“If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year when we don’t sow and gather in our crops, I will proclaim a blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years” (Vayikra 25:20-21).
The Torah promises us (ibid. 25:19) that the land will yield its produce, everyone will eat their fill, and everyone will dwell securely upon the land if we observe the mitzvah of shemittah.
HaGaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, asks: Why would someone be worried in year 1 about what he’ll eat in year 7? For six years, he will have plenty of food!
Rav Elyashiv answers that people tend to want guarantees about their material future. Therefore, although there is still plenty of time before the seventh year comes around, they will already consider the eventuality and ask, “What will we eat?”
Since they are accustomed to assuring their food supply in a natural way – i.e., by sowing, planting, and gathering crops – they will be consumed with anxiety when they contemplate a change in the process. Thus, they will begin to store a little food each month to accumulate a stockpile for the seventh year and, as a result, they will not experience a feeling of “eating their fill” during the first six years.
The Talmud (Sotah 48b) states, “Whoever has bread in his basket to eat today and says, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ is from those of little faith.” The way of the world, though, is to prepare for the future and not rely on miracles. Why, then, is such an individual considered “of little faith”?
The answer is that the Talmud is referring to the person’s anxiety, not the efforts he makes for the future. The hishtadlus is proper, and our sages instruct us what hishtadlus comprises and how much hishtadlus is necessary. So hishtadlus is permitted; it’s the worry and concern that is not in consonance with the Torah’s perspective. A person should realize that just as he has food in his basket today, which is from Hashem, so too he will have food tomorrow, which will also come from Hashem.
Rav Elyashiv argues that the essence of the mitzvah of shemittah is internalizing the principle that “the earth and its fullness is Hashem’s” (Tehillim 24:1). Just as Klal Yisrael received the mahn in the midbar from Hashem, so too their sustenance in Eretz Yisrael is under the divine providence of Hashem. If an individual is constantly concerned about what he will eat during shemittah, he has failed to understand this principle.
The Torah tells us that everyone “will eat their fill.” These words are not a blessing in and of themselves; they constitute an obligation to gratify oneself and not feel the need to hoard food for the first six years. If one does so, one will indeed merit a blessing of always eating one’s fill.
The blessing Hashem gives for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years is conditional. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah) teaches, “Hashem is your shadow” (Tehillim 121:5) – just as our shadow moves with us, so does Hashem follow our movements. If a person is concerned about his sustenance during shemittah during the six years preceding it, he will surely not see the blessing.
But a person who trusts in Hashem and observes shemittah will merit blessing and recognition of divine providence. Those who lack faith, however, experience a double loss – they live with apprehension and unease and remain misguided their entire life.
The Yeshiva of Volozhin was renowned throughout Europe as a stellar institution of learning, and R’ Chaim Volozhiner, even more well known, was selflessly dedicated to the yeshiva’s success.
One day, one of the city’s merchants came in with 18 rubles and explained that he had to set out on a long trip. Since the roads were dangerous, he wanted to leave his money with the rav to use towards the yeshiva’s needs until his return. R’ Chaim thanked him, gave him a heartfelt beracha, and the man departed.
A number of years went by and no one heard from the man. The money had been spent long ago, and the yeshiva’s coffers were empty.
One morning, the man unexpectedly showed up in the yeshiva. Although there was no possibility of repaying him – even if every person in the city were solicited, R’ Chaim calmly went over to greet the man. “Please,” he said, “give me until tomorrow evening to return your money, G-d willing.”
All those present could not believe their ears. How did R’ Chaim think he would be able to return the money in one day? Yet, no one said a word; they waited to see what would happen.
The next morning, R’ Chaim gave his shiur as he did every day without any sign of worry on his face. Suddenly there was a loud knock on the door of the beis medrash, and in came the governor of the city. Everyone froze in place as the arrival of government officials who were usually rabid anti-Semites was not a good sign.
The governor thrust out his hand with a large amount of bills and loudly declared, “I just received 1,000 rubles from one of my sharecroppers. I am giving them to you, honored rabbi, to do with as you please. I do not like paper money; I only like gold and silver coins.”
The talmidim were shocked. R’ Chaim, though, serenely took the money and immediately repaid the merchant along with a thank-you letter, while his mouth uttered a prayer of thanks to the master of the universe for His great chesed.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem; then Hashem will be his security” (Yirmiyahu 17:7).