When Worries Backfire

Taking a stroll one sunny day, Shmuel passes by his neighbor’s property and spies the pe’ah, the stalks of wheat left at the edge of the field for the poor. While Shmuel, who is quite well-to-do, knows he isn’t eligible to take pe’ah, he immediately thinks of his impoverished friend Yankel. Is he permitted to take some of the pe’ah for his friend?

The question is a matter of dispute  among the Chachamim and Rabi Eliezer (Bava Metziah 9a). While the former prohibits it, the latter permits it, using a concept known as migoi — “since.”

Since a rich man, if he wants to, can renounce ownership of his possessions and become poor, thus eligible for pe’ah, now too, while he is still wealthy, it is regarded as appropriate for him. Furthermore, since he can acquire it for himself, he can also acquire it for his friend.

The Modzhitzer Rebbe, zy”a, wonders about this Gemara in his sefer Divrei Yisrael. Who in his right mind would willfully renounce ownership of all his possessions? The concept of migoi isn’t open-ended, and we generally don’t apply it when it is extremely unlikely to occur.

The Rebbe explains that the answer lies in this week’s parashah: “If you say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year, for we will not sow and we will not gather in our crop?,’ I will command My blessings for you in the sixth year and it will produce a crop that will suffice for three years.”

During the year of shemittah, a property owner essentially declares the produce of his field to be hefker, and he is rewarded with a special blessing from Hashem for a crop so bountiful that it will suffice for three years.

In a similar vein, if Shmuel were to renounce his possessions in order to benefit his poor friend, he would certainly be rewarded many times over. For even if one isn’t on the exalted level to give everything away out of ahavas Yisrael, he would certainly agree to do so as a wise, guaranteed investment. Therefore, the notion isn’t at all far-fetched, and the concept of migoi can readily be applied.

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One of the primary reasons given by meforshim for the mitzvah of shemittah is that it serves to instill in Klal Yisrael the concept of bitachon, relying solely on Hashem. A crucial component of bitachon is the recognition that it isn’t our hishtadlus that produces parnassah.

The Chofetz Chaim told a parable about a fellow who decided that the train on which he was traveling was moving too slowly. Much to the astonishment of his fellow passengers, he walked to the front of his compartment and began to push on the wall with all his strength.

“What are you are doing?” they asked him.

“Whenever my horse struggles to pull my wagon up a hill, I get out and push the back of the wagon. So here, too, I am trying to push the train to get it to go faster.”

The other passengers were quick to point out his naïveté. “Do you really think that with your limited strength you can help move a powerful locomotive — and from the inside, no less?”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that those seeking to increase their earnings at the expense of learning Torah make the same error as the train passenger. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the One Who grants sustenance to all His creations, and the attempts of feeble mortals to alter the matter have no impact on the results.

Chazal teach us (Kiddushin 82): “Rabi Shimon ben Elazar says, ‘I never saw a deer cutting firewood, a lion serving as a porter, nor a fox as a storekeeper. They, who were created to serve me, merit a livelihood without pain. Shouldn’t I, who was created to serve Hashem, merit to earn my livelihood without tzaar? It is only because I sinned, and thus I deprived myself of my parnassah.’”

Of course we are obligated to perform the requisite hishtadlus, but the fact that we must earn our living “by the sweat of our brow” is part of the punishment mankind received following the sin of Adam Harishon. It is not what brings parnassah.

Harav Yechezkel, the Rebbe of Kuzmir, zy”a, remarked that the world makes a serious error. People choose to worry about parnassah, something which is solely up to Hashem, and fail to worry about yiras Shamayim, which is completely in their hands. In reality, they should be doing exactly the opposite.

Not only is worrying about parnassah unhelpful and unnecessary, it is actually counterproductive. Worrying is a sign of a lack of bitachon and actually pushes away a livelihood. Strengthening oneself in emunah and bitachon creates a conduit through which one merits to have all of his material needs provided.