Parshat Behar discusses the many aspects of Shemitah and Yovel, detailing how Bnei Yisrael must abstain from working the land in the seventh and fiftieth years of the calendar cycles. This raises the obvious issue of what the nation will eat for sustenance during the Shemitah and Yovel years if they are unable to work the land. The Pasuk recognizes this issue, stating, “Ki Tomru Mah Nochal BaShanah HaSheviit,” “If you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?’”(25:20). The Torah responds that the sixth year’s crop will provide an overwhelming abundance in order to support the people during the seventh and eighth years.
While this promise does resolve the Pasuk’s issue, the Torah seems to be asking the wrong question in the first place. Why do we need this query about what will be eaten during the seventh year; why could the Torah not just have said that the bounty from the sixth year would supply for the seventh? The question could be derived from the answer! Moreover, why did the Torah omit the eighth year when asking what shall one eat after Shemitah?
To solve this dilemma, the Kli Yakar comments that Bnei Yisrael were not told until a few Pesukim later that the sixth year would be so abundant, and therefore asked about a source of food. Since the question was brought up, it was recorded before the answer. Sforno, on the other hand, infers from the Pesukim that the sixth year would be a qualitative surplus, not a quantitative one, in effect making the original point an extremely valid one: where was their next meal going to come from? These commentators, however, do not answer our second question regarding the eighth year.
Rav Moshe Feinstein offers a powerful answer that provides profound insight into the nature of Shemitah and those who observe it. Rav Feinstein states that the question in itself seems to indicate a lack of faith in Hashem. Hashem had just shared with us the Mitzvah of leaving the land fallow every seventh year, obviously with the knowledge that a food supply would be needed to sustain the nation during that timeframe. The Torah mentions only the concern for the seventh year, not the eighth, to show that any questioning of Hashem’s plan is unjustified and should not exist in the first place, because there is such an obvious answer. Only those with a lack of Emunah would challenge the mitzvah of Shemitah, which reflects the fact that those few do not understand the true meaning of Shemitah and Yovel. These Mitzvot teach us that it is not our hard work that produces provisions, but rather it is Hashem Who controls our entire lifestyle and very survival. It is inappropriate to challenge these Mitzvot, which demonstrate that our lives are in Hashem’s hands, with questions about how we will eat.