What is Shemittah?
I went to a program last night given by Keren Hashviis. It was about the heroes of Shemittah.
One farmer told how his family decided to get involved with Shemittah. They were having a political discussion at the dinner table two years ago, trying to comprehend, why do we Jews care so much about this land of Eretz Yisrael. They came up with a family project; they would read TaNaCH. (Bible)
When they got to parsha B’har they saw clearly written in (Leviticus) Vayikra 25:1-22: “When you come into the land that I have given you, … Six years you shall sow the field and six years you shall prune the vineyards and gather in the increase. But in the seventh year shall be a Shabbos of a strict rest unto the land, it is a Shabbos for the Eternal…”
But they asked themselves – “Seriously! How are we supposed to live?”
Then the youngest daughter read ahead, “Look it says: (Vayikra 25:20) ‘And if you shall ask, “What shall we eat the seventh year? … I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth increase for three years.’”
They looked at each other. “G-d promises 3 years of blessings? How can anyone promise anything? Much less 3 years?” That was when they decided to look into Shemittah.
Shemittah is faith.
Another farmer admitted he only decided to keep Shemittah right before Rosh Hashannah and wasn’t prepared properly. In his greenhouse eggplants were growing beautifully. The Rebbium of Shemittah explained he couldn’t keep Shemittah in his lands but not in his greenhouses. He chose to keep the commandment, and asked what to do. They told him to stop watering the eggplants. He did. But he couldn’t figure it out, the eggplants kept growing beautifully. So he told his worker to take poison and kill the eggplants. They died. He has nightmares since of his dying eggplants.
Farmers aren’t factory owners; they grow live plants, trees, even flowers. Even though I don’t have a green thumb, my two little plants that I maybe remember to water once a week, are part of me. If they were to die I would miss them (and probably go out and try again.) To a farmer the produce is his children. He tends to them, waters them, he cares for them.
But then this giant, of faith, spoke of his family pride in his choice to keep Shemittah properly. His son went to gan and told his classmates with pride, “My father is shomer Shemittah”. It was worth it.
Shemittah is miraculous.
Miracles were seen. Ira Cymerman told us in the 6th year this Shemittah, he told his workers to pick his grapes so he could sell them before Rosh Hashannah and other workers to prune the bushes right after them. In the village he lives there are 15 farmers of which 2 others kept Shemittah with him. The Heter Michirah (the farmers who sell their land to Arabs on paper – a not well looked upon leeway) farmers made fun of him picking grapes and pruning so early. Yet he soon saw that the fields were filled with 5 times more grapes than he ever had before. The other Shmittah farmers reported the same. But not even one of the other dozen non-Shmittah farmers saw the same brachah.
Mr. Cymerman’s Shemittah neighbor who grew grapes and plums; went to check his plum trees after a heavy storm of hail; his fruit were hanging without a mark; yet the plums of his neighbor 50 meters away were destroyed by the hail.
A third farmer’s story told of how he kept this past Shemittah and gave up all his contracts with all the European suppliers for the year of his green peppers. After Rosh Hashannah came in, he suddenly was flooded with calls of these very suppliers. What happened? European farmers tried a new pesticide from China and found out they were killing more than the bugs. All the peppers needed to be thrown away. They turned to our hero and instead of paying the normal 3 shekel a kilo, they paid 18 shekels. He was rewarded.
Shemittah makes us partners with farmers.
Yet most farmers have financial troubles. They don’t all see immediate rewards or can manage until the money come in. All Shemittah farmers need to give up actually 20 months in seeing profit; regardless if they are vegetable or fruit farmers. Three to four months before Shemittah they already need to start preparing their land; pruning, harvesting and other jobs that usually are spread out the year, all need to be done urgently before Shemittah’s Rosh Hashannah. Then during the year of course, there isn’t any growing, but there are bills. Besides regular living expenses, rent is due, loans need to be paid, and fences, water taps, and other equipment need to be repaired or maintained. The land is still watered and taken care of so nothing should die, but nothing is improved according to Shemittah halachas (laws).
At the end of Shmittah, meaning now, they need to clear off the land from the weeds, and fix equipment, before they even think of starting to grow their produce. But for some, the season is already too late, so they need to wait yet another season to even begin. Yet even more pressing; the farmers have usually lost contracts with their landowners, distributors and sellers and need to renegotiate with everyone and their banks and still somehow need to find money to replant, and pay their workers. So even if they can start selling soon, business payments in Israel are typically paid in a minimum of 60 days (2 months). The Shmittah farmers mentioned sums in the millions that they are short.
Karen Hashviis is a fund set up to help the farmers get over their financial hurdles. This year thank G-d they ran short. In the past about 12% of the farmers left in the middle of the year, but this year only 5%. Their budget was a 100 million and they are short still another 8 million shekels. They were asking everyone to be their spokesman, because we are their partners.