During the current Sabbatical (shmita) year, which is the seventh year in the Torah-mandated cycle, all agricultural work in the Land of Israel must stop. As one can imagine, this mitzvah has a major impact on the entire country, from the farmers to the consumers. How are we to eat vegetables if we cannot work the land? (More on that in another article I wrote.)
Something strange pops up right in the middle of the Torah’s narrative on the laws of shmita. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Torah interjects with the following mitzvah: “When you sell an item to your friend or buy from the hand of your friend, one should not cheat his brother”.
Cheating is a very important and prominent law, and in fact, the Torah discusses it a number of times, not only here. Nevertheless, it is peculiar that the Torah attaches the laws of cheating to the laws of shmita. What is going on here? Is there a connection between them?
Indeed, the commentators teach that there a direct connection as well as a lesson to be learned here. The most elementary message of the mitzvah of shmita is that one’s livelihood comes from God. One should never think that he or she alone is responsible for personal success and income. It is all from God.
No farmer has ever starved as a result of observing the laws of shmita. And yet, he may have had little or no income during the shmita year. God can make you rich or poor whether you work or not. With the mitzvah of shmita, God is teaching everyone: “Livelihood comes from me!”
Make no mistake; we must certainly make the effort in life to succeed. We must use our God-given talents and work hard – but ultimately, one’s income is decided by God on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.
The Jewish farmer in the Land of Israel is forced to have more faith in God than anyone else. Can you imagine being told not to work for an entire year? Yet somehow, as mentioned, no farmer has ever starved by observing shmita. We must learn from the farmers! We must learn to have trust in Hashem. Just as all is well with them even though they do not work for a year, we must have faith that we, too, are always in God’s hands and that all will be well.
So how is cheating connected to shmita?
When one has no income, or worse, if one thinks he does not have enough income, he or she might be tempted to cheat or steal. It goes without saying that stolen money is not money that God wanted you to have. So too, one cannot ‘outsmart’ God and ‘force’ Him to give more than He had allotted to you. If a person steals a thousand dollars, he will not get very far with it. I can assure you that somehow he will be faced with an unexpected one-thousand-dollar expense, be it a speeding ticket, a leak in the roof or worse.
Certainly, Shmita and cheating are closely connected. Both remind us that God provides us with everything we need. A person who believes that God is truly in control has no reason to cheat his fellow in order to make an undeserved profit.
“Israel – trust in God! He is your help and your shield.” (Psalms 115:9)
Written by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbinic Director, United with Israel