The mitzvah of Sh’mitah is dependent on our level of belief. The Torah states: “If you will ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold! We did not sow nor gather in our crops.” I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years.” In other words, the Divine blessing that would enrich the soil as a result of the observance of Sh’mitah would compensate threefold for the perceived loss of revenue while the land was allowed to lie fallow. This takes great faith – not just pious words. Do we put our money where our mouths are? Do we place our trust in Him and follow His word to the fullest? Whether it’s keeping Shabbos, honesty in business, or going the extra mile to give tz’dakah, Sh’mitah reminds us that Har Sinai represents a bridge between theory and practice, faith and action, trust and resolve. Upon that mountain, the Almighty took us in as His partner in the business of creation. He wants a strong partner. Hashem wants us to succeed; He wants us to pass the test. He’s been imploring us ever since: “Don’t be a shvacher shutaf (a weak partner).”
An international dealer in high-end fabrics once visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt”l. As an active member of the Chabad community in London, England, the businessman was quite familiar with how the Rebbe’s advice and blessings had impacted many people’s lives in virtually every area of human experience. At one point in their discussion, he put forth a tongue-in-cheek proposal for the Rebbe to partner with him in a business venture.
The man was smiling but the Rebbe turned serious. “Fair enough,” the Rebbe said. “Remember, though, that in a partnership, neither partner gets to make a move without the consent of the other. Do we have a deal?”
Though skeptical about the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s knowledge of his trade, the man was nevertheless excited about this opportunity to “partner” with the great Jewish leader, and readily took the deal. The Rebbe then advised him to make a large purchase of a certain material that hadn’t even been on the man’s radar screen. The dealer went home and placed a large order for this unusual fabric. When he reported back to New York, the Rebbe responded that the purchase was way too conservative. A much larger quantity should have been purchased. On the Rebbe’s say-so, the man went out and bought astronomical quantities of the material – to the point of investing his entire personal fortune to pay for the shipments.
To the man’s chagrin, shortly after the acquisitions, the value of this material began to plummet. Perhaps, he thought, he should sell at least some portion of it. As promised, he contacted the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his consent. To his surprise, the Rebbe did not grant consent, and reminded him of their agreement with regard to unilateral moves.
As the price of the material continued to sink, so did the man’s spirits. Every day, he watched his fortune slipping further and further away. All pleas to the Rebbe were met with the same answer: “Do not sell.”
Facing financial ruin, the man began to question his entire relationship with the Rebbe and Lubavitch. Perhaps it was all a mistake. With each day’s devaluation of his inventory, his distance from the Chabad community widened.
The bleeding continued for several months. One day, the man noticed that the price suddenly took a slight tick back up. Excited, the man again consulted the Rebbe. But the Rebbe still withheld consent. When the price rose to where he could break even, the Rebbe still would not green-light the sell-off. The man’s disillusionment turned to bitterness.
Shortly thereafter, a famous Italian fashion designer put out a line that called for extensive use of this unusual material. The man in England had the market cornered. When he reported this to the Rebbe, he was told that the time had come to sell. The inventory went fast. The man made many millions in profit. He excitedly boarded a plane to hand the Rebbe a check for his “share” but the Rebbe declined, requesting that the man give the money to charity instead.
The chastened man then asked the Rebbe if they could perhaps pursue another venture together. The Rebbe smiled as he demurred. “I’m sorry,” he said to the hopeful businessman. “You’re a shvacher shutaf, a weak partner.”