In the year of shmittah, all toilers of the earth go
on a Sabbatical, a period designed to strengthen their faith
and reliance in Hashem.
There seems to be a new spirit in the world, an atmosphere
not congenial to bnei Torah, in which a new type seems
to be emerging, or a denigration of the true representation.
In one swoop, the tillers of the land are transformed into
its heroes, gibborei koach, a title reserved for the
angels alone, by virtue of their standing idly by while their
formerly-tended fields produce thorns and briars.
Why is this particular segment of the population subject to
this awesome test? Why are not the businessmen, the
entrepreneurs, not required to stand a similar trial?
In general, tests sent a person's way are geared to their
spiritual condition; they are in accordance to their ability
to withstand it, and correspond to Heaven's overall
assessment of the factors involved, which include the
person's place and mission on this world. Shmittah is
different: it affects an entire segment of professionals
across the board, regardless of their personal spiritual
stature and situation.
Truth to tell, this particular test is the strong point of
farmers, who live with this challenge season in and season
out. And this test, therefore, is presented davka to
those who can pass it, whose chances are better than those
engaged in different areas of seeking their livelihood.
Chazal define the occupation of agronomy as "emunah."
The verse, "Vehoyo emunas itecho chossen yeshuos --
And He shall be the stability of your times, a store of
salvation," they say, refers to the various orders of the
Oral Law, with the first order of the Mishna, Zeroim,
corresponding to the word emunah, since one who is
occupied in sowing -- burying good seed in the ground -- must
necessarily have faith that Hashem will cause food to grow
One cannot sow unless one has faith. Even farmers who know
nothing of Judaism must necessarily, unconsciously, be people
of trust, for how can they know for sure that sufficient rain
will fall, that it will fall at the right time and place and
so on? Even in the age of technology, one cannot rely on
weather forecasts, especially long range predictions and
seasonal prognoses. These are very often subject to
unforeseen changes and are often most disappointing. This is
because the key of rain was not transmitted to an angel or to
natural law, or to meteorological cycles, but remains in the
hands of Hashem.
Therefore, were it not for a blind sense of trust, no farmer
would be foolhardy enough to take the risk of investing large
amounts of good seed, worth lots of money, upon a gamble that
it will "take" and germinate to produce a good harvest.
A person is led along the path he chooses for himself. Since
trust is his backbone, the Torah chooses to put the farmer to
a further test in this very area -- a once-in-seven-years
test, in order to further strengthen this very trait. "I am
Hashem Who teaches you for your profit, Who leads you by the
path that you should go" (Yeshaya 48:17). The Torah
guides and advances each person in the way that he has
already begun to follow, and thus teaches him for his
The trust that the farmers demonstrate in the seventh year is
a testimony and a concretization of the inner faith they
harbor throughout the other years. "The attribute of
emunah," writes the Chazon Ish, "has graded levels.
The meager of faith are also included in the category of the
faithful, even though this trait is weak by them. When a
person is confronted by a dangerous situation, he will
naturally be frightened. But overcoming the fear and
replacing it with trust, or seeing the truth . . . is
considered the attribute of bitochon."
There was a wealthy man, a contemporary of the Chofetz Chaim,
who gave generously and lavishly to every worthwhile cause or
needy individual. As fate decreed, he lost his wealth and
became a pauper. Someone who heard of his plight asked the
Chofetz Chaim how such a thing came to pass. If he had indeed
used his money properly, to help others to the best of his
ability, why had he deserved the curse of poverty? This is a
question that most people refrain from expressing, in the
trust that Hashem, Who runs this world, knows what He is
The Chofetz Chaim replied in his charming manner and said,
"The man began as a doctor and went on to become a professor,
a specialist! What do I mean? All situations in this world
are different tests for a person, as it is written in
Mesilas Yeshorim: `Poverty on the one hand and wealth
on the other,' as Shlomo said: `Lest I become sated and deny
You and say: Who is Hashem, or less I become poor and steal
and violate the name of Hashem' (Mishlei 30:9). Either
way, the battle carries on." The Chofetz Chaim continued to
explain: It is the custom in this world that if a person has
successfully passed his exams in medical school and been
awarded a degree, he will not rest on his laurels. He will
practice medicine for several years while steadily moving
towards the next stage of advancement, a Ph.D. degree. It is
his success at the former stage that paves the way for his
The various tests which a person encounters are also lessons
and advancement. Whoever overcomes one hurdle goes on to the
next, more difficult obstacle.
The rich man of whom we spoke passed the test of wealth. He
did not use his money for personal gain and comfort; he did
not deny that it came from Hashem. He did not wax fat,
rebellious or haughty. Rather, he utilized his wealth for the
good, and his merit is everlastingly to his credit.
But that test was now behind him. Those circumstances need no
longer serve to prove his mettle. He has advanced to the next
stage, where poverty is his test. Heaven saw fit to make him
poor to see if he could overcome this difficulty and still
trust in Hashem.
The "heroic men of valor who perform His will" in observing
Shmittah complete a six year course leading to a
doctorate in emunah. "He trusts in the Creator and
buries his seed in the ground." And during the Sabbatical
year, they go forward to a more difficult test in
bitochon, which they will hopefully pass in strength
and with great success.