Winter came early this year in Israel, but Asi David wasn’t surprised. He knew the rains would come when he needed them. Here’s why:

Meet Asi, Director of the Cowsheds on Moshav Meitav

Asi is one of a growing number of farmers who let their land lie fallow every seven years in observance of the Shemittah (Sabbatical) year. This could seem self-destructive—especially since Asi’s crop of hay and grains is the dietary staple of the 200 cows in his barn. But Asi has firm faith that G‑d will take care of him.

I meet Asi in his barn, which lies at the heart of Moshav Meitav, a settlement established by Kurdish immigrants in the ‘50s. Meitav is nestled in the Yizrael Valley in"Hero" isn't an empty word northern Israel, cradled by the foothills of the Gilboa Mountains and the Mountains of Shomron. When I approach the cowshed, Asi is leaning down to pick up a bale of hay for a cow who just birthed twins.

“I Knew Winter Would Come Early This Year”

When I ask Asi why he wasn’t surprised about the weather, he answers, “On the eighth year [following the Sabbatical year], we get compensation directly from G‑d. It comes as an early, rainy winter that ensures good crops.” With one quick dismissive gesture, he stops my attempt to tell him what a hero he is.

“Hero” isn’t just an empty word. My grandfather lives on Moshav Meitav, so I frequently run into Asi when I’m visiting. I remember asking Asi every time we met last year, “What’s going to be? How will you manage?” He always answered by giving me a big smile. “Don’t worry. G‑d is great. For thousands of years Jews have prayed for the privilege of coming back to Israel—why did they want to, if not for the chance to observe Shemittah? Who knows why I was the one given the honor? It’s worth losing money to live as a Jew should live in Israel.”

Asi says, “Other years, rain doesn’t fall until after Chanukah. The rainfall was perfect this year, both its timing (it fell right after planting) and its amount. Sometimes there’s no rain after we’ve planted, or there’s just a little, enough to rot the seeds. This year it was as good as can be. Grain is more dependent on the rain than other crops. Grain that’s been artificially watered doesn’t produce the same quality harvest that rain-watered grain does. As it stands now, I’m looking at an incredible yield, enough for the entire year. I won’t have to buy grain and I may even be able to sell some of mine.”

Seeing G‑d’s Blessing

Asi says he’s been asking around, and his crop is doing significantly better than those of other farmers in his village who couldn’t resist the temptation to work their fields during the year of Shemittah. “It’s clear to me that it’s not just because my land lay fallow for a whole year [which could be beneficial for the soil]. It’s an obvious blessing from G‑d. One reason so many farmers undertake to observe the laws of Shemittah is because of the explicit miracles connected to it that we can see with our own eyes. These are facts on the ground, not our imagination or a dream.”

This is the second time that Asi observed the laws of Shemittah, but it’s the first time that he observed them in every detail, although he could have found some loopholes.

Asi is fortunate that he didn’t have to face this challenge alone. Rabbi Mendelsohn of the Komemiut settlement established a fund for farmers who observe the laws of Shemittah. “It wasn’t a monthly allowance that covered all the expenses; it was just enough to keep things from falling to pieces,” says Asi. “Obviously,He didn't have to face the challenge alone though, financial considerations didn’t enter into my decision to observe Shemittah.

About a year ago, Asi and his wife, Karmit, went to Toronto to meet some philanthropists who support the fund for Shemittah-observing farmers. He was surprised at the reception he met there. “The Jews in Canada attach so much importance to the observance of Shemittah! Every place I went, they were standing in line to get a blessing from me,” he says. “I was astonished to see how much they value this mitzvah.”

Born Through a Miracle

Asi is no stranger to miracles. Even though he was raised in a home that didn’t observe Torah, he was born due to a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

“My mother was childless for 10 years. Fertility treatments were just starting to develop, and there was no hope in sight. Before I was born, the Rebbe’s emissaries, Rabbi Avraham, may his memory be a blessing, and his wife, Rebbetzin Rochel Dunin, came to live here. My father’s mother thought it was only natural to approach them to ask for a blessing for her son and daughter-in-law. She asked them to send a letter to ‘that great tzadik in America’ to ask for a blessing for them. They asked her to write the letter, and they sent it to the Rebbe. Exactly one year after the letter was sent, my older sister was born. My parents went on to have 10 children, one a year. When I was a child, I would go to the Dunins’ house to participate in their youth group, called ‘Sages of Yavne,’ but when I grew up, our ways parted.”

They renewed their connection before Asi and Karmit married 17 years ago.

The Dunins were starting a new series of Torah classes in their house, and Asi joined them. “I miss those classes. We sat with ‘Rebbe Avraham,’ as we called him,We brought endless questions, and he would answer them without any books, and we talked about everything and anything. We asked him to tell us about the chassidic view of the topics that came up, and he held us spellbound for long hours. It was the same every week: We brought endless questions, and he would answer them, clearly and with a smile. That’s how I found myself drawn to Chabad. There was never any pressure; it all came from a deep understanding of life.”

Rabbi Dunin passed away five years ago, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of hundreds of Jews whom he’d brought closer to Judaism. “Every day, I remember what we’re missing. He was like a father to me. He didn’t just concern himself with our Jewishness—he also helped us out physically. When somebody was in need, I’d tell him and he’d take money from his own pocket for them.” Now Asi helps his widow, Rebbetzin Dunin, spread the light of Judaism throughout the settlement.

The Difference Between Us and Cows

Asi adds one more thought at the end of our interview: “I want to leave the readers with this: What lesson about service of G‑d do I take from my work with the cows? The cows eat and sleep, and they are happy with their lives. Watching the cows, you can get a good idea of the ‘animal soul’—the part of us that just cares about basic, physical needs and desires. But we need to know that we’re not like them. We must live a deeper life. Otherwise, how is a man different than an animal?”