homepage homepage programs

Parashat Behar-Behukotai: Fear or anxiety?


Keeping the commandment to leave the fields unplanted in the seventh year (Shemita) is a great test of faith, especially in an agrarian society. It is no wonder that the Torah itself acknowledges people’s reaction when it says, “If you will say, ‘what shall we eat in the seventh year, since we may not plant or gather!’”

There seems to be a difficulty in this verse. Normally, the harvest of each year serves as the food for the next year, so the crops of the sixth year will be eaten on the seventh year. Why then are they concerned about the seventh year?

There is a difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is a normal emotion when a person is confronted by an actual threat or danger. Anxiety is of two types. One appears to be due to a chemical imbalance in the body and not of a psychological origin, which may require medical treatment. A second type of anxiety is due to unwarranted concern and fear about the future, and a general feeling of insecurity. This second type of anxiety is greatly diminished with faith in G-d.

The person who lacks faith may be not only insecure about the future, which might be justified as a legitimate fear, but is also likely to become anxious about the present. He is not only concerned about the eighth year, but also what he will do in the seventh year, even though his granary is filled with the harvest of the sixth year.

There are people of limited means who are content with what they have, and live fairly tranquil lives while some people of wealth are tormented by the fear that they will never have enough. With trust in G-d, one can avoid the paralyzing effects of unwarranted anxiety.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaul