This week, I spent the day with Israeli farmers who were racing against the clock to prepare for the upcoming Sabbatical Year. When the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashana begins next month, we will be entering the seventh year, known as “Shmita” in Hebrew.
The first mention of Shmita in the Torah comes from Exodus:
“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat.” (Exodus 23:10)
Just like God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh which we honor with the Shabbat each week, the Sabbatical year is an expansion of that same idea. For six years we are to work, but in the seventh year, we are to rest.
While most of us are enjoying the remaining weeks of summer, the hard-working farmers of Israel are busy harvesting day and night in the final weeks of the sixth year. As soon as Rosh Hashana comes in, they will put down their plowshares and pruning hooks for an entire year. And as they take leave of their fields for the last time, many of these faithful farmers will open their gates wide and place a sign offering their produce for free. After years of investing their blood, sweat, and tears, these unsung heroes are sacrificing so much to walk out their belief in the Bible.
Alongside their courageous wives and their dedicated children, these men are placing their fate and their future completely in the hands of the Almighty. The Israeli farmers who I met this week are displaying the faith of Abraham, the strength of Isaac, and the authenticity of Jacob.
To be sure, most people could not make this sacrifice or meet this challenge. In fact, the Tanakh concludes by describing the return of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Temple. The Torah points out how the 70-year exile was a punishment for not observing Shmita:
In fulfillment of the word of Hashem spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its Shabbatot; as long as it lay desolate it kept Shabbat, till seventy years were completed. (II Chronicles 36:21)
It is one thing to observe a day of Shabbat, but how many of us would be willing to sacrifice an entire year? Apparently, not many of our ancient ancestors either, albeit we paid a high price for their neglect of Shmita.
Once again, we find ourselves having returned to our homeland following a long exile and are about to begin the tenth Shmita cycle since the founding of the modern State of Israel. It’s the perfect time to ask ourselves, would I be willing to stop everything and walk away from all my responsibilities out of obedience to a higher calling?
“‘And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?” Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years.” (Leviticus 25:20)
In the Torah, Hashem not only promises to provide, He promises a triple blessing for those who trust in Him and observe the Shmita. Collectively we have a unique opportunity to embrace Shmita, and especially the Israeli farmers who are sacrificing so much for it.