The laws of Shmittah, the Sabbatical Year, are so unique, and so contrary to nature, that they are used to demonstrate that G-d has true power over His world, and gave us the Torah.

Today, observance of the Sabbatical every seven years is a Rabbinic obligation (in the land of Israel). But when it was obligated by Torah, when the Jewish nation was settled in the full extent of the Biblical homeland, it came with a guarantee of plenty: “And if you shall say, ‘what shall we eat during the seventh year, behold [the land] is not planted and our crop is not gathered;’ I will Command my Blessing to you in the sixth year, and the crop will make [the equivalent of] three years” [Lev. 25:20-21].

Many of us learned, in school if not on actual farmland, about the principles of crop rotation: land is depleted of nutrients by growing crops. So by planting three divisions of farmland with grains one year, legumes the next, and leaving the land fallow the third, farmers would ensure best production from each field, allowing each to recover.

But following that cycle, when did fields produce the best crop? In the first year of a cycle, of course. Yet the blessing provided by the Torah for observing the Sabbatical says precisely the opposite: in the sixth year, when the land should be at its worst, it will instead provide, not merely an improvement, a “bumper crop,” but a triple crop. That meant that the blessing was unmistakable, that no one could confuse it with a naturally occurring better year.

The Torah even denies itself a natural “out:” a claim that “we must not have deserved it.” If the promised crop failed to materialize, surely it was due to our own sins and wrongdoing, such that we were denied the blessing, right?

Nothing doing. As we will read next week, punishment for failing to properly observe the Shmittah, and G-d’s other laws, is exile, not a failed crop. “I will scatter you among the nations… then the land will be satisfied with its Sabbaths, all the days it is fallow, and you in the land of your enemies…” [Lev. 26:33-34]

Like with the Man that the Jews ate during forty years in the desert, the Torah is reminding us that we’re not in charge, no matter how things might seem to us at times. We have to put in our efforts, but whether a person sees financial or other success from those efforts depends upon G-d’s blessing. The Ba’alei Mussar (masters of spiritual development) remind us to see past the facade of the world in which we live, to realize there is, at all times and in all places, a Master of the Universe pulling the strings.

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