Shemitah feeds the doubters in all of us

  • Rabbi Aaron Rose
The parsha of the week, Behar, tells us that we shouldn’t work the land of Israel in the seventh year (Shemitah) or harvest its produce. The parsha continues that nonetheless, G-d promises us that there will be plenty to eat. If we ask, “What will we eat in the 7th year?” G-d promises us that He will command His blessing for us in the sixth year, and it will yield enough for three years.
by Rabbi Aharon Rose | May 23, 2019

This promise doesn’t make sense. First, G-d alleviates our fear that Shemitah will result in starvation, then He acknowledges this fear, and addresses it a second time.

What’s the difference between believing in G-d, and trusting in G-d? I might believe in G-d, but, the Talmud suggests, my belief might be such that before I break into a home, I pray that G-d blesses my theft with success. “Belief” is a theoretical idea in my head, “there is a G-d”. If I trust in G-d, the awareness has moved from my head to my heart, and to my behaviour, I rely on G-d, because if good things are going to happen, G-d will enable/make them happen. The journey of this awareness from my head to my heart (and actions) is my job. It’s hard, but I have a lifetime to do it.

Trust, as Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third rebbe of Chabad (1789-1866) taught, means tracht gut vet zein gut (if you think good – because G-d will make it good – it will be good). Not that it will be good in some spiritual way, but in a practical way you can see, and not in some vague time in future, but now. And, the more convinced you are of this reality because you trust in G-d, the clearer and sooner that good will be obvious.

So, why does G-d tell us not to worry about food during Shemitah, then mention that we might worry about it, but that we shouldn’t worry about it because there will be plenty?

G-d is talking to two types of Jews. The first group trusts in G-d. It doesn’t ask if there will be food during Shemitah – of course G-d will provide us with food! The second group believes, but doesn’t trust. It asks, so G-d reassures it.

G-d looks after both groups, but differently. The first group trusts in G-d completely, so it will see a blessing of quality where a little food will be satisfactory. The second group doesn’t trust so much. It asks what it will eat, and G-d tells it that there will be a blessing, but a blessing of quantity (“produce for three years”). This involves much more work, but the blessing still exists. Those who trust in G-d completely don’t need to see three times the amount of food to calm their fears because they know G-d can do anything. G-d blesses both groups according to what they need in order not to worry.

Every Jew believes because we have a soul that is part of G-d. Our job is to turn belief into trust. The results/rewards will be obvious.

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