Faith, Famine, Feast, Food
Every seven years, God asks of the Jewish people to commit what conventionally would amount to economic and national suicide. In the land of Israel, farmers must let the land lay fallow (Shmittah). In our modern industrial era, with less than 5% of the population dealing with agriculture, we can’t necessarily appreciate the significance.
However in the pre-industrial world, where as much as 95% of the population was consumed with growing food out of the ground, this sabbatical was the equivalent to telling modern-day man not to use any electronic devices for a year (cars, phones, computers, microwaves, etc – just try to imagine that for a moment).
Actually, it was worse. We could survive, though highly ineffectively, without our electronic gadgets. We would literally starve to death without agriculture.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno draws out some interesting nuances in his analysis of the text as to how we survive the Sabbatical year.
Sforno splits the text into two different demonstrations of faith and their results.
Leviticus 25:19 states:
“The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it.”
According to Sforno, this is the primary and highest level of faith. You are sure that God will nurture you. As a result of this faith, God performs a physiological miracle, and the little food you’ve eaten ends up satisfying you for an abnormally long period of time.
However the text continues:
“If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year? – behold! We will not sow and not gather in our crops! I will ordain My blessing on you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period. You will sow in the eighth year, but you will eat from the old crop; until the ninth year, until the arrival of (the new) crop, you will eat the old.”
By not planting or gathering in the seventh year and only planting in the eighth year, with the resulting crop arriving in the ninth year, Shmittah is the equivalent of a self-inflicted three year famine.
Sforno explains that a more overt external miracle will be performed for those with lesser faith. For the more nervous souls who start to panic as to what they will have for the seventh, eighth and ninth years, God provides a “down-payment” of a three-fold crop in the sixth year, so that anxious farmers can with greater confidence adhere to the sabbatical ordinance.
May we always merit miracles of either variety; being sated and/or having enough, and may God always give us the strength and confidence to do His will despite our fears.
To our neighbors, Kobi and Adi, and their new gourmet chocolate venture “Bluma”. As an honorary taste-tester I have partaken of miraculously filling and scrumptious chocolates that would be satisfying for years if they weren’t so addictive.
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