Imagine that it’s the end of an especially trying week. You feel depleted emotionally, and physically drained. You bump into a particularly difficult individual—an acquaintance, colleague, neighbor—someone who has a knack of rubbing you in all the wrong ways.
Generally, you try very hard to remain positive with this individual, but it requires every ounce of your patience and guard not to fall into the trap of escalating negativity. Today of all days, is there any hope?
You bite your tongue, you take deep breaths, you try hard to remain pleasant, but the conversation quickly deteriorates.
And then something happens. Perhaps precisely as a result of your worn-out state, this individual recognizes your effort—and responds positively.
Surprisingly, from that point on, there is a change in the dynamics of the relationship. It’s almost as if this individual sensed that your effort was proof of how much he or she meant to you. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Perhaps your circumstances finally made you understand just how important this relationship is to you.
There is an interesting passage in this week’s Torah portion.
“If you shall say: What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce! But I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years . . . ” (25:20–21)
The seventh year is shemittah, a Sabbatical year; Jews are not permitted to plant or reap. After planting uninterrupted for the previous five years, the sixth year’s growth is naturally less abundant. Nevertheless, G‑d assures us that this year will provide sustenance for that year, as well as for the seventh year and beyond.
Metaphorically, the seven-year shemittah cycle corresponds to the seven millennia of history. For six thousand years we labor in preparation for the seventh millennium, the era of Moshiach that is “wholly Shabbat and tranquility.”
We may wonder: “What shall we eat in the seventh year?” If the spiritual giants of earlier generations failed to bring about a perfect, tranquil world, what can possibly be expected of us? If the efforts from five millennia of history could not achieve the universal Sabbath, what can be expected of us, the “sixth year,” exhausted and depleted of spirit?
The Rebbe explains that precisely because our spiritual resources are so meager now after so many centuries of harrowing exile, our trials and achievements are so much more meaningful—and so much more precious to G‑d, who promises to bless our efforts.
And perhaps, too, our insistence to maintain a connection with G‑d despite the ravages of our exile finally makes us realize how important this relationship is.
Because often when our situation seems hopeless, when we are at our rope’s end and we still hold on, our smallest effort yields the greatest result.