GIMME A BREAK
In this week's portion the Torah paints quite a grim picture for the farmers of the world.
In this week's portion the Torah paints quite a grim picture for the farmers of the world. After having been commanded in Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:9) that certain portions of the harvest must be left for the poor (e.g. the corners of the field, the produce that is forgotten at the time of harvest, etc.), this week the Torah informs the farmer that he must also observe sh'mitah, allowing his field to lay fallow every seventh year. Certainly, this is a bitter pill to swallow: keeping kosher and celebrating Shabbat are one thing, but to sacrifice one's livelihood for an entire year is tantamount to financial suicide. Why has the Torah demanded so much from the simple farmer?
Although several commentators offer interpretations of the commandment of sh'mitah, the Kli Yakar, a popular early 17th century Polish commentator, rejects most of these explanations out of hand and instead offers his own hypothesis. He proposes that the Torah has demanded the cessation of all agricultural activity in order to inculcate within the Jews a sense of trust and faith in Hashem. If the Jews were permitted to plant and harvest at will, they would arrive at the mistaken conclusion that their livelihood and sustenance may be attributed to their own toil and effort. The Jews would erroneously deduce that their own control over the natural forces of the world dictates their fortune and success. Therefore, Hashem instituted the sh'mitah cycle so that the Jews would realize that their achievements and accomplishments were totally dependent upon the grace and goodwill of Hashem. When faced with the reality of the nonexistent harvest, the Jews would have no choice but to turn to Hashem for sustenance and support. The sh'mitah cycle serves as a constant reminder to the Jewish people that they must rely not on themselves, but on Hashem above.
Although most of us, as non-farmers, cannot fully appreciate the gravity of a sh'mitah year, we can nonetheless derive an important lesson for our own lives. All too often we become entrapped by our success, patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves on a job well done. We fail to realize the true source of our prosperity. We delude ourselves into thinking that "my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). Only when we fall on rough times do we finally take note of our own inadequacy. In order to remind us of the true provider of our needs, Hashem must take harsh steps that will force us to re-examine our self-reliance. By enduring these trying and demanding times, we can arrive at a total and complete appreciation for the kindness and compassion of Hashem.
Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.
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