S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 16 August 2014 / 20 Av 5774

Where’s the Beracha?

by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

When a university student brought up in a secular family has an opportunity to spend some time in a Yeshiva like Ohr Somayach he often asks questions. He wants to know, among other things, how it can be determined that the Torah was truly given by the Almighty and not by a man?

One of the numerous responses is the mitzvah of shemita (Sabbatical year). No human being would have the nerve to instruct an entire country to close up agricultural production for a year. The people would starve. Only a Creator can say, “Keep shemita and don’t worry. I will send My blessing, and in the sixth year you will have enough food for you, your families and your animals for three years.”

If that is the case, then why are there so many advertisements to support the farmers? Why did the leading rabbis, starting with Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the Ridvaz, the Chazon Ish and continuing on to the great rabbis of our time endorse so strongly the campaign to raise money for the farmers? G-d already promised that He would take care of them. Don’t we trust Him to keep His word?

This question has been responded to in many ways. The Meirat Einayim explains that the beracha promised by G-d is granted only when all the Jews are living in Eretz Yisrael and shemita is a Torah mitzvah (Sema, Choshen Mishpat 67:2). Nowadays, however, since many Rishonim rule that shemita is “only” a rabbinical mitzvah the special beracha of prosperity does not apply. Rabbi Binyamin Mendelson zt’l notes that the words of the Sema do not mean that we don’t have a beracha. He just means that the tripling of produce in the sixth year doesn’t necessarily happen. As many farmers expressed to me, “Everyone feels the beracha. Some feel it in their bank accounts and others feel it with their health or their children. We have the beracha but it still is difficult to pay for your expenses when you have no income.”

The Chazon Ish (Shvi’it 18:4) disagrees with the Sema. He feels that the special beracha of abundanceapplies even nowadays. He explains that the special beracha written in the Torah is a general one for the country. It promises that we will have the abundance necessary to be able to exist. If we leave it to nature, a country not producing would starve. G-d guarantees us, however, that He will find ways to ensure our continued economic existence. How each farmer fares though, is determined by his individual situation.

Our experience shows us that on the one hand there is a farmer by the name of Baruch Horan of Rosh Pina who reports that despite the fact that it didn’t rain much during the rainy season this year, his crops grew double in size. He harvested the crop just in time, just before the heavy rain that fell after Pesach which would have destroyed the crop had he left it in the field. Because of the weather conditions there was a scarcity of grain and the price was higher than usual. He ended up receiving triple what he got last year.

On the other hand, there are many farmers entering shemita with great trepidation because this year did not provide them with bounty harvests. Eretz Yisrael on the whole though will able to support itself. That is the beracha.

There is a third possibility that I’d like to suggest. Actually, it could fit in to both the Sema’s and the Chazon Ish’s explanations.

The gemara reports a conversation between Turnusrufus and Rabbi Akiva (Baba Batra 10a). Turnusrufus asks Rabbi Akiva,” If your G-d loves poor people, why doesn’t He support them?” Rabbi Akiva answered, “To give us the merit to be able to exist (by helping them).”

I wonder whether G-d sent the beracha to us so that we can support the farmers in order to give us themerit of fulfilling this very precious mitzvah of shemita?


The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com for further information about what we can do to help the farmers, comments and questions

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