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Sabbatical and trust in God

Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )

by Yehuda Appel

The story is told of a European Jew at the turn of the century who, tired of the constant grind of poverty, determined to solve his plight by playing the lottery. Fearing that what he was doing was not exactly "kosher," the fellow went to his rabbi and asked approval for the plan. He explained that his actions would do nothing more than provide the Almighty with the opportunity to send him some well-needed money. Moreover, the fellow said, he had complete trust that God would answer him.

"How many tickets are you buying?" asked the rabbi. "Three" said the man. "One should be enough for God", was the rabbi's laconic reply.

The concept of bitachon - "trust in God" - plays a critical role in Jewish thought. Just as a person should strive to observe the Mitzvot, he or she should also try to develop bitachon, a consciousness that God is actively involved in our lives. In fact, the acquisition of this "God awareness" is so vital that some commentators explain this as the true goal of Torah observance.

While true acquisition of bitachon can be a tremendously liberating experience, it is also very hard to achieve. We live in a world where our daily routine and the "natural course of events" actually may lead us to forget about God. How many of us limit our lottery purchases to one ticket?!

In striking fashion, this week's Torah portion addresses this issue. Much of the Parsha is devoted to a description of laws concerning the sabbatical year ("shmita") that takes place in Israel every seventh year. In Biblical times, debts were cancelled on the shmita year, and servants were set free.

Even today, farm land is not to be worked during the shmita year. Throughout the entire Land of Israel, no Jewish farmer should plow or plant. This hiatus not only helps improve the quality of the soil, but provides the Jewish People with more free time to study Torah.

This system of shmita, however, would seem to create one great problem: a lack of food! Concerning this issue, however, God assures us not to worry:

"Perhaps you will say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year for we cannot sow nor gather our crop?' I (God) will command my blessing upon the sixth year and it will bring forth (enough) produce for three years." (Leviticus 25:20-21)

The Chazon Ish (20th century Israel) explains that while this does not guarantee that every individual will receive a triple crop, it does mean that collectively the Jewish People's land will yield crops in far greater abundance than would be "natural." In this way, we are reminded that it is God who is the force behind the natural order, and when He so chooses He dispenses in proportions far beyond "natural."

In this sense, the shmita year parallels the Sabbath, whose major function is also to remind us that it is God who created the world - and ultimately controls His world. Integrating this idea into one's life is the foundation of bitachon - true trust in the Almighty.


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