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Tuesday
May242016

SHMITA 101

BY Rabbi Zalman Goldberg

Among the myriads of Bitachon messages that the Torah gives us is a profound message which comes from the mitzvah of Shmita

The purpose of the mitzvah of Shmita is that a Yid should have more opportunities to connect to Hashem through davening and learning Torah. Time is usually used to accomplish various mundane activities. Whether we are earning a living or purchasing various day-to-day needs, our focus is not necessarily a holy one. Thus, much of our time is often devoid of k’dusha. Even if our hours and days are not used for anything contrary to k’dusha, the fact that k’dusha doesn’t shine brightly and clearly shows that there remains what to be desired.

It is possible for all worldly activities to have a holy purpose, i.e., to be able to give tz’daka and to have the energy to learn Torah and to fulfill Hashem’s will. This is, however, a very exalted level.  Practically it means that throughout our dealings with worldly endeavors, our thoughts, speech and actions are primarily focused on Hashem and not on the material aspect of what we are doing. Money doesn’t mean money when holding on this lofty level; it is simply a conduit to be able to fulfill Hashem’s ratzon. The first thought will thus be, “How many people can this money help?” and not, “How can I garner more possessions and material comfort?”

A prime illustration of people by whom money was 100% transparent and who were truly able to conduct themselves appropriately even when money was available in abundance was by Reb Eliezer Lipa and his wife1, the parents of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zushe of Anipoli. Reb Eliezer Lipa earned his meager living by delivering water from the nearby well to some of the residents of his town. Inspired by an address delivered by the Baal Shem Tov (who at the time was a nistar) about the value of Mitzvos done sincerely, Reb Eliezer Lipa exchanged some of his better paying clients with a more impoverished water deliverer, for the merit to supply water for the local shuls, even though it meant that his livelihood would be significantly reduced.

This is already a sign of the undistracted manner how Reb Eliezer Lipa viewed money, i.e., as a way to help others and provide for others, and not for his self-aggrandizement. Of course he maintained strong Bitachon in Hashem that He would provide all of his needs. What happened next can be viewed in two ways; either as a reward or as a test. Many of us may view it as a reward, but not so with Reb Eliezer Lipa.

One day while drawing water he caught a fish. This caused him much joy, for now for the first time since he made the exchange of clients he would have fish on his Shabbos table. When his wife was preparing the fish he was out and upon his return she greeted him in a downcast mood. While preparing the fish she found a very precious diamond in its belly. She was worried that they would abuse what Hashem had bestowed them, which would in turn stain their innocent and virtuous way of life. After all, money can do things to people and their minds that they never imagined could happen. People may go from being kind to indifference, from generous to stingy, from being magnanimous to being malicious and from being honest to being deceitful. Such is the test of material wealth.

Reb Eliezer Lipa and his wife decided to sell the precious stone and donate the entire sum to tz’daka. Half of the fortune was given to poor yeshiva students and the other half was given to other poor people. Reb Eliezer Lipa continued his water carrying job. This incident repeated itself when Reb Eliezer Lipa found a broken jug with many gold coins at the river while he was drawing water. Once again the righteous couple set aside all of the money for tz’daka purposes. When Reb Eliezer Lipa’s wealthy uncle passed away with no heir, Reb Eliezer Lipa and his wife were the sole beneficiaries. They utilized this gift from Hashem with true righteousness. They had many houses built on the property, for families of Torah scholars to live rent free, along with a plot of land fit for growing vegetation, so that these families would be able to support themselves.

Ultimately, one who truly engages the world full of G-dly intentions will also eagerly embrace the idea of Shmita, spending an extended period of time connecting to Hashem through Torah and T’filla.

We already have a lot of k’dusha in our lives, through our davening and learning every morning, and conducting our businesses honestly, but a Yid needs extra k’dusha2 and a stronger connection to Hashem which can and should be achieved during the Shmita year.

This applies to all Yidden, even those living in areas where the laws of Shmita don’t exist, because the concept of Shmita applies to every Yid. Every Yid needs to set aside time to reconnect and strengthen his bond with Hashem.

The act of resting from work specifically to connect to Hashem requires a lot of Bitachon in Hashem – faith and reliance in Hashem that He will “take care” of the “resting individual.” For while the Yid is engrossed in his davening, there are many who are advancing their business pursuits, and the laws of nature dictate that they will have more money than the one who is davening. Nonetheless, through relying on Hashem that He will provide those who serve Him with all their needs, that is certainly what will happen, and the Oved Hashem will lack nothing as a result of his ‘leave of absence’ from the mundane world.

There are those who wish to ignore this message by professing that the Torah’s command to rest during the Shmita year is really agricultural advice, to give the ground a rest after producing for six years. They also claim that with certain fertilizers being used to strengthen the ground, it doesn’t need a rest even once every seven years. One of the outcomes is that these people are robbed of a golden opportunity to connect to Hashem.

However, their claim is completely false and the proof is from the fact that the Torah clearly states that Hashem will bless one who resolves to observe the laws of Shmita by giving him enough sustenance during the year prior to Shmita to last for three years (that year, the Shmita year, and the year following Shmita, until the new, post-Shmita, crop comes in). If it were true that after six years of producing, the earth is weak and in need of a rest, then how could the earth produce such a great quantity, three years’ worth! And just at that time, in its most “weakened” state? It must be that the earth doesn’t need a rest; rather, the true intention in the Torah commanding us to keep the Shmita year is to present Yidden with the opportunity to connect to Hashem.

All this applies equally to every Shabbos when worldly pursuits are prohibited. Every Shabbos we suspend our worldly activities to spend a day of holiness with Hashem. After Shabbos is over we partake of the Melaveh Malka repast in a cheerful manner. This can be challenging, for due to all expenses throughout Shabbos, including lavish seudos for family and guests, donations to ones shul for receiving an aliya etc. and not one penny was earned, can be the cause of worrying about how the bills will be covered. Nonetheless, a Yid is able to eat the Melaveh Malka meal with joy.  The reason for this is because Yidden know that all parnasa derives from Hashem, and therefore it is impossible that as a result of observing Shabbos, and thereby serving Hashem, he should incur any financial losses.

By internalizing these Bitachon lessons, to value our opportunities to connect to Hashem through davening and learning Torah, and by realizing that this will not at all diminish from our livelihoods, and that this should all be done with true inner joy, we will certainly enjoy not only a life of spiritual abundance, but all our material needs will easily be available to us as well.

Rabbi Zalman Goldberg is a well sought after speaker and lecturer on Chassidic thought. His writings and recordings on the topic of Bitachon can be accessed at http://www.gotbitachon.com. You can also receive his one minute daily Bitachon clip by sending a WhatsApp to 347.546.4402 with the word “Bitachon.”

 

(Endnotes)

1)  The Storyteller vol. 5 pg. 73-85

2)  לקוש חב ע’ 547 ואילך.

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