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THE BIG PICTURE

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Perhaps one of the most difficult mitzvot in the Torah to properly observe is that of sh'mitah. To allow your field to remain fallow for an entire year, thereby cutting off your livelihood completely for an extended period of time, requires an incredible amount of faith, especially when the entire nation plans to do the same thing in the same year.

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Perhaps one of the most difficult mitzvot in the Torah to properly observe is that of sh'mitah. To allow your field to remain fallow for an entire year, thereby cutting off your livelihood completely for an extended period of time, requires an incredible amount of faith, especially when the entire nation plans to do the same thing in the same year. Hashem therefore responds with a special pledge to the observers of sh'mitah, as described in this week's Torah portion: "The land will give its fruit [in the preceding years] and you will be satisfied; you will dwell securely upon it" (Leviticus 25:19).

Following that promise, the Torah speaks of a logical, yet seemingly inappropriate hypothetical question to be raised by the people, namely, "What will we eat in the seventh year -- behold! we will not sow and we will not gather our crops!" (ibid. 25:20). A question like this would have been totally understandable and even expected had it been asked by somebody who was first hearing about the mitzvah of sh'mitah. However, Hashem had just completed his guarantee to the people in the previous verse, stating that they will have enough food to eat. After hearing such a promise, why would somebody begin to complain; what could they possibly be worried about? Furthermore, Hashem responds with what would appear to be the ultimate blessing conceivable: "I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and [the land] will yield a crop sufficient for three years" (ibid. 25:21). What a great assurance! Can you imagine the fields producing three times the regular crop in the year preceding sh'mitah every seventh year without fail -- an open miracle for all to see and none to dispute! What could be better! However, one may ask that if Hashem was going to make such a promise, why didn't He do so in the first place? If this pledge is going to satisfy the people's concern while the previous one did not, then why not skip the other promise and preclude their concern by telling them the wonderful news about the increased crop as soon as possible?

The Dubno Maggid, the famous 18th century Eastern European rabbi, answers by analyzing the passage in the following manner. If one takes a moment to carefully examine the situation, he will realize that there are several ways Hashem could solve this "dilemma" of what they will eat. While He could easily arrange for the fields to produce a huge crop in the year immediately preceding sh'mitah (similar to that which occurred before the famine in Egypt during the days of Joseph), in reality that would be slightly less than ideal. After all, if the fields produce extra grain, somebody must harvest, process, and prepare the surplus so that it can be used. In fact, the ultimate blessing would be the one by which the recipients would be required to do no extra work. This blessing would occur not in the field but in the stomach. Hashem could arrange for a smaller amount of food to last for a longer period of time; a regular crop could provide more satiation than usual, satisfying the people throughout the sh'mitah period, and thereby requiring no extra work on the part of the sh'mitah observer.

Indeed, that was the promise in the first verse: ". . .you will be satisfied. . . ." Hashem was telling them not to worry. Everything will be taken care of. However, such a blessing carries with it one possible setback. Since the extra grain cannot be physically seen and identified, one may always find himself feeling insecure and uncertain about the source of his next meal. "Will I have enough to feed my entire family? The pantry is only half full!" Those that did not have faith in Hashem's promise that He would provide them with ample sustenance immediately sprang forward to voice their concern. Consequently, Hashem answered by promising those people the lesser of the two options -- the surplus of grain in the fields which carries with it increased toil and labor, as they were not satisfied with a simple assurance that everything would be alright. Ideally Hashem had intended to bestow upon everyone the greater of the two options -- miraculously satisfying them with only a little amount of food and no extra work involved. However, due to the doubts of the unfaithful sector, Hashem was forced to settle with providing that group with the secondary blessing. They had to actually see the good in order to appreciate it.

Often, we fail to recognize the special blessings that Hashem graciously bestows upon us. It seems that when things don't go exactly as we hoped, we immediately assume the worst. The fundamental principle of "gam zu letovah -- everything is for the best" goes completely unnoticed, as we are unwilling to wait and see how things turn out. While absolute faith that everything will work out is hard to come by, making a conscious effort to point ourselves in the right direction is an attainable goal.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta and is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York

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