We know that even the most expert botanists cannot determine how much a country’s crops will increase from the previous year, even if it is obvious for whatever reason that the crop is going to increase.
It goes without saying that no one can possibly predict in advance with any certainty how much the crop will increase in years to come, and certainly no one would make a bet to predict a permanent percent increase in crops at determined cycles of every few years.
Amazingly, the Torah does just that:
“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 Shabbat to the L-rd. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Shabbat to the L-rd; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land. (Lev. 25:1-5)
“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!’ [Know then, that] I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years.” (Lev. 25:20-21).
The Author of the Torah gives a commandment followed by a promise.
The commandment: When you enter the Land of Israel, you are entitled to work the land for six years, but in the seventh year, you have to let it rest from any agricultural work for an entire year. (Besides work necessary to prevent damage, as the Oral Law explains and as is written down in the Mishna and Talmud in the tractate of Moed Katan(.
The promise: I will not leave you two years without food in the seventh year, until food begins to grow again in the eighth year, but I promise I will send My blessing to you in the sixth year and the crop will be sufficient for 3 years (!). If the field usually had an annual yield of twenty tons of crops, and this is how much grows in the first, second, third, etc. year, I promise that in the sixth year the crops will yield sixty tons! The yield will suffice not only for the sixth year, but also for the seventh and eighth, until the new crop which was planted in the eighth year can be harvested.
It should be stressed that the promise is not for just a slight increase of a few percent — which could be explained away evasively. It is a bold promise for a 300%(!!) increase during every sixth year of a seventh year cycle!
Think about that. Besides the omnipotent Creator of the universe, who would dare to make such a commitment to an entire people, and to each person and his individual field? Couldn’t a promise like this easily be refuted in a few years — while undermining the faith of many in everything that is written in the Torah? After all, the end of the sixth year would show whether the promise had been kept. The results could not be hushed up by the heads and elite of the people, but would be open to all, in each family’s garden and grounds!
What sane man would write such a thing?
It is interesting to note that even though in our times this prophetic promise doesn’t fully apply (because the sabbatical year in our days is only rabbinically mandated instead of Torah mandated — see the SMA Choshen Mishpat 67:A and the Chazon Ish Shvi’it 18:4), nevertheless in our times too, those who have devoted themselves to fulfilling the mitzvah of the sabbatical year report amazing miracles and blessings. Here is a quote from a letter sent by the famous Rabbi Binyamin Mendelson of the Komemiyut farming town in 1963, to the author of the Mishnat Yosef on the tractate of Shvi’it:
“After the 1952 sabbatical year, we didn’t have wheat to plant, because we didn’t want to plant wheat that was grown during the sabbatical year. We were barely able to get from a nearby Kibbutz broken and wormy wheat that was from the sixth year and wasn’t fit for planting. The great scholar, R’ Yechiel, who was the head of the cereal crops in Komemiyut, asked me what to do. I told him if we couldn’t find any other wheat that complied with Jewish law, we will have faith in the Living One of all worlds and plant it [the phrase referring to G-d which is mentioned in the Yerushalmi Talmud and cited in the Tosefta Shabbat 30a], and G-d will help with this wheat.
All those in our surroundings laughed at him for planting this wheat, and they warned him that he was causing damage of 20,000 liras to himself, but he unquestioningly obeyed my words and we trusted in G-d. This year, there weren't many rains at the beginning of the winter, and all those who plowed at the beginning of the winter and all those who plowed at the end of the sabbatical year and planted immediately after the sabbatical year, discovered that their seeds had decayed in the dry ground.
We didn’t plow the ground at the end of sabbatical year or during the intermediate days of the holiday of Sukkot that following the sabbatical year. We instead plowed later in the winter, and afterwards we planted the seed. Just after we finished planting, the rains began to fall in abundance. We had tremendous success and blessing with G-d’s help with our crops. A wonder took place with the broken and wormy grains that we planted, and they grew tall and produced beautiful crops, while all those around us lost their crop. It was a clear sign that G-d sent His blessing to those who keep the sabbatical year.
Another two amazing things happened in Komemiyut during the 1959 sabbatical year, which the Rabbi of Brisk said we should publicize, and I am announcing them to honor G-d’s Torah. In the first months of the sabbatical year, we had animal food growing in the fields which had been planted before the sabbatical year, which, according to the view of Nachmanides which is kept in the Land of Israel, is permitted to be harvested on the seventh year and be eaten while observing their holiness. On one Friday, a swarm of locusts descended upon most of the nearby towns, and our farmers came to me in trepidation and said that there is a great danger that the locusts will eat all the sowed grain. I told them that we will see G-d’s salvation on the sabbatical year. A huge swarm of locusts came up to the border of Komemiyut, but as soon as it approached our border they immediately turned their backs on us and went away. Not one locust could be found in our border and they caused no damage.
When I told this to the Rabbi of Brisk, he said this is a miracle that should be publicized.
The second event occurred in 1957. The Jewish Agency decided to plant orchards in several towns including Komemiyut. We insisted on inserting a clause that we agree only if we can keep all the laws of the sabbatical year in the orchard as per my instructions. They delayed a year or more because of this, because they refused to accept our terms. But we wouldn’t give in and remained like a flint rock. With time, we gave up the possibility of planting an orchard even though it would have given a livelihood to several families and brought relief to Komemiyut. Then in 1958, we spoke to the head of the orchard division, Mr. Wigodsky, and I explained to him the great holiness of the sabbatical year and how precious fulfilling this commandment was to us and he was impressed. He gave us a written and signed memorandum that the orchard would be planted and we could keep all the laws of the sabbatical year according to my instructions. The orchard was planted, we invested about half a million liras, and the orchard managers always obeyed my instructions.
When they were caring for the orchard during the 1959 sabbatical year — exactly according to my instructions — the orchard managers told me that they believe I am endangering the orchard because my instructions do not let them take care of it properly, and I might cause them to lose the huge sum that they invested in it. Many times I thought to myself “What will be?”, but I maintained my faith in the commandment and the merit of the rabbinical legal experts whose decisions I was following, particularly Maimonides, whose stringent rulings I followed many times. I was sure that G-d would assist us so that there would not be a desecration of His great Name.
Thank G-d, at the end of the month of Av, 1959, the orchard manager came to me and told me in great excitement that he has 12 orchards under his supervision, and they worked in all of them as usual, besides the orchard in Komemiyut, which, in his view, didn’t do what they were supposed to do. In the end, the Komemiyut orchard was far more successful than the other orchards. He asked me how I understand it, and I told him that the first of the 13 Jewish articles of faith is that G-d alone is the Primary Cause of all that exists, including the orchard, and because we fulfilled His Will with the orchard, G-d made the orchard flourish. The government Department of Orchards put down in their records: “The orchard in Komemiyut was not tended the entire sabbatical year, and it flourished.”
Rabbi Aryeh Shechter testified that in the 1966 sabbatical year, there was a serious lack of potatoes and garlic which had been planted in the permitted way for the observant public. The Rabbinate of the Jerusalem Chareidi community asked the Agriculture Ministry to import these vegetables from abroad, but the request was rejected with the claim that there were more than enough of these vegetables in the country.
Amazingly, a few days later, an Egyptian ship was forced to anchor at an Israeli port because of a malfunctioning, and its cargo included many tons of potatoes and garlic! While the ship was being inspected, they had to get rid of the cargo to prevent it from rotting. The Agriculture Ministry “suddenly remembered” the Jerusalem Rabbinate’s request, and they were immediately invited to come check the produce. In this way, G-d arranged this “incident” and others (the word for “incident” in Hebrew is mikreh, which is the same letters as rakam Hashem — “Hashem wrought it”, and rak mei-Hashem — “only from G-d”) until He brought about the perfect result for sabbatical year observers.
I heard this story from the kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri, who knows the details of the story from up close: A farmer who had many fields fell into extremely heavy debts. During this period, he began to become stronger in his observance of Judaism, and partici-pated regularly in Torah classes. The following year was 1994, a sabbatical year. When the sabbatical year arrived, he asked his rabbi what to do with his fields, and received the answer that he had to give all his fields a rest. He undertook to keep the commandment of the sabbatical year according to law, and he stood strong the whole year, while devoting his day to Torah study in a special study framework set up for farmers. (It was under the auspices of the Shemitta Fund which gives stipends to farmers who refrain from working during the sabbatical year and study instead). He was under pressure from non-religious relatives who kept admonishing him, “You have such huge debts, how can you stop working for an entire year??”
At the end of the sabbatical year, he wasn’t sure what vegetables to sow in his fields. He decided to plant tomatoes even though most fields that were raising tomatoes were already planted and in some the tomatoes were already ripe. A short time later, stormy weather destroyed the entire tomato crop, causing a major lack of tomatoes throughout the country. (I remember well the spiraling cost of tomatoes that year from 1.5 to 2.5 Israeli shekels per kilogram to 9 to 12 Israeli shekels). Because our friend who kept the sabbatical year had planted his tomato field late, it was not damaged. As soon as the tomatoes ripened, there was a fierce competition among vegetable wholesalers to pay him a high price for his beautiful crop. After selling the whole crop, he discovered that his income covered his debts and even left a goodly sum with which he was able to buy an apartment…
Another amazing event occurred in 2001. Most fruits grown in Israel have a few farmers who keep the sabbatical year, but the only crop regarding which nearly all the farmers who grow it observe the sabbatical year according to law — including those who are not observant —is the olive. The reason for this is not because olive trees do not need special treatment like other trees, but because olives are not sent straight from the farms to the markets and vegetable stores like other fruits, but are sent to pickle factories or olive presses which produce olive oil. Most of these are under the meticulous supervision of one or another rabbinical kashrut organizations, all of which demand observance of the sabbatical year. This creates a situation where the sabbatical year is properly observed by almost all olive orchards in Israel.
I have a recording of a national radio news announcer who reported at 24:00 on November 4, 2000 concerning the olive season harvest which had just concluded (which occurred in the sixth year before the sabbatical year). He says this: “The olive growers report that the crop output tripled this year, and they expect better quality olives than the previous year.”
The media doesn’t report on percent fluctuations in the crop yield from year to year, since these fluctuations are viewed as a natural phenomenon. The news desk found it newsworthy to report the amazing growth that year because it was illogical and unnatural. A triple yield! This amazing happening is even more incredible in view of the fact that the year 2000 was an exceedingly dry year and was declared a drought! This is the divine promise being fulfilled before our eyes: “I will command My blessing to you in the sixth year, and it will provide grain for three years.”
A similar testimony was published in the Hamodia newspaper on the date October 27, 2000 by the rabbinical judge Rabbi Shmuel Traub, who testified that when he visited the town of Mavo Choron in 2000 to harvest wheat for matzah, all those present expressed their astonishment at the fact that every dunam of their fields produced a yield three times the usual!
Because the commandment of the sabbatical year in our times is not Torah-mandated but only mandated rabbinically, the divine promise does not apply to our period. There is no doubt that the bounty that He showered upon us was beyond the letter of the law, a special sign of love from G-d to us.
There are other testimonies of a triple yield in the sixth year from past sabbatical years. For example, Rabbi Yonotan Eibeschitz writes in his book Urim V’tumim (6), “When we were in the Land of Israel… how great was this commandment that a great miracle occurred to our entire land because of it. Always in the sixth year exactly before the sabbatical year, G-d sends a great blessing in the crops and fruits and they increase until they are sufficient for three years. And now that the Jubilee year follows the sabbatical year, there is sufficient blessing for four years, for all our Jewish brothers who were in the Land of Israel.”
Another testimony: the kabbalist Hacham Salomon Mutzafi especially loved the commandments that are connected to the land, such as: separating a piece from dough, teruma and maaser (tithes to priests and Levites), the sabbatical year, orlah (not using the fruits of a tree’s first three years), leket (to leave behind for the poor any grain that the harvesters’ sickles missed), shikcha (forgotten cut sheaves), pe’ah (a corner of a field left for the poor). Whatever he was able to fulfill, he did so with joy every year. He would plant wheat in the garden of his home so he could use it for the commandment of matza on Passover. At the time of harvest, he would reap it in joy and maintain a careful watch over the kernels so that he could bake matza shmura on Passover eve. He did all the work by hand, including grinding the kernels manually with a millstone. He viewed the sowing of the wheat every year as his fulfillment of the Torah verse: “six years you shall sow your field and gather in your grain”, and he would let his garden rest on the sabbatical year in fulfillment of the Torah commandment “but in the seventh [year] you shall release it and abandon it.” (Ex. 23:10-11)
Every year his garden would produce a fixed quantity of 7 kilograms of wheat. Incredibly, in 1951, which was the sixth year before the sabbatical year, Hacham Mutzafi planted the same quantity that he used to plant every year, but his garden produced a blessed crop of 21 kilograms, exactly three times the regular amount. Out of excitement and exhilaration, he went to his yeshiva and publicized the miracle that occurred to him, which is expressly stated in the Torah: “and I will command my blessing to you in the sixth year, and you will produce grain for three years.” The blessing had indeed rested on his field. (Hacham Mutzafi’s sons, Rabbi Benzion and Rabbi Yehuda, testified to this.)
Another fact: When the farmer Naftali Tovim of Nachala village was a young farmer just starting out, he read in the Torah about the commandment of the sabbatical year and decided to fulfill this commandment. It was in the summer of the sixth year. The Chazon Ish had ruled that he could plant vegetables or grain on the sixth year which could be used for animal food, even though they would be growing during the sabbatical year. Naftali Tovim wondered what he should plant in his field in the sixth year, and decided to plant “Copenhagen cabbage”. Cabbage in general is a winter product and needs cold weather, and Copenhagen cabbage in particular needs the cold. But because he couldn’t sow the cabbage during the winter when it would already be the sabbatical year, he sowed his field with Copenhagen cabbage in the summer of the sixth year. The burning sun over his head reminded him that he needed a miracle.
Naftali Tovim’s Copenhagen cabbage sprouted — in the hot summer! The cabbages were large and beautiful. The agriculture experts were stunned. Wholesalers from all over the country arrived to see the wonder and to buy the cabbages at triple the normal price.
And that’s not all: Another two cabbages grew under each cabbage. Chanan, one of the wholesalers who came to buy cabbages from Naftali, saw the triple miracle, and decided to become religious.
Today, Rabbi Naftali Tovim is a coordinator for the “National Center of Farmers Who Observe the Sabbatical Year”. (Hamodia Hatza’ir, September 15, 2000).