An Indigenous People Cherish Land and Customs

Erel Segal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Bible, the Jewish people are commanded to rest on the 7th day of the week, Shabbat. And, we are taught to allow our land to rest during the 7th year of every 7-year cycle, Shmita. We release the land back to itself. Just as we are rejuvenated and gain strength from our weekly rest, the land gains strength during the Shmita year. Thousands of years later, farmers and scientists would learn about crop rotation and letting the land sit fallow to restore the soil.

An indigenous people gives back to the land it loves. While some who claim our land annually strike the land with rockets and arson, the Jewish people plant trees, honor the land, and finally, when the 7th year arrives, leave the land untouched.

That which is harvested from the ongoing fruits of a tree belongs to no one, not the owner of the land, nor the community in which the fruits and vegetables grow. Over the centuries, interpretations have varied and ways have been found to fulfill the law and still not starve or damage our health by not eating from the abundance brought from our land.

And, naturally, there are strict laws covering how we should treat the produce of this Shmitah year. We are to honor it as a special gift and not treat any part of it as if it is garbage. We are not to waste it because it is indeed a gift from a land during its year of rest.

Last week, I purchased a case of grape juice produced from grapes that grew last year, during the Shmittah year. With so much to do, I pushed the case to the side and finally, today, went to unload the bottles into the cabinet where we keep the juice.

At the bottom of the case was a piece of paper I had never seen. “Following are the main laws for wine and grape juice from the sanctity of the 7th year”. Many families have the custom to put out the fire of the Havdalah candle in the intentionally-spilled wine used to mark the ending of the Jewish Sabbath. Wine and grape juice produced from the grapes of the 7th year must be treated differently. We do not pour extra to show our faith that God will provide an abundance, more than we even need. Nor do we extinguish the flames in this wine as no one would drink the wine in which this is done.

There are those, the paper tells me, that say you shouldn’t cook with this wine as this would ruin the wine. The page lists 11 such rulings, many with additional points to ensure we are fully educated about the wine/grape juice we have purchased.

These laws are at least 3,000 years old. They were given to a people about to enter their land, as a people, for the first time. It was, it is, a land promised to Abraham. It is the land where Isaac was born and where he died and is buried today in our ancient city of Hevron, never to have wandered outside our borders. It is where Jacob and his children were born and it is back to this land that Moses guided the people.

It is the land to which Jews turned in prayer for 2,000 years and it is the land we honor and cherish today. If you want to find the indigenous people of a land, simply look and see how they treat it. See the laws they enact, the actions called for by the leaders.

In Israel, we are enacting laws to minimize the use of plastics; among the palestinian Arab leaders we hear for calls of “days of rage”.

There are, without question, many Palestinians who love this land, plant and harvest yearly. But they do not let the land rest in the Shmita year. The land serves them and, at best, is respected for what it can give them.

We, the Jewish people, carried our love of this land with us no matter where we went. A Jew in a supermarket in nearly any country in the world, will see Jaffa oranges and feel that special recognition. In some way, they will feel, the oranges are a part of them as we are a part of this land.

The indigenous people of Israel have returned home, and even the land is celebrating our return.


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.

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