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Holiness through Nature

Can we rely on the Torah’s promise of agricultural blessing in the sixth year nowadays?


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Iyar 26 5775
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."
The Basic 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 noted that when all of Israel resides in their Land, every tribe in its place, and the requirement of keepingshmitta is of Biblical status, the miracle appears 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, realistic considerations sometimes indicate that keepingshmitta 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 halakhic 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 You Want to be Precise
Moreover, if some people insist on being exact about issues of divine blessings, then it must acknowledged that reality has proven that the blessing does not presently exist, because 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 utilized the heter mechira. And this, despite the farmers 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 furthermore, they were virtually unaffected by the great crisis of the kibbutzim thirty years ago. Additionally, they also merited 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 matters beyond this world. Thus, as far as they are concerned, working for a living is not so important, and they see no problem in the fact that a large sector of Israel’s Jewish population requires support from the State and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God and if He so desires, they will be blessed abundantly without even working.
Therefore, such people also see no value in the study of science and its advancement because it’s natural and does not address matters beyond reality. But the truth is that one of the main methods 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.
Therefore, such people 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 clear that not working will cause severe difficulties 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,since 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 a superficial perception, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is meant to be revealed without taking into account any realistic considerations at all. If we are commanded to conquer the land, it should be conquered without taking into account our military capabilities, or those of our enemies. Since such a way of thinking is illogical and impracticable, its champions argue that, in any case, the mitzvah will take place only when the Mashiach comes, and through a revealed miracle beyond any realistic consideration.
According to their way of thinking, there’s no need to work for the sake of the kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles) or yishuv ha’aretz, because in their opinion the redemption will come in a miraculous manner that even the Jews who left Egypt failed to merit. Instead, millions of homes will suddenly fall from the sky, together with a system 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 contradicts the Torah, which commanded us to settle the Land, and as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer explained, we must act concretely to bring about the redemption.
The Idolatrous 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, whereas 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 words of the Midrash Sifra, 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, whereas the Divine Presence which descended into Exile together with Israel is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. However, the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness, etc."(Orot Hatechiya 28).
Miracles are Bidieved (ex post facto), Nature is Lechatchila (from the onset)
Indeed, Israel’s existence in the Diaspora is dependent on a miracle that stands in opposition to nature, because conventionally, ‘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 blessed reality. Miracles can rescue, or point out a certain direction, and in such a 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 problems with domestic harmony. And although sometimes they merit relief, since they do not recognize God's blessings that 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 your hands produce."
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 the 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 was the opinion of the Spies. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter into the Land and work its soil, taking 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 is Governed
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 any other miracle. On the other hand, in Egypt and in the desert signs and wonders abounded, whose goal was to indicate the path and direction for 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 began to wear-out, the divine Pillars of Fire and Cloud and the Well no longer accompanied Israel. Then again, 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 ground, and precisely then, became obligated to fulfill the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments contingent on the Land).
Four Kings
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 (Hezekiah) . 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.

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