The Gemara quotes the verse (Vayikra 25:20) referring to the Shemittah year:

וְכִ֣י תֹאמְר֔וּ מַה־נֹּאכַ֤֖ל בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑ת הֵ֚ן לֹ֣א נִזְרָ֔ע וְלֹ֥א נֶאֱסֹ֖ף אֶת־תְּבוּאָתֵֽנוּ׃

And should you ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?”

There are some basic textual problems:

  1. Why does the Torah anticipate the question on this mitzvah? Does the Torah ask, maybe you’ll be worried that a bris milah will hurt too much? Or does it ask, maybe you won’t like eating potatoes on Pesach? Or perhaps you’ll get fatigued from checking for bugs in the lettuce? Why is one more act of faith significant amongst numerous others?
  2. Also, why is the concern over year seven? The concern should really be in year eight. In year seven there is still the harvest from year six. But in year eight, everyone is running on empty as there was no plowing and seeding in year seven.

The answer (based on an amalgam of commentaries) to both questions is that the Torah is speaking about a specific psychic hardship and not ordinary everyday adversity. By this I mean the concept of psychological uncertainty. In Talmudic idiom, “One cannot compare the feeling of one who has bread in his basket to the one who does not.” It is not the lack of bread in the seventh year that is the problem. It is the fear about the eight year that induces panic and even starvation in the seventh year. You might laugh this off, but think of the stockpiling and hoarding of gasoline, thermometers, Tylenol and toilet paper during the early days of COVID. This is what happens.

Hashem is addressing this too-human tendency and assuring there will be enough food in year six to counter panic, stockpiling and hoarding. Perhaps the greatest tzaddikim would have Faith regardless, however the Torah speaks to the common man as well.


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Translations Courtesy of Sefaria