Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why Shmita? Wait… what?

Once upon a time if someone had said the word shmita to me, I might have replied, “Bless you!”  It is an odd sounding word to my English tongue and understanding.  It is a Hebrew word meaning to release and occurs every seven years.  It can also be called a Sabbatical year which we may be more familiar with in the academic setting.  Professors or teachers take a Sabbatical year off from teaching to pursue travel, study or writing while still getting paid by their university or college.  It too is usually on a seven year rotation.

So what does shmita have to do with me and my garden?  Well, it is probably what I will say this year in response to the very common question I am asked, “How is your garden growing?”  We are introduced to this precept in Exodus 23:10 where the Heavenly Father is instructing the children of Israel on what is now referred to as the Sabbath Laws.  He in essence is telling people to take a day off once a week and to take a year off every seven years and during that time He would provide for His people.  How cool is that?  This concept is revisited many times through the scriptures including in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Chronicles and Nehemiah.

T and the dogs enjoyed resting on a frequent basis.  I should have joined them more often as now I cannot cuddle up with all my boys again.  I do still have the most important one though.

So the question can still be asked, what does this ancient idea have to do with me and my garden?  Well, I believe that I was created by a supremely intelligent creator who truly understands how I work and how to best optimize the use of this body as well as the planet He put me on to live.  Scientific studies show that taking a day of rest every seven days is extremely beneficial.  Most farmers, horticulturalists and botanists agree that the land needs to have a rest period to rejuvenate and reclaim nutrients that have been depleted from the soil by harvesting.  This Biblical idea of a strongly encouraged rest period every seven days or years is completely validated by our “modern” sciences.

A Monarch butterfly at “rest” for a moment on a buddleia so we can enjoy its beauty.

I believe that the first job that God gave man was to be the caretaker of the garden.  This garden provided everything Adam and Eve, along with their children, needed to thrive.  This responsibility was pretty amazing in that they could choose to do whatever they wanted.  The instructions on how to do things God’s way were pretty specific but in the end, the gift of free will allows us to make choices for blessings or for curses.  As we know, you can ruin something pretty fast when you are only concerned about what you can get out of it rather than what is best overall.  I could (but will not) insert a rant here about all the ways we are deliberately destroying our world and people in the name of greed.

So simple yet so beautiful…  annual California poppies

So while scripture seems to specify that the land rest was to be done in the land of Israel, T and I have decided to practice this here in the United States.  Does this mean we think everyone should do it here?  Um, well since we are pretty sure that we aren’t doing it “right”, we aren’t going to point any fingers.  Emphasis on the word practice here.  However, in looking at scripture, we have come to realize a couple of things.

Not only is the land resting, the people are resting too.  But their faith is getting a pretty good workout.  You see, to rest the land for one growing year actually means that you will not have a harvest for almost two years.  This idea to release, to shmita something, to let go, means that I am giving up control.  The people in Biblical times were asked to give up control of providing for their family’s most basic needs.  I am giving up my control (what little I have of it over nature) to grow my food and how much I will have.  The control that I release from my tightly clenched fist allows me to grab onto a mustard seed of faith.  Faith that He will provide for all my needs. The promise given in Leviticus 25 and 26 is that you will still be eating the harvest from the sixth year in the eighth and ninth.

T and I had a recent discussion about what this actually looks like because these chapters were covered in his Bible reading schedule last week.  Both of us had previously thought that this just meant that the sixth year’s harvest was going to be huge and wondered how perishable items would last almost three years.  I also thought because of the prohibition against harvesting or reaping in your fields as stated in Leviticus 25 meant that you can’t pick anything in the 7th year because that would mean you would be harvesting.

However in verse 6 it states that, “Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you…” which sounds like a contradiction unless it is making a point of a principle of the definition of work.   To fully harvest and put up a crop is a lot of intentional, ongoing work and in my small garden that might mean growing, planting, tending, watering, weeding, staking, picking insects off, and defending against disease.  All this is being followed by harvesting, preparation and preserving.  On a Sabbath year I am not supposed to do any of the above and yet I can go out, pick something that is a volunteer, prepare it for dinner and eat it.  The issue is rest, rest from labor.  Yahweh is fully capable of providing plants that grow and produce without my intervention.  That makes me very interested in what will come up in our gardens this year on its own.

Matthew 11:28 – 30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The yoke referenced here is a yoke that is put on a team of oxen to pull a plow and represents His instructions given in the scriptures.  Even though you are asked to do something, you are not doing it alone for in the yoke with you is Yeshua.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…”   He makes it light and easy because it is His power enabling me to do the work.

Rest… in miniature
That little bench up there in the upper bed?
I have sat on it perhaps three times and not for long when I did.

I have given you a long history and Bible lesson to explain the why of what I mean when people ask me how my garden grows this year….  I will say we are resting, shmita.  Very nice.  Ok, what do we think that will really look like in our yard?  We have 12 raised beds which are designated for annual food growing and that specific space will be what we are resting this year.  The perennial food plants we will take care of but not put up for ourselves.  Perhaps we will offer our organically protein laden apples to our neighbors to glean from.

I will also not be starting food plants for our garden this year but I do hope to start flowers.  These will go outside of the food garden beds to continue to promote our beneficial insect populations and because they are pretty. We plan to redo several flower beds and the ailing goji bed this spring as well.  We will have time to do this as we won’t be focused on the food garden.

Perhaps I will pull out my foraging pamphlets and go searching for wild edibles and will have time to go for walks in the woods and on the beach.  I guess I really don’t know how to rest.  With all of the seating in our yard, I rarely ever make use of it.  The moment I sit down, I see something that needs to be weeded or fixed.  Perhaps I will have to practice just enjoying my yard.

A dew covered spider web makes one slow down
and appreciate the incredible artwork of a small arachnid.

As for the question of food?  I am truly blessed by abundance in my area.  I will be faithful to the farmer’s market and will be purchasing more than I usually do from my favorite vendors.  The grocery store carries many organic products and I currently have some canned food from this past year left.  We will not go hungry.

We had warm temperatures and the snow is shrinking in dirty piles…
this makes one hope for spring despite the calendar telling me it is still two months away yet.
These crocuses are from a previous spring.

Shmita…. Bless you…

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