As the sabbatical year approaches, many experts warn that the earth’s bounty will not suffice to feed the world. But prophetic messages and rabbinic wisdom putting the looming crisis in a redemptive framework paint a different picture.
Experts: Global famine is imminent
Last year, many experts were predicting severe global food shortages. In November 2020, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 690 million people were undernourished and 130 million additional people risked being pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of the year. But these dire predictions were exacerbated even further by the pandemic.
“Ironically, there will be record yields for many grains this year, but the disruptions in the supply chain caused by the pandemic as well as the global climate crisis and increasing conflict in several countries is leading to a hunger pandemic as well,” Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of Food Tank, told IPS.
Abby Maxman, Oxfam America’s President & CEO, gave a similar message in an interview with IPS .
“We’re hearing the same refrain all around the world,” Maxman said. “Families are very worried as they are forced to make impossible decisions – do they risk catching the disease as they go out to earn money to buy food? Or stay home and watch their children go hungry?”
One of the challenges facing the global food market is the closing of borders due to the pandemic. Other shortages threaten the intricate web of food delivery. CNN recently reported that up to 25% of oil trucks are not moving because of a lack of qualified drivers which has translated into shortages of fuel at some gas stations. Modern agriculture is gasoline intensive, relying on heavy machinery.
Most calculations predict a global food crisis by the year 2050 when the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion. At that point, in order to meet global demand, the world will need to produce 70% more food than today to feed all those people.
These dire predictions were put in an even dimmer light by Gro Intelligence founder and chief executive Sara Menker who noted that previous calculations, such as the ones put out by the UN, focused on mass and weight and not nutritional value. According to her nutritional value-based calculations,next year, the year 2023, will be the crossover point when we will no longer be able to produce enough food to feed a growing population. She has estimated that by 2027, there could be a 214 trillion calorie deficit. At that point, China, India, and Africa will make up more than half of the global population and will need to import food. But according to her calculations, even if all the surplus produce from countries in Europe, North and South America was solely exported to those three hotspots, it would not suffice.
300-year-old prophecy: global sustenance has run out
Menker’s prediction of an imminent global food crisis mirrors a prophetic vision credited to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, a renowned 18th-century Jewish scholar and leader known as the “Alter Rebbe”. While reading from the Torah scroll, the Alter Rebbe had a vision that the Messiah would come after the year 5775, six years ago. His vision was based on the Jewish tradition that the world was given a general amount of sustenance to last 4,000 years from creation. When that sustenance ended, the Messiah would come. It is taught in the Talmud, the book of Jewish oral law, that the Messiah can come anytime between the year 4000 and the year 6000, according to the Hebrew calendar. His vision came while reading the section of the Torah dealing with the half-shekel taken from every Jewish male, each year. The half-shekels from the 600,000 Jews in the desert (Numbers 1:46) equaled one hundred talents of silver, with each talent composed of 3,000 full shekels of silver. But the Bible lists an additional 3,550 half-shekels (1,775 full shekels), from which Moses made the silver hooks at the top of the pillars used to set up the screen surrounding the Tabernacle in the desert. The Alter Rebbe explained that those 1,775 shekels of silver given to the tabernacle gave the world another 1,775 years of sustenance.
This sustenance, as pointed out by the scientific experts, is quickly running out.
Snow preceding shemittah signals famine preceding redemption
Just such an impending agricultural crisis was predicted by Rabbi Yekutiel Fish in March based on a Midrash which states that in the Hebrew month of Nisan in the year before the Shemittah (the sabbatical), a great snowstorm will cause widespread global famine in order to raise in the collective consciousness that the Messiah is indeed imminent. Such a snowstorm did indeed appear in Israel as well as a massive and devastating polar vortex that crippled the middle of the US.
Next year is, in fact, a Shemittah (Sabbatical) year, beginning on Rosh Hashanah 5782 which will fall on September 6, 2021. The Shemitah comes every seven years, making it a form of Sabbath that occurs on a yearly, rather than a weekly, cycle. The Sabbath is generally characterized by a cessation that signifies accepting God’s greater authority in the world. Practically during the weekly Sabbath, this means a cessation of labor, showing that despite spending six days working for the material, we stop on the seventh day to show that God is the true master. The same is true for the Shemitah year. We work the land for six years, and on the seventh, we leave the land fallow and the fields are left open for anyone to come and take of the fruit.
The Babylonian Talmud in the Tractate of Sanhedrin, 97a, brings the verse from Amos 9:11:
“On that day, will I raise up the fallen booth (Sukkah) of David.”
This verse comes in the context of a prophecy about God bringing the nation of Israel back from exile among the nations. Amidst descriptions of the days preceding the Messiah, the Talmud says:
“As it is written, in that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen. Our Rabbis taught: in the seven-year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come-in the first year, this verse will be fulfilled.”
The Talmud is saying explicitly that the Messiah will come in the first year after the Shemitah. It should be noted that the Talmud describes the days before the Messiah in-depth, and they are especially difficult times.
Shemittah: God’s promise
Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s tomb on Mount Zion, cited a verse in Leviticus as promising a bountiful harvest in the year preceding the shemittah that will suffice until the year after the shemittah.
I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.Leviticus 25:21
“Observing the shemittah is an expression of faith that God will keep his promise,” Rabbi Berger said. “God has kept all of his promises, as witnessed by the Jews’ return to Israel. He will, of course, keep this promise as well.”
“But the shemittah is only inside Israel. The world expresses their faith in God’s promises through how they treat Israel,” Rabbi Berger said. “That is being tested now, more than ever.”