In last week’s parshah, we learned all about shmittah. For the Diaspora Jew, shmittah is an academic matter. But for the religious farmer in Eretz Yisrael who does not accept the heter mechirah, observing shemittah is a Herculean challenge.
Imagine a sophisticated farm with all kinds of heavy machinery. This equipment is leased for 20 years but has to remain unused for an entire year. The expensive leases, though, must be paid. In addition, the farmer, after tireless efforts to sell his produce to retailers like Costco, loses his contracts overnight because he can’t fill any orders.
To make matters worse, he must furlough an army of Arabs whom he had trained to skillfully manage his farm because he has no work to give them. The stark reality of facing an entire year without an income, plus the tension of mounting debts, faces farmers every shemittah.
Lo and behold, Jews around the world are now experiencing these very same dynamics. Barbershop and beauty salon owners cannot open for business yet must still pay rent. The restaurateur has no diners but must still pay his mortgage. The nursing home operator has no new patients recovering from elective surgeries, but must still pay for food, nursing services, and cleaning personnel.
Consider also the Amazon entrepreneurs who cannot travel to restock or suddenly find they have no buyers for their wares. Or the shul rabbanim who find their source of income dwindling but must still feed their families. In fact, their household expenses have only increased with the family home 24/7. It seems that we are all challenged with a shemittah-type existence today.
So, what’s the lesson of shemittah? “Ki li kol ha’aretz,” Hashem says. “The land is mine.” We need to remember that our livelihood comes from Hashem. While hishtadlus is of paramount importance, ultimately Hashem holds the maftei’ach of parnassah.
Therefore, we must have extra kavannah when we say Baruch Aleinu – the blessing of parnassah – in Shemoneh Esrei. We must also make a special effort to pray for others such as the dress shop owner, the shoe store proprietor, and the suit store manager who has tons of merchandise but is not permitted by law to sell it, even to one customer at a time.
When we pray for them, we unleash the rule of “Kol hamispallel b’ad chaveiro v’hu tzarich l’oso davar, hu ne’eneh techilah – If a person prays for his friend and needs the same thing his friend does, he is answered first.” We also should remember that now is a time to patronize Jewish businesses as much as possible. While shopping on Amazon or eBay might be more convenient, buy from your neighbor’s establishment if he has what you need.
As the lockdown period extends, many are experiencing feelings of depression or finding it hard to sleep. The shemittah Jew, though, puts his full faith in Hashem. As we carefully fulfill the mitzvos of v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem and v’chai bahem, we should trust Hashem to guide us safely through the choppy waters of this pandemic.
In the merit of our prayers, our tzedakah, and our bitachon, may Hashem bless us all with good health, happiness, prosperity, and everything wonderful.