Can we rely on the Torah’s promise of agricultural blessing in the sixth year nowadays? The blessing relates to a situation when all of Israel resides in the Land and the Sabbatical year is of biblical status, and not by relying on miracles * Agricultural communities that did not rely on the heter mechira did not merit financial blessing * In the Land of Israel, Divine blessing appears specifically in a natural manner * Outside of the Land of Israel holiness can be revealed only in supernatural ways * When the Children of Israel entered the Land the revealed miracles they experienced in the desert ceased * The greatness of King David in defeating his enemies conventionally, and without miracles
Why Not Trust the Divine Blessing of the Sabbatical Year?
Many people ask, why rely on the heter mechira (a halachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year) and expropriate the requirements of shmitta in the seventh year, when the Torah promised Israel a blessing if it keeps shmitta, as it is written (Leviticus 25: 20-21): “In the seventh year, you might ask, “What will we eat? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.” I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the Land will produce enough crops for three years.” Moreover, as a punishment for the sin of canceling shmitta, Israel is exiled from their land, as it is written (Leviticus 26:34-35): “Then, as long as the land is desolate and you are in your enemies land, the land will enjoy its Sabbaths. The land will rest and enjoy its sabbatical years. Thus, as long as it is desolate, the land will enjoy the sabbatical rest that you would not give it when you lived there.” And our Sages said: “As a punishment for incest, idolatry, and non-observance of the years of shmitta and jubilee, exile comes to the world, they [the Jews] are exiled, and others come and dwell in their place” (Shabbat 33a).
The Simple Answer
The basic answer is twofold:
1) The promise of God’s blessing in the sixth year is when the shmitta year is of Biblical status, as numerous poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have written, among them: Sm”a (Choshen Mishpat 67:2), Haga’ot Ya’avetz, Hidushei Chatam Sofer (on Gittin 36), Pe’at HaShulchan (29:3), Yeshu’ot Malko, Mahari Engel, Maran HaRav Kook (Iggrot 555), and others (and not like the words of Chiddushei HaRim on Gittin ibid, and Hazon Ish, Shevi’it 18:4).
B) The Torah instructs us not to rely on miracles. And it should be pointed out that when all of Israel resides in their Land, every tribe in its place. and the requirement of keeping shmitta is of Biblical status, the miracle comes in a natural manner – i.e., according to common sense, when we see that it is possible to keep the shmitta. But when the obligation is of rabbinic status, at times realistic considerations indicate that keeping shmitta will cause great duress, and will affect the ability to fulfill other mitzvoth which are of Biblical status. In such a case, it is proper to expropriate the obligation of keeping shmitta in the fields by means of the heter mechira, in the same manner as we expropriate the mitzvah of cancelling all financial debts by means of the prozbul (a halachic mechanism that technically changed the status of individual private loans into the public administration, allowing the poor to receive interest-free loans before the Sabbatical year while protecting the investments of the lenders).
If One Wishes to be Precise
Besides this, if some insist on accuracy in regards to Divine blessing, then we have to acknowledge that reality has proved that the blessing does not exist nowadays, for the few communities that tried to abstain from agricultural labor in the Sabbatical year suffered numerous difficulties – over and above the normal difficulties of farmers who were made use of the heter mechira. This, despite them being righteous and hardworking people, God-fearing, and lovers of Eretz Yisrael.
In contrast, the religious kibbutzim and moshavim who worked within the framework of the heter mechira merited abundant blessing, and on top of that, they were virtually unaffected by the great crisis of the kibbutzim thirty years ago. This, in addition to meriting settling the Land on a large scale.
Within this Question Lies the Foundation of Jewish Faith
If we delve further, we find that the foundation of Jewish faith is dependent on this issue. People with superficial faith believe that Divinity is revealed through miracles – in the supernatural. As a result, working for a living is not so important to them, and they do not see a problem in the fact that a large sector of Israel’s society requires support from the State and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God, and if He so desires, even without working, they will merit abundant blessing. Therefore, they also see no value in the study of sciences and its development because it’s natural, and does not address things beyond reality. But the truth is that one of the main ways of revealing faith and Torah is by means of science and reason, as the Vilna Gaon said that secular wisdom is a vital adjunct to the Torah, to the extent that an individual lacking knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, lacks one hundredfold in Torah wisdom.
For this reason, they also tend to believe that the farmers who abstain from working in the shmitta year will be blessed by a miracle, even when according to logic it is evident that not working will cause severe duress and result in a grave blow to the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).
The Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz
Now we can understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz. For this mitzvah forces us to reveal all the values of the Torah within the actual, physical world, with all its earthly considerations and realities.
According to the superficial perception, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is supposed to be revealed without taking into account any real considerations whatsoever. If we are commanded to conquer the land, it should be conquered without any consideration of our military capabilities, and the forces we face. Since this perception contradicts reason and is unachievable, those who advocate it will argue that, in any case, the mitzvah will occur only when the Mashiach comes, and through an open miracle that is beyond any realistic consideration.
According to their view, there’s no need to work for the sake of the kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles) and yishuv ha’aretz, because in their opinion the redemption will come in a miraculous manner that even the Jews who left Egypt did not merit. Rather, suddenly, millions of homes will fall from the sky, together with an infrastructure of roads, electricity, water and sewage, to absorb the masses of Israel who will make aliyah (immigrate) along with the Mashiach from the four corners of the earth. And at that exact moment, the country will be covered with orchards and cultivated fields to feed all the Jews, and industrial plants for the production of food, clothing and furniture, and stores in the cities will instantly arise, to satisfy all the needs of the millions of immigrants.
Such an attitude denies the Torah which commanded us to settle the Land, as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer explained, we must act practically to bring about the redemption.
The Pagan Faith Outside of the Land of Israel
Now we can understand why our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols”, because in chutz la’aretz, faith is revealed only through miracles, only through the supernatural. But in nature, as it were, the sitra achra (the ‘Other Side’) is in control, contrary to God’s divine guidance. However, Jewish faith declares that God is One in Heaven and Earth. The main revelation of faith is in all of nature, with all its rational considerations. This is also the Torah of Eretz Israel, which explains how the Divine blessing descends from the heavens to this world via human efforts of tikun olam (perfecting the world).
Therefore, when the Torah says that God will give His blessing in the sixth year, the meaning is that we will be able to understand logically how the blessing will come to Israel by way of our labor in the six years, and the cessation of work in the seventh year, as I clarified in my previous article according to the Safra, and Rabbi Pinchas Bal Ha’Hafla’ah.
Holiness Revealed in Nature
Maran Harav Kook wrote: “The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine Presence which descended to Exile along with Israel, is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. But the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness, etc.”(Orot Hatechiya 28).
Miracles are Bidieved, Nature is Lechatchila
Indeed, Israel’s existence in the Diaspora is dependent on a miracle that stands in opposition to nature, because customarily, ‘a lone sheep cannot survive among seventy wolves’. Therefore, miracles occupy a central place in the Torah of chutz la’aretz. However, since miracles depart from the regular order of life, they cannot create a praiseworthy reality. Miracles can save or indicate a certain direction, and in this sense, there is room for miracles in Israel as well. But miracles are not the central path through which God’s abundant blessings flow.
As a result, people who go to miracle-workers usually suffer more from illnesses, lack of making a living, and domestic harmony. And although sometimes they merit salvation, since they do not recognize God’s blessings which come naturally by means of practical efforts, most of the abundant Divine blessings are lost to them. And as the Torah says (Deuteronomy 14:29): “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do.”
Divine Blessing Flows via Nature
It is also explained in the Torah portion ‘Bechukothai‘ that the reward promised to Israel when we walk in the ways of God and His Torah will come naturally. The rains will fall in the right time, and the land will give off its harvest abundantly. And the curse, as well, comes naturally – through drought, disease, and enemies.
If God’s goal was for us to live by means of miracles, it would have been preferable to stay in the desert and eat the manna that fell from heaven, as the Spies desired. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter into the Land and work its soil, and take pains to grow its holy fruits. This is the blessing promised us if we keep the Torah – that we will merit to labor and see the blessing of the work of our hands, until the point where we are busy harvesting the fruits and grapes for the entire summer.
How the Land of Israel Functions
In an ideal situation, there is no need for miracles in the Land of Israel, for holiness is revealed in the land itself; this is the hidden miracle which is greater than all other miracles. On the other hand, in Egypt and in the desert, signs and wonders abounded, whose goal was to indicate the path and direction of living a complete life in the Land of Israel. As a result, upon entering the Land the revealed miracles ceased – manna no longer fell from heaven, shoes and clothes wore-out as they normally do, the divine Pillar of Fire, the Cloud, and the Well no longer accompanied Israel. On the other hand, the entire Land of Israel sings the praises of God.
Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all the men from the age of twenty who were fit for military service, in order to prepare them for the conquest of the Land by natural means. And from the time the Jewish nation came into the Land of Israel, they began eating the produce that grew from the land and it was at that moment precisely when they became obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments contingent on the Land).
Similarly, we have learned in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30): “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were David, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu. David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur.”
According to superficial perception of faith, in the sense of chutz la’aretz, it would seem that Chiziyahu was the greatest of all the kings, for the largest miracle was done for him. However, our Sages wanted to teach us that David, King of Israel, is the greatest of all them, for Divine blessing was revealed through his actions.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.