May 30, 2024
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The Blessings of Observing Shemitah

During this shemitah year, my daughter in Eretz Yisrael went with her seminary to visit the farm of Doron and Ilana Towek, who are observing shemitah. Ilana is a native of Boston who made aliyah with her husband. Their first experience with shemitah was seven years ago. They decided together to embrace the mitzvah, although it meant shutting down their entire farm—their only source of income—and still having to pay for all the leased equipment and expenses of the farm. Ilana told the girls she was very surprised when two young women approached her for a blessing to help them find a shidduch to get married! She was not used to giving brachos, but they insisted, since Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, had told people needing brachos to seek out a farmer keeping shemitah, for they have more power for blessing. Ilana took their names down and davened for them when she lit Shabbos candles. A few months later they both got engaged, and more and more people began approaching her for a bracha. Now, in their second cycle of keeping shemitah, she has streams of people who come to her for a bracha.

At the Agudah Convention this year, an onion farmer from Eretz Yisrael told his inspiring shemitah story. Avraham Zylberstein was a native Israeli who was committed to Shabbos and kashrus. One Friday, all the local farmers had picked their onions and left them out to dry over Shabbos. On Shabbos morning, there was a sudden torrential downpour. The other farmers thought the onions would rot, so they went outside with large rolls of plastic and covered their onions. Avraham and his wife saw that they could lose everything, but they were committed to not working on Shabbos. That afternoon, the sun came out and it became a scorching hot day. On Sunday, the other farmers removed the plastic coverings and saw that all the onions had become moldy! The hot sun beating down on the plastic had caused their onions to rot. For Avraham, however, the sun dried up all the rain’s moisture and his onions were fine. He saw that Hashem protects those who keep Shabbos, and he resolved to keep shemitah as well, relying on the promise in Parshas Behar, ”I will send My blessing and you will increase your produce.” Avraham related that in the shemitah year of 1980, he was diagnosed with cancer but healed completely. Every subsequent shemitah year he faced a major challenge that was miraculously resolved, which he attributed to the blessing of adhering to shemitah.

We’re in the middle of shemitah now, while we learn Parshas Behar. The Midrash calls the shomrei shemitah (guardians of shemitah) “giborei koach”—mighty warriors. The Midrash highlights the tremendous inner strength needed to keep shemitah—watching one’s precious business close for an entire year, with competitors taking away all of one’s customers for that year. Dovid Hamelech equates these farmers to angels who nullify themselves completely to follow Hashem’s will.

The Gemara affixes the title of giborei koach to the nation of klal Yisrael when they said “Naaseh V’nishma”—we will do and we will observe. That generation was also like angels, negating themselves completely to follow Hashem’s will.

The Sfas Emes adds another insight on shemitah’s blessings. The Gemara tells us that when klal Yisrael said Naaseh V’nishma, they purified themselves to the extent that they were like Adam and Chava before the primal sin. Therefore, they were no longer subjected to the curse of “with the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” Just as Adam and Chava in Gan Eden had angels preparing food for them, the Bnei Yisrael merited heavenly food as well—the mann.

In this year’s shemitah, observant farmers are thus rising to the same level as the Jewish nation when they received the Torah! It is no wonder that Rav Chaim Kanievsky instructed people to seek blessings from a farmer who is observing shemitah.

As we approach Shavuos and affirm our commitment to Naaseh V’nishma, rising to the level of angels, let us be inspired by the farmers who are shomrei shemitah. Let us do what we can to help them and their families by joining with the organizations who help these farmers pay for the leases on their land and equipment. May we merit to see incredible blessing in both their lives and our own on account of the observance of this great mitzvah.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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