Yehuda Alon has heard many tales of valiant farmers who rose to the challenges of observing Shmitah and witnessed vast rewards and blessings in their crops and lives. Yet today, as Yehuda himself takes the challenge, no one in the world can promise him that he’ll be among the lucky ones to see the blessings unfold in his life when he needs them…
Yehuda’s story begins over a century ago in South Africa, where the extended Alon family were fabulously wealthy farmers whose name was synonymous throughout the southern hemisphere with choice vineyards. Spanning countless miles and stretching as far as the eye could see, Alon grapes were among the most succulent in the country, the preferred choice of vintners for the fine wine they produced.
All this was true until Yehuda’s father was determined to make a change in his life and realize his lifelong dream—the collective dream of every Jew—of making the Jewish homeland his and his family’s home.
Yehuda spent his formative years in southern Eilat, yet the profound love of earth that streamed through the blood of the Alon men could not be quieted; already as a teen, Yehuda found himself in Mikveh Yisroel, an agricultural boarding school in central Israel. A farmer at heart, son and grandson to diligent farmers, Yehuda had no doubt that his destiny was with the earth, but unlike his ancestors— he would till sacred soil and cultivate the holy land that generations of Jews had yearned to reclaim.
Over the years, Yehuda’s ideal of being a hardworking farmer took several twists and turns. Along with the physical field labor that he enjoyed, his sharp, incisive mind craved more, and he found himself constantly seeking to further his education and enhance his knowledge of the earth.
He read voraciously and attended dozens of agricultural courses, specializing as an agronomist and gaining employment as an agricultural consultant for a large seed company used by dozens of farmers who cultivate special crops.
Despite his specialty and successful career in agronomy, the childhood dream continued beating in his heart: Yehuda still dreamed of being a farmer, owning his own farm in Eretz Yisroel, and perpetuating the legacy begun by his ancestors over a century earlier in a foreign country.
Year 2020 brought with it the global Covid-19 crisis, and Yehuda’s vision of owning his own tract of land in Israel never seemed farther out of reach. Then, as if out of nowhere, an opportunity arose unexpectedly in December 2020, and Yehuda pounced on that fleeting window to realize a lifelong dream. Several days later, with his heart brimming with emotion, Yehuda lifted a handful of rich brown soil that had just became his—and kissed it.
His brand-new purchase encompassed just several dozen dunams of vineyards and another several dozen dunams of leafy vegetable patches. All in all, it was a modest property compared to the expansive vineyards that his ancestors had boasted back in South Africa. But it was here, in his beloved Eretz Yisroel, and that made it infinitely more valuable.
Feeling as if he’d been reborn, Yehuda enthusiastically culled from his extensive knowledge and professional experience to improve his farm. He invested a considerable sum of money to buy seeds, plow and plant. Every day throughout that first month, he would take a solitary walk throughout his farmland, examining the soil to ensure that it was moist and fertilized and caressing each leaf to ensure that it was benefiting from the ideal setting and conditions for growth.
Six weeks after becoming a proud landowner, Yehuda met an old classmate from his Mikveh Yisroel days, and it was only natural when their dialogue segued into the realm of agriculture.
“So,” asked his friend meaningfully, “what are your plans for Shmitah next year?”
Yehuda clapped his hand against his forehead, and the color drained from his face as the enormity of his error hit him.
He’d forgotten. Yehuda Alon, scion of a multigenerational family of farmers whose deepest yearning had been to settle in their homeland, cultivate the holy earth and keep the mitzvah of Shmitah had… forgotten. So exhilarated was he with his find that the impending year of Shmitah had slipped his mind. He’d borrowed and invested hundreds of thousands of shekels into improving his vineyards, and now he was caught in the midst of an impossible dilemma:
It was a lose-lose situation. Either he’d forfeit the once-in-seven-year mitzvah of keeping Shmitah, which had been one of the key motives in his dad’s decision to settle in Israel, or else he would lose the huge sum of money that he’d invested—a loss that he couldn’t afford.
The battle raged on in his heart for days and nights, weeks and even months. Yehuda was not a wealthy man, and he’d invested a quarter of a million shekels that he’d borrowed from the bank. His expertise in agronomy was enough for him to know that fallow vineyards are destined to wilt and die.
Ultimately, Yehuda arrived at his decision. His commitment is so strong and unwavering that, looking back upon weeks of torturous deliberation, he can’t fathom how it had ever been a question. Shmitah is a mitzvah of Hashem, and he won’t desecrate it. He’ll bear the loss of monetary wealth; he’ll even risk outright poverty for the sake of Hashem’s Torah.
He announced his decision to family and friends, and the reactions were far from the emotional support he’d hoped to gain. His friends bluntly told him that he was nuts, while his family minced no words in telling him that he was acting rashly and irresponsibly, although at least they empathized with his motives as they, too, were descendants of Jewish farmers whose deepest aspiration had been to settle in Israel.
Supported by the team at Keren Hashviis, Yehuda took a long, deep breath and resolved to rise early every morning of Shmitah 5782. Instead of heading out to the field to labor for hours on end, he would feast his eyes upon the rising sun while ignoring the tall, prickly weeds poking their heads out of the earth between his precious vines.
One who is not a farmer can never understand what it means for Yehuda to forfeit a quarter-million shekels, abandon his vineyard and with it, his dream. To Yehuda, Shmitah wasn’t only about losing money, but also of whispering goodbye to a lifelong dream finally realized.
Yet Yehuda Alon is made of stern stuff, and he accepted the challenge willfully, committing to observe the mitzvah of Shmitah k’hilchasah with joy.
The one who had the most trouble swallowing it all was Yehuda’s wife.
His wife runs the family finances, and she’d been following their monthly bank statements in rising concern. They’d just taken on a massive financial commitment; there were several major family expenses coming up, loans to repay, and that was all before accounting for the cost of living and feeding their family throughout an entire year!
With the aid of his new friends at Keren Hashviis, Yehuda did his utmost to describe the eternal essence, value and rewards of the mitzvah of Shmitah to his wife. Hours of lectures, dry facts, and emotionally charged explanations did little to sway her, until her husband added one small line that melted her heart completely.
He was worn out after hours of arguments, and his words were spoken in a little over a whisper, but with profound yearning and anguish. “This is my mitzvah, your mitzvah. It’s our mitzvah. With this mitzvah in hand, we’ll ascend to heaven after 120 years and tell G-d: ‘We did this for You and for Your Honor.’”
The passion and desperate plea in Yehuda’s voice penetrated his wife’s heart, and she closed her eyes for a long moment, absorbing what he’d said and straining to feel it in every crevice of her heart.
The silence was deafening, confusing and fraught with tension. At long last, she opened her eyes, met her husband’s gaze and replied, “It’s yours and mine, and we’ll do it for G-d. Shmitah carries the promise of blessing, and we won’t lose out. Maybe we’ll even gain, but I trust in Hashem that He’ll save us and send us the blessing and bounty that we need in exchange for this Shmitah.”
It was a challenge and test that Yehuda and his family passed with flying colors. Despite the battle raging within, Yehuda appreciated that if he didn’t observe Shmitah in Eretz Yisroel, then he might as well return to South Africa. Eretz Yisroel is acquired through the blood, sweat and tears of those who aspire to fulfill the will of Hashem. Eretz Yisroel is gained not through our battles with our Arab neighbors, battles that Yehuda personally witnessed during his military service, but through the self-sacrifice of uncompromising shemiras hamitzvos.
Yehuda and his family are still waiting to witness the miracles that everyone loves to share and repeat, but in the meanwhile, the Alons continue manifesting tremendous self-sacrifice for the mitzvos, with the wholehearted knowledge that they won’t lose out from keeping Shmitah.