When is it appropriate to not believe in Hashem?

Parshas B’Har opens with the laws of sh’mitah, including Hashem’s promise to provide for the Jewish people throughout the year when their fields are left fallow. The Torah then suddenly shifts to discuss the obligation to support a fellow Jew in financial need. What is the connection between these two topics, sh’mitah and charity? Or, to quote from Rashi’s opening comment on the parshah: “Mah inyan sh’mitah eitzel Har Sinai?”

Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita explained that sometimes a person can become “too frum” at the wrong time. Consider the field owner who puts his trust in Hashem and abandons his crops for an entire year. Imagine how inspired he feels when he sees that, indeed, Hashem miraculously provides for him – just as He had promised! Now what will happen the next time this farmer opens the door and sees a pauper seeking financial assistance? Based on his recent, personal experience, he might feel justified in preaching to the collector on his doorstep: “My brother, do not worry about food or money! Go home and put your faith in Hashem, and He will surely provide for you – just as He provided for me during sh’mitah!”

But this is a misguided and insensitive attitude, Rav Sternbuch continued. One should never hold others to his own high religious standards. He may only preach bitachon to himself, not assume it at the expense of others. It is for this reason that the Torah discusses the obligation to give charity immediately following Hashem’s assurances of continued sustenance during sh’mitah. Even after attaining the highest degree of emunah in the course of the Sabbatical year, the landowner must maintain personal responsibility to help those who approach him for tz’dakah. He should not “have faith” that it is Hashem who will surely provide for them.

The Satmar Rebbe zt”l once spoke about how even the worst character traits could be utilized for avodas Hashem, as there was an appropriate way and circumstance to use even the most terrible of midos. A daring audience member called out skeptically, “What about k’firah? Is there ever an appropriate situation to not believe in Hashem?” The Satmar Rebbe smiled and replied, “Yes, when someone reaches out his hand and asks for money, you should not believe that Hashem will find some other way to provide for him. You must open your heart and your wallet and give generously!”

Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and presides over its Young Marrieds Minyan, while also pursuing a PsyD in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..