrich our lives with tranquility and prosperity.”
One of the major recurring motifs that describes the actions of a sinful Bnei Yisrael throughout the Tochachah is the word “Keri,” translated by Rashi (VaYikra 26:21 s.v. VeIm Teilechu Imi Keri) as “BeMikreh,” “happenstance.” This means that one of the most major sins that Bnei Yisrael can commit is to treat Hashem’s presence and impact as merely a coincidence, by chance. At first glance, this does not seem like such a terrible sin; simply neglecting to truly see HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s impact on our lives does not seem to be as severe a sin as other Aveirot listed in the Torah, such as killing another person or engaging in incestuous relationships.