Working for a livelihood has never been so hard. Not physically, but mentally draining, due mainly to the influx of technology that beckons our everyday life.
Business is tough and competition ripe. How should we view our competitors and how should we cope in the 21st Century?
The Gemara (Megillah 31b) states that Parashat Bechukotai should be read before Shavuot because Shavuot is a New Year’s Day and day of judgment – on Shavuot G-d determines the success of the year’s fruit harvest. Accordingly, we wish to “dispense with the year’s curses as the year ends.” Parashat Bechukotai contains curses on those who abandon the Mitzvot. However, in order not to enter Shavuot with the curses on our minds, we separate them by one week by reading Bamidbar. (Tosfot Megillah 31b.)
We are always certain to have read this weeks Parshiot Behar Bechukotai in the run up to Shavuot. There is a special lesson to be learnt from these wonderful Parshiot.
Behar deals mainly with the mitzvah of Shemita – the Sabbatical year. All agricultural work in the Land of Israel must stop during every seventh year in the Shemita cycle. The laws of Shemita require that the land must remain fallow.
This special Mitzvah is kept till today, and there are organisations that support farmers for the entire year in order to keep Shemita. Last year the Israeli government approved a $28.8 million budget to prepare farmers for the Shemita!
Interestingly right in the middle of the laws of Shemita, the Torah teaches us the following: “When you sell an item to your fellow man, or buy from the hand of your fellow man, one man should not cheat his brother” (Vayikra 25:14).
It seems peculiar, to say the least, that the Torah taught this particular law of “Ona-ah” (cheating) right in the middle of the halachot of Shemita. Why is “Ona-ah” located in the middle of the halachot of Shemita?
The Bet Av explains that the fundamental concept that underlies the mitzvah of Shemita is that one’s livelihood comes from G-d. If a person works long enough and hard enough and is successful enough in his business, he usually becomes lulled into thinking, “it is ME who is making all this money”. People attribute their successes to their own wisdom, skill, acumen, diligence, etc.
Through this wonderful mitzvah of Shemita we are able to remember that it is Hashem that grants us our livelihood. A person’s sustenance is determined yearly on Rosh Hashanah. Of course, one must exert the appropriate amount of effort, but the amount and the success that one enjoys when it comes to Parnasa (livelihood) is provided by G-d. The proof to that is the Sabbatical year.
During the entire Shemita year, we do not do any work — and somehow or another, we have a livelihood. This Sabbatical makes us stop and think that it is not we who provide for ourselves. It is G-d alone who provides our livelihood. That being the case, it becomes eminently clear why the commandment against cheating is right in the middle of the portion of Shemita.
Imagine the following scenario, someone goes out and steals £1000.
Has his income now increased by £1000? You would say yes. But it is Hashem alone that grants this person his Parnasa and this £1000 can easily be cancelled out by a £1000 fine, medical bill, lawsuit etc. It all works out in the end. If a person honestly believes that G-d is the One who ultimately writes and signs all the cheques, there is absolutely no motivation for cheating — not a friend, not a business, not the Government– no one.
If a person truly believes in what Shemita is all about — that G-d provides us with our livelihood — then why would he cheat his fellow man? Such an attitude can only come from one who thinks that HE is making the livelihood himself. That is why “Ona-ah” is located in the middle of Shemita.
There is a famous story of a shop-keeper that came to Rabbi Meir of Premislan.
“Rabbi, I am ruined. Do you know what is happening across the street from my shop? Someone else is opening another shop. He will take all my business. I will lose my livelihood!”
Rabbi Meir said to the frantic man, “Sit down. Have you ever taken your horse to drink from a pool of water?”
“Yes, Rabbi. But you don’t understand, I am not talking about my horse, it’s my shop, he will ruin me!”
The rabbi continued. “Have you ever noticed how the horse stamps in the water before drinking?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you know why?”
“Good. I will tell you why the horse stamps his hoof.” The rabbi leaned forward in his chair. “The horse sees his reflection in the water. He doesn’t know he is seeing himself; he thinks there is another horse at the pool. The horse is afraid there won’t be enough water for both of them. So he tries to chase away the other horse by stamping.”
The rabbi paused.
“But there is plenty of water for many horses. G-d’s abundance flows like a river.”
The rabbi leaned back in his chair and smiled. For the first time that day, the shop-keeper smiled back.
Hashem created a wonderful world. He has given us his Torah and Mitsvot and told us not to worry. There is plenty of water for everyone.
So long as we keep the faith and understand that there is a G-d in charge, we cannot lose through the actions of others. Somewhere along the line, at some time, all will be complete.
Those that keep Shemita are termed by our Sages as Giborei Koach – people that have immense strength. Their strength lies in allying all their blessings to G-d. They are aware that it is only G-d that provides for their everyday lives.
Before we enter Shavuot we are taught an important lesson. Torah is not just another intellectual book, studied by sages. Rather it is a book of life a gift from G-d and in order to receive such a wonderful Torah we must show our belief. It is Hashem that provides, He is in charge and it is from His blessing that we constantly live. Let us internalise this as we enter and rejoice once again in the giving of His Torah this coming Shavuot.