Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5759, May 5 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Shabbos Unto Hashem

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 from it.

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 benefit.

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 doing.

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 doctorate.

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.

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