Parshas Behar - A Year of Faith
וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינַ֖י לֵאמֹֽר: דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֨אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָֽׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַֽיהֹוָֽה: שֵׁ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ תִּזְרַ֣ע שָׂדֶ֔ךָ וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְמֹ֣ר כַּרְמֶ֑ךָ וְאָֽסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבֽוּאָתָֽהּ: וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִֽהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַֽיהֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר
And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. (Vayikra 25:1-4)
וְכִ֣י תֹֽאמְר֔וּ מַה־נֹּאכַ֖ל בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑ת הֵ֚ן לֹ֣א נִזְרָ֔ע וְלֹ֥א נֶֽאֱסֹ֖ף אֶת־תְּבֽוּאָתֵֽנוּ: וְצִוִּ֤יתִי אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי֙ לָכֶ֔ם בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַשִּׁשִּׁ֑ית וְעָשָׂת֙ אֶת־הַתְּבוּאָ֔ה לִשְׁל֖שׁ הַשָּׁנִֽים:
And if you should say, "What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!" [Know then, that] I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. (Vayikra 25:20,21)
Six years we worked the land and reaped its blessings. On the seventh year we are commanded to let the land lay fallow. For a full year there was to be no sowing, no pruning, no picking, no reaping. What did they spend their time doing the Shemittah year? The entire nation devoted themselves to serving God exclusively.
We need to appreciate that the economy of Israel was agricultural in nature. What did it mean to shut down most of the economy for an entire year? We talk a lot about trusting in God. Shemittah is faith in action. Faith does not mean that there are no questions. The Torah anticipates that we will ask what are we to eat in the Shemittah year. It is a reasonable question and it does not represent a lack of emunah that we ask. God assures us that the land will yield more than enough produce. Put your trust in God, the Torah commands us, and you will see that you will be provided for in ways that you yourself could never achieve. Shutting down the bulk of the economy for an entire year is a massive testament to our emunah and bitachon. We don't just have faith in our heads and in our hearts but in our hands and in our feet. Emunah is not something we just talk about, it is the lens through which we see the world. It's a lifestyle.
Our ancestors lived with various tests of faith. In some generations they were forced to choose conversion or death. Others lived through pogroms and holocausts. In the early 1900's Jews had to choose between keeping Shabbos or losing their job every week. Thankfully we live in a generation where our faith is not tested in the same ways. When do we put our complete trust in God?
While Shemittah only lasts one year, its impact was carried over to the six years that followed. I imagine that the people who spent their Shemittah year completely immersed in Avodas Hashem returned to their fields with a renewed sense of emunah. They had let the land lay fallow and they saw the hand of God providing for their every need. Could they return to their land under the impression that is by the strength of their own hand that the crop grows? But this is exactly the point. We are obligated to engage in yishuvo shel olam, settling the world. Work is a Mitzvah. The question is not if we should engage the world but how we should engage the world? We can come to our jobs with the anxiety that if all does not go well we will starve or we can trust in Hashem that our income for the year has already been signed and sealed on the Yamim Noraim. Our job is to create the vessel but God is ultimately the one who fills it up. We have a taste of this concept every Shabbos. If it is by the sweat of our own brow that we make our living then we should never take a day off. Sure we all need a vacation in order to rejuvenate but that's not what Shabbos is. Shabbos is a day to serve God exclusively without worrying about the coming week. It is our acknowledgement that God runs the world and provides for all of our needs. We put our complete trust in God not by dying al kiddush Hashem but by living al kiddush Hashem. If we truly believe that it is God that fills up our vessel it will be felt in the way we live. When we are honest in our business dealings, when we conduct ourselves with dignity in an increasingly undignified world, when we take pride in the work that we do it is a testament to the fact that we work because God commands us to work. If we only work to provide ourselves perhaps we would justify cutting corners and acting unscrupulously. We recognize that as Jews we are God's emissaries in this world and our behavior reflects on Him.
We are not being asked to choose between life or death, we are being asked to choose between a life of emunah and a life that's devoid of Godliness. It is a more subtle test than those of previous generations but that's a function of being in a generation that is closer to Mashiach. All of history is an answer to a question. The question is where is God. The answer is, right here. We have always declared ourselves Jews to the world. As we grow closer to the end of days we are being asked more fundamental questions, more subtle questions, that clarify God's position in the world. Of course we are Jews. For the most part the world seems ok with letting us be. But will we act like Jews in the post office? When we are frustrated at the driver who just cut us off? When we are shopping and the cashier gives us back too much change? The challenge is more subtle but no less important. It is an opportunity to sanctify God's name in this world. This is the inner message of Shemittah.