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Who are the people of faith?

Who are the people of faith? The rabbis? The people who endure a terrible loss and still retain their faith? The students of Torah? The “good people” of any religion? The people who pray daily? The poor who trust in the L-rd for their sustenance? The inspiring preachers who illuminate your mind or send a shiver down your spine? The people who supervise the Western Wall daily? No doubt, these and others are all people of faith, or at least deserve the presumption thereof. But there is another group that, I think, can be regarded as people of faith on a unique level.

Why? Define the criterion of faith. Typically, it does not include a periodic and lengthy renunciation of one’s livelihood in the name of a higher ideal. Typically, it does not require a periodic and lengthy renunciation of one’s profession, one’s daily habits, in the name of a higher ideal. Still less does it engender a a sense of deep achievement, sometimes even downright joy, for having renounced one’s livelihood. On this criterion of faith, the people of faith today are the farmers in the Land of Israel who let their land — and livelihood — lay fallow once every seven years.

This is not a once-in-seven-year faith. The biblical Sabbatical year — shmita — dominates the mind and the planting schedules of these farmers all of the six years prior to the Sabbatical year. The faith required by shmita is constant.

Small Percentage

And faith it must be. It is true that thanks to the widespread international participation in a multi-million dollar shmita fund, the shmita-observant farmers receive a stipend monthly to help them sustain themselves. But this is but a small percentage of their annual income, and even that is dependent on the success of the international fundraising, which is still millions of dollars short for this shmita cycle.
So that’s the first element of faith: that my farm and my family will see the year through undamaged and un-impoverished.

But it’s not just money. It’s faith that not doing what I love doing, and am trained to do, for a whole year will not mess with my brain and my work ethic. It’s finding something else to do that will be meaningful, knowing that just as I put aside my profession, my farming, I will have to put aside my newfound substitute once the shmita year is over. This cycle of faith touches the core of my routine, my life. And the cycle never stops.

The biggest challenge for these people of faith is to extract from the cycle the deepening of faith, the rewards promised by the Torah, for observing this monumental mitzvah.

Stories

The shmita year yields more than it’s share of stories of faith. To cite just two examples:

• The husband who wanted to observe shmita but whose wife did not, and her ensuing commitment —to her husband, to her marriage, not to shmita — only to find that once she made the decision to let their farm lay fallow she experienced a new, deeper and rewarding faith.

• The story of the farmer who, for many years, could not unload an unwelcome, non-income producing, run-down greenhouse but who, during the shmita year, received his dream offer out of the blue for the property. He credits this to the sacrifices he made for shmita.

Images

Most people carry around images of faith: of pious people, of praying people, of people in synagogues, of people in hospitals hoping for the best, of people on the eve of Yom Kippur — but not of people in overalls, not of people getting dirty working plows and harvesters, of people sorting animal feed and milking cows, of rural people.

As the Jewish people, along with the rest of civilization, has industrialized and urbanized, the images of faith have narrowed considerably. But in the Torah, the locale of faith is naturally rural. Not even an entire verse about the post-Egypt destiny of the Jewish people can conclude without a reference to shmita, to farmers — to people of faith.

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the land that I give you — the land shall rest, a Sabbath to G-d.

“Six years you shall sow your field and six years you shall prune your vine and gather in your produce. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for G-d. Your land you shall not sow and your vine you shall not prune . . . ” (Leviticus 25:2-4; this week’s Torah portion).

The Spirit and the Letter

Ever since 1889, when the first Zionist pioneers faced their first shmita, a heter mechirah — a permission to sell the land — was devised. The meager, impoverished founding Zionist farming settlers felt they could not survive if they let the land go untilled for the Sabbatical year. Rabbis devised something like the sale of chametz over Passover — a sale of the entire land of Israel for the duration of the Sabbatical year to a gentile. The Jewish settlers then rented the land and, technically speaking, did not violate the laws of shmita.

As the years and the decades passed, as the Jewish enterprise and economy in the land of Israel grew stronger and stronger, fewer and fewer Jewish farmers wished to avail themselves of this heter mechirah; they dove head first into the observance of shmita, in both spirit and letter. Shmita was observed as it was set down in Leviticus.

“You shall perform My decrees and observe My ordinances and perform them; then you shall dwell securely on the land” (Leviticus 25:18).

People of faith: they surely include the shmita-observant farmers in Israel today.

Us

Where does their unique level of faith leave the great majority of us, who never were and never will be farmers in the Land of Israel?

We can take from them this model: Faith is for all of our lives, not only our “spiritual” lives. Faith is for every moment and every endeavor, whatever degree of cleanliness we might bring to it and however down in the dirt it might bring us. Synagogue. Computer. Garden. Hospital. Ball park. Vacation. Restaurant. Funeral. Wedding. If all of creation is G-d’s creation, all of our lives — wherever, whatever, however —is the realm of faith.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News



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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]


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