Friday, June 05, 2020

Imagine the life of those who spend their daily hours working vigorously in their farms, rain, snow or shine, investing an immense amount of time and energy to ensure that their field develops rich and bountiful produce so that they can have food for themselves and their loved ones. For many years they plow, plant, sow and reap, with careful dedication—only until the shemitah year arrives where the Torah commands “and in the seventh year...you shall not sow your field...you shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest (it must be rendered ownerless for everyone (i.e., available for everyone to take from) (Rashi)...it shall be a year of rest for the land” (Vayikra, 25:4, 5). Such a person is expected to abandon his field, leave aside his hard work and toil, only to watch other people come and enjoy the “fruits of his labor.”

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 1:1) brings the pasuk in Tehillim that says, “Bless Hashem, His angels—who are strong warriors that do His Will, who listen to His Word.” [This pasuk is basically saying that the angels who are mighty and that listen to and follow Hashem’s will should bless Hashem.] The Midrash asks, to what is this pasuk referring to? The Midrash brings R’ Yitchak who says that it refers to those people who abide by the laws of sheviit (i.e., shemitah). R’ Yitzchak explains why they are referred to as “mighty warriors”: “Usually, people can follow through on a certain mitzvah for a day, for a week, and even for a month; but for an entire year? Yet, [for an entire year] this person sees his field abandoned and desolate. Isn’t this the epitome of what a “gibor” (strong person) truly is?” 

Rav Chaim Shmulevits expounds upon this midrash and why this person is such a “gibor.” One may think that in the makeup of a person is the strength to prevail over his inclination for perhaps a day, or two—and if he really strengthens himself, a week, or a month. But to withstand for an entire year, to watch his field lay unattended to—the field that he worked so hard on and sweated over—that it’s now open and free for all to come and enjoy the products of his labor...while he has to sit back and remain silent. Such a phenomenon, such self control, is unfathomable and above the natural state of a typical human being. Thus, says Rav Chaim, this is why he is considered a “mighty warrior,”, and also why the pasuk refers to him as an “angel”—for he has surpassed natural human tendencies that would otherwise hinder a person’s ability to remain so passive.

Where does such a strength come from? Rav Chaim explains by bringing the Gemara in Shabbat that discusses the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai when they confidently proclaimed “we will do and we will listen.” The Jews didn’t first ask to “listen”—to get the details on what the Torah was all about—but rather, they first firmly accepted upon themselves the Torah, “we will do,” without asking any questions. The Gemara says that a Heavenly voice came out and asked [rhetorically], “Who revealed to my sons [i.e., the Bnei Yisrael] the secret with which the angels utilize, as it says ‘bless Hashem, His angels, who are strong warriors, who do His Will, who listen to his Word’?” [Meaning, just like the angels precede doing Hashem’s Will before listening to His will, so did the Jews first accept to do Hashem’s Will before listening, before questioning and getting into the details, etc.] Rav Chaim says that the secret mentioned in the Gemara is the secret that affords the strength to those who abandon their fields. The proclamation of “we will do” essentially comes from an emunah in Hashem that following His Will is, and will spell, ultimate success and benefit. It’s an “emunah peshuta,” a simple emunah, that does not involve complex calculations, or philosophical depth, but rather a simple but deeply implanted belief in Hashem that is felt profoundly in the heart of the person. This secret referred to by the Heavenly voice is really this emunah, and it’s this belief that gives one the confidence and strength to let go of his field for others to enjoy, while he sits back and lets in the Will of Hashem. These people don’t ask and wonder about how they will survive and how they will feed their family; they don’t ask to first listen, but rather they first do—they accept as if they have nothing to be afraid of.

This idea can allow us to have a greater appreciation for the famous words in Pirkei Avot: “Who is considered strong? He who subdues his nature” (4:1). Rabbeinu Yona explains that this strength that is being referred to is a strength that is found in the heart, and this strength of the heart contains two aspects. 1) The strength to overcome and subdue one’s nature and impulse. 2) The strength to not be afraid. (Rabbeinu Yona in this second strength speaks specifically about not being afraid when at war, but ostensibly it can be applied to any situation in which one feels fear from a lack of emunah). This Rabbeinu Yona fits well with our topic. The “gibor” in our parsha who lets go of his field in the seventh year is a gibor who shows strength by overcoming his nature by letting go of his field, and he is also a gibor in that he shows his strength by not being afraid since he has a firm emunah in Hashem.

Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]