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Coronavirus (Part 10)

In last week’s parsha, we learned all about shmittah. For the diaspora Jew, shmittah has been only a lesson in Torah academics. But, for the religious farmer in Eretz Yisroel who does not accept the psak of the heter mechirah (allowing the land to be sold to a gentile and then to continue to use it), shmittah is one of the most herculean challenges of the entire Torah. Imagine a sophisticated farm using all kinds of heavy machinery. This equipment is leased for twenty years but has to be shut down for an entire year. Still, these expensive leases must be paid. Moreover, these farm owners, after tireless attempts to win significant bids for their produce to retailers such as Costco, then lose their contracts overnight to the competition because they can’t service them for an entire year. To exacerbate this, the huge agricultural operation which has trained an army of Arabs to skillfully manage the plantation now has to furlough then and see their workers go to their competitors because they can’t give them work. The stark reality of facing an entire year without an income plus the tension of mounting debts is the regular challenge of shmittah. Lo and behold, as we experience the COVID-19 pandemic, these very same dynamics face Jews all over the world. The barbershop and beauty salon that are shuttered have proprietors who are without income yet still have to pay rent. The caterer without simchas and the restauranteur without diners patronizing their businesses face mounting rents or mortgages and are living an income-less existence. The nursing home operator, besides being devastated by a killing epidemic, finds himself needing to press on without having rehabilitation patients and few elective surgeries that requiring follow-up convalescence, with a staff ravaged through Corona. Consider the Amazon entrepreneurs who cannot travel to restock or find a depletion of customers for their wares. And what about the shul rabbonim who, without shul for months on end, find their source of income dwindling while their mortgages still have to be paid. If anything, the intake of food and other household expenses has doubled because the family is home 24/7. It seems to be that we are all challenged with a shmittah-type existence. So, what is the lesson of shmittah? “Ki li kol ha-aretz,” Hashem says, “The land is mine.” We need to remember that parnasah, our livelihood, is always from Hashem. While hishtadlus, effort is of paramount importance, ultimately Hashem holds the maftei’ach of parnasah, the key of our livelihood. Therefore, this is a time for intense prayer in the blessing of baruch aleinu, the blessing of parnasah. Furthermore, we should make special effort to pray for others such as the dress shop owner, the shoe store proprietor, or the suit store manager, who are packed with inventory that isn’t paid for and yet is not allowed by government rule to even sell to one customer at a time. When we pray for them, we unleash the rule of, “Kol hamispallel b’ad chaveiro v’hu tzarich l’oso davar, hu ne’eneh t’chilah – Whoever prays for his friend and he needs the same thing also, he will be answered first.” We also should remember that this is a time to patronize as much as possible our Jewish brethren. While Amazon and eBay might be more convenient, if you need something and you know a neighbor who has the merchandise, give them your patronage. This is a time for tzedaka, when organizations such as Tomchei Shabbos, Bikur Cholim, and Masbia are really stepping-up to the plate and making a huge difference in the lives of our unfortunate brother and sisters. Finally, many have a hard time sleeping and are faced with mounting depression, as lock downs and quarantines are extended. While we hope never to be tested, the shmittah Jew puts his faith in Hashem and loyally keeps the mitzvahs of shmittah. We too, as we carefully fulfill the mitzvos of v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem, guarding our lives zealously, and v’chai bahem, to keep alive, we should trust Hashem that He will guide us safely through the choppy waters of this pandemic. In the merit of our prayers, tzedaka and bitachon, may Hashem bless us all with good health, happiness, prosperity and everything wonderful.