Shemittah, Bitachon, and Financial Planning

V’chi somru mah nochal bashanah hasheviis (Vayikra 25:20)

Parashas Behar begins with the mitzvah of Shemittah, which forbids us to work the ground in Eretz Yisrael every seven years. The Torah acknowledges that allowing the land to lie fallow for an entire year may seem life-threatening to a farmer whose entire sustenance depends on his produce, and in response to those who are anxious and question what they will eat in the Shemittah year if they are forbidden to plant any crops, Hashem promises to bless the harvest of the sixth year so that it will suffice for three years, until the produce of the eighth year can be harvested.

However, a number of commentators point out a glaring difficulty with this reassurance: If the farmers witness this miracle in the sixth year, why would they ask what they will eat if they don’t work the ground, when they already have enough food to eat until the following year?

The Alter of Novardok was renowned for his extreme level of trust in Hashem, and he used to sign his letters Beis-Beis, which stood for Baal Bitachon. In line with his personal philosophy, he offers a novel approach to these difficulties. He suggests that the farmer’s question about what he will eat during the Shemittah year will not be asked in the sixth year or the seventh year of the Shemittah cycle, but rather in the first year.

He explains that human nature causes a person to worry about the distant future and long-term financial security, and if he thinks he will need something at some point down the line, he becomes anxious about the fact that he currently lacks the resources to acquire it. Even though he currently has everything he needs, he convinces himself that he must prepare little by little so that when the time inevitably comes, he will have enough savings accumulated to be able to meet his future needs.

The unfortunate side effect of this approach is that the person denies himself the ability to benefit from his present state, since he convinces himself that he must voluntarily set aside a portion of his current assets for the future. This stands in contrast to the tzaddik who is able to fully enjoy what he currently has, trusting in Hashem to provide for him in the future just as He has provided for him until now.

Applying this concept to the mitzvah of Shemittah, the Alter explains that when the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, some of them were lacking in bitachon and did not fully trust the Torah’s promise that the produce of the sixth year would miraculously sustain them for three years. After they planted their initial crop, instead of enjoying their successful harvest, they were so worried about how they would provide for themselves during the Shemittah year that they decided to eat the bare minimum to satisfy their hunger, while saving the rest to eat during Shemittah.

Unfortunately, in doing so, they negated one of the primary purposes of the mitzvah of Shemittah, which is to strengthen our trust in Hashem to provide for us, not in our ability to use our wisdom to outsmart the system. Even though these farmers believed in Hashem, as evidenced by their dedication to observe the laws of Shemittah despite the tremendous risk and difficulty involved in doing so, they nevertheless did not fully trust Him to save them from starvation. As a result, they observed the letter of the law of Shemittah, while completely missing out on the spirit of the law.

In light of this explanation, the Alter suggests that the Torah precedes the farmer’s question about what he will eat during Shemittah by stating, “The land will give forth its fruits, and you will eat and be full, and you will dwell securely upon it” — not as a blessing, but as a command. Hashem understood that there would be individuals who were lacking in bitachon and would be obsessed with their concerns about the future. Hashem recognized that they would be tempted to eat the bare minimum during the first six years of the Shemittah cycle in order to have enough food saved up to eat during the Shemittah year. Therefore, the Torah preempts that faulty line of reasoning by commanding us to eat to satiety throughout the entire Shemittah cycle and to trust that just as Hashem provided for us today, so too will our future needs be met. As a result, we will be able to dwell securely and confidently in Eretz Yisrael.

Although none of us is on the Alter’s legendary level of bitachon, his message is still quite relevant. Even as we operate in a world that appears to run based on the laws of nature and which requires us to prudently plan for our futures, it is incumbent upon us to always remain cognizant of the true Source of those natural laws, and to give credit accordingly.

Q: The Torah stresses the importance (Vayikra 25:23–34) of redeeming ancestral land and returning it to its rightful owner. In the Messianic era, will all land be returned to its original owners, or will there be a new division?

A: Citing the Gemara (Bava Basra 122a), the Chazon Ish writes that there will be a new division of the land in the Messianic era. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman notes that this is also implied by the verses in Yechezkel 47–48.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.