From HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, The Head of Halacha Yomit (translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Shemita Year
It our Parashah we are commanded with the mitzvah of shemita, that every seven years the farmer must let his field lay fallow. (We have explained the laws of shemita in Halachah Yomit.)
It states in the Parasha, “In the seventh year, you might ask, ‘What will we eat [in the jubilee year]? 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” (Vayikra 25:20). (We have already explained [elsewhere] that the Torah’s promise for the sixth year is only when the mitzvah of shemita was required by Torah law, which isn’t the case today when in it by decree of the chachamim.)
We may ask, what is the reason why the Torah felt it necessary to bring the complaint of the regular guy, “What will we eat?”. If a person were to ask about every mitzvah every question that they think of, he may end up not observing many of the Torah’s mitzvot. For example the mitzvah of tithing and similar ones. What has changed here concerning the mitzvah of shemita more than other mitzvot that here the Torah validates the person’s question who is worried with all his concerns and doesn’t accept the Torah’s mitzvot under all conditions?
The reason for this is because there is no greater test than the mitzvah of shemita. For a person toils in his field for many years and then he is forced to cease working for an entire year and to see with his own eyes how is field is no longer cared for. Moreover, strangers come and eat his produce. This is a feat of self-restraint that is almost not found in any other mitzvah! To the extent that our chachamim explained the passuk, “Bless Hashem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding” (Tehillim 103:20), who are the angles of Hashem, strong warriors? These are those who observe shemita! For they forsake their fields to fulfil Hashem’s mitzvah. Their conduct isn’t the normal nature of things but above normal behavior, akin to angels, strong warriors who do His bidding.
Therefore the Torah gave a great amount of thought about the person who has the strength to leave his fields and has faith in Hashem, for Hashem will bless him so that from his hard toil in the sixth year he will have a beracha in his work for three years and he does not worry about his livelihood.
Since this is the case, that mitzvat shemita is so difficult, and it takes great strength for a person to keep it, if so, it stands to reason that it is indeed fitting that one who fulfils this mitzvah will receive great reward for this and it isn’t fitting to punish harshly for this sin.
However we find contrary to this in the Torah. For one who doesn’t observe shemita, the Torah is very strict with his punishment to the extent that the land will be destroyed and desolate due to its utter destruction. As the passuk states, “Then, as long as the land is desolate and you are in your enemies’ land, the land will enjoy its sabbaths (shemittot). The land with rest and enjoy its sabbatical years” (Vayikra 26:34). It appears astonishing and hard to fathom, where is the justice for such a severe punishment of not letting the land lay fallow! The Torah itself categorically states an understanding for a person that it is hard for him to leave his field for one whole year!
Additionally, our chachamim added stringency upon stringency and said, that one who deals commercially with shemita produce will eventually sell his possessions and his home. This needs to be understood.
The explanation of this is that in truth prior to the Torah promising “I will direct My blessing”, the test of shemita was very great and indeed it wasn’t fitting to punish a person who refrains from not working his land for a whole year with such a great punishment. But now, after Hashem has assured that, “I will direct My blessing”, Hashem seeks for each Jew to believe in the Torah’s words will all his strength. And with the strength of his belief the mitzvah of shemita won’t be hard at all, for he knows that he is under Hashem’s oversight that no harm shall befall him [see Mishlei 12:21].
The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz z”l 1550-1619) asks, that if indeed it is so, that in the sixth year the land will produce for three years, if so, it’s difficult to understand what it means, “What will we eat?”, but you can see that the land has produce, an abundant crop! And you have what to eat for three years! If so what are is the question, “What will we eat?”
The Kli Yakar explains that in truth the land will only give in the sixth year enough for one year, Hashem only promised that a blessing will rest on the produce for three years. Herein lay a huge test, to believe that indeed it will be so, that no amount of produce will spoil and it will last for three years. Despite this Hashem expects from Am Yisrael, a Treasured People [see Shemot 19:5], that they believe in the Torah as much as possible and will observe the mitzvot. Anyone who truly believes in Hashem and His blessing, merited that indeed it was so for him, that his produce lasted for three years. So it is for every person who believes in Hashem and fulfils his mitzvot properly and doesn’t seek numerous reasons to refrain for observing the mitzvot, that he will merit to Hashem’s beracha of a good livelihood, health, happiness and all good. As chazal said, “A person who observes the Torah whilst poor will eventually observe it from affluence” (Avot 4:9).