Rabbi Neil Schuman

Living with Faith
We strive to live sound, logical lives. From when we’re young we plan a trajectory of how our life will play out: education, employment, dating, marriage, (suburban) home, raising children, midlife crisis, retirement, and enjoying the grandkids.
Rarely do our plans work out accordingly. Sometimes logic is not the deciding factor in any of these pivotal moments in life. We go forward with instinct, guts, or just plain hope and faith.
While the Torah wants us to live judiciously, it also guides us on the path of faith as well. Case in point, the Shemittah cycle: leaving the land fallow every 7th year (Leviticus 25) which is detailed in last week’s parsha, Behar.
2 Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord.
3 You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce,
4 But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard.
Now you may think this sounds quite extreme. How are these farmers to support themselves in the off years? The Torah foresees this issue as well:
20 And if you should say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!”
21 Know then, that I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years.
22 And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop.
The Torah is training us in faith: “don’t work the field for a year and I will make it up to you.” Imagine if every six years, we witnessed a bounty crop enabling us to take off the seventh year, wouldn’t our trust and faith in God be fortified for the times when the future is unclear?
Most Israeli farmers nowadays do not follow the Shemittah laws, so we are not able to test the Torah’s 6th-year promise. However, there are individual farmers who take the leap of faith, and many times open miracles occur.
One such instance was from a Banana farmer in 2008 who decided to keep Shemittah. The laws prohibit a farmer from working the land, but crops that grow on their own are permitted to be eaten. An organization called Keren HaShviis helps support the farmer during the year and organizes workers to gather the crops and distribute them at no profit.
This year, unfortunately, before the harvest there was a cold spell that lasted more than 2 weeks. Bananas hate the cold; they turn brown and become rock solid. The farmer, who lived miles away from his orchard, received calls from his neighboring farmers about the devastation that took place – nothing salvageable survived from all of their crops.
Wanting to know if anything was spared for the Keren HaShviis, the farmer drove to his orchard. Yet when he got there, he was awestruck! ALL of his bananas were yellow and green. It’s as if his orchard was not part of this parcel of land. His orchard bordered those of his neighbors, but not a single tree of his was struck by the frost. It’s as if a protective wall kept the damage away. The neighbors’ bananas on one side of the fence were rock-hard while those on his side were fresh!
He immediately called his contacts at Keren HaShviis and yelled into the phone, “Karah Nes!, Karah Nes! (It’s a miracle!).[1]
Now, perhaps there’s a scientific reason that this farmer’s field was spared. Nonetheless, it doesn’t negate the message that sometimes, going with trust and faith is the best move.
In the Shemittah year of 1951-1952, the religious agriculture settlement of Komemiyut in the south of Israel refrained from planting their wheat and barley. When the Shemittah year ended they needed to find grain from before the Shemittah year to plant for the “eighth” year. Nobody from their neighboring non-religious farms had any old grain except one.
“All we were able to find was some old wormy seed that, for reasons that were never made clear to us, was lying around in a storage shed in Kibbutz Gat. No farmer in his right mind anywhere in the world would consider using such poor quality seed to plant with, not if he expected to see any crops from it. The kibbutzniks at Gat all burst into loud derisive laughter when we revealed that we were actually interested in this infested grain that had been rotting away for a few years in some dark, murky corner.
‘If you really want it, you can take all that you like, and for free, with our compliments,’ they offered in amusement.
We consulted with Rabbi Mendelson (the spiritual leader of the settlement). His response was: ‘Take it. The One who tells wheat to sprout from good seed can also order it to grow from inferior wormy leftover seed as well.’
The following days we were nervous in anticipation, but we turned our attention to strengthening our faith and trust in G‑d. Anyway, it did not take a long time for the hand of the Almighty to be revealed clearly to all. Those neighboring wheat fields that were planted during the seventh year, months before the first rain (the rains were late in coming that year), sprouted only small and weak crops. At the same time, our fields, sowed with the old infested seed and long after the appropriate season, were covered with an unusually large and healthy yield of wheat, in comparison to any standard.”
The story of “the miracle at Komemiyut” spread quickly. Farmers from all the agricultural settlements in the region came to see with their own eyes what they could not believe when they heard the rumors about it.[2]
Now, I’m not proposing that we all follow the Torah literally and await miracles. What I believe occurred here were manifestations of trust and belief.
We all sense that, despite our great intelligence and skill, we’re not in full control of our lives. The true “magic” in life is when we let go after making our best efforts and allow things to play out.
The banana farmer made the decision to take a year off, follow his belief in God and concentrate on other meaningful endeavors in his life. The farmers at Komemiyut decided not to plant, but to work on the infrastructure of the settlement that year and put their hope and trust in God.
Shemittah is a life lesson for all of us. Sometimes we just need to let go of life and have trust and faith in God and in ourselves. Occasionally outright miracles occur.
Have a miraculous week,
R’ Neil
[1] https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/general/13933/a-shmitah-miracle.html
[2] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2746/jewish/The-Seventh-Year.htm