Today is the last day of the Shmita year and this is the third blog I’ve written about it.
In the first, I wrote about two life lessons imbedded in this most unique of mitzvot. I shared about the possibility of turning the everyday act of eating into a holy moment, a spiritual tool for personal growth as well as using this year as a springboard for increasing our awareness of where our food comes, about how it’s grown and the journey it makes through our modern-day industrial food system.
In the second blog, I expressed my frustration with my own personal experience of this Shmita year as I longed to be like the farmers in ancient Israel who, along with the land, were granted a year of rest from their work in order to refresh, reflect and reactivate their creative juices. As I stared out of the window of the train that brought me to work each day, I wondered if the every-seventh-year revolution that Shmita seemed to be was lost on our modern-day culture and civilization.
In this third, and last, blog, I am writing to share the tremendous pride I feel in being part of Am Yisrael today.
As the last few hours of this Shmita year tick by, I look back on what Shmita has become in the modern state of Israel. A state whose existence, challenged and cursed by many in our world today, is maintained by the Jewish people’s daily commitment to, and acknowledgment of the necessity of, a homeland of their own. The only land in the world that provides the Jewish people the opportunity to be a complete people with nationhood, land and Torah in complementing harmony.
This past year, there was a rarely a time when I was driving in my car and I did not see that familiar green and yellow banner next to a field proudly stating, “Here we are keeping Shmita.”
In restaurants around the country, kosher certificates notified customers which kind of Shmita produce they were using.
In our small town of Pardes Hanna, the fruit and vegetable guy in the center of town became an outlet for Otzar Beit Din produce.
Our six-year old daughter, during our visit to the U.S. this summer, wondered why it was okay that people were watering their gardens during the Shmita year, giving us the chance to teach her about the Eretz Yisrael-specific aspect of the Shmita year.
The organization Shmita Yisraelit helped a wide diversity of Israelis to understand and appreciate the importance of doing something different in and with our lives once every seven years.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Bnei Brak the other day for a parade which honored and celebrated farmers who fully strictly observed the Shmita year by not working their land at all.
The greatest success of this Shmita year is that it became an active conversation in Israeli society. It was in the stores and in the news. It was discussed in the Knesset, as the government provided essential funding for many farmers to prepare for the Shmita year and, just a couple of months ago, passed the “Shmita Law”, giving debt relief to over 20,000 Israelis with a combined debt of nearly 10 billion shekels.
For me, this all combines to strongly remind me that Israel, with all of its beautiful imperfection, is a Jewish country. The Jewish state. The one place in the world where ancient laws from the Torah become the inspiration for governmental legislation and thousands-of-years old liturgy are transformed into lyrics for the country’s most popular songs. Religious or secular, Israelis are searching and seeking for ways to connect the ancient and the present. To give our still young country roots that run deep.
In Pirkei Avot (5:11), it teaches that the punishment for not keeping the Shmita year is the exile of the Jewish people from Israel. With this Shmita year coming to a close, I can say with confidence that the Jewish people are here to stay.