Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (1865-1935), First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael describes the spirituality of the Shmita year in his work Shabbat HaAretz (The Sabbath of the Land):

Life can only be perfected through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday life. The individual recovers from the influence of the mundane at frequent intervals, every Shabbat day…What the Shabbat achieves regarding the individual, the Shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole. The nation (in which the Divine spirit dwells prominent and eternal) has special need of expressing from time to time the revelation of its own Divine light at the fullest brightness, not suppressed by the cares and toil of the passions and rivalries of everyday life, so that the totality of the soul’s purity may be revealed within it.

And if that callousness which is bound to be present in the life of the community causes the deterioration of the moral standard of life and the constant conflict between the ideal heeding of the appeal to practice loving kindness, truthfulness, compassion and pity on the one hand and the raging oppression, coercion and pressure of the quest for material gain inevitable in daily life, on the other, cause the distancing of the Divine light…

The periodical suspension of the normal social routines raises this nation- when morally settled- spiritually and morally and crowns it with perfection. This is achieved through the Divine content that is rooted in the nation and which stands high above any social system and order and which raises and perfects social order.

This past week in Israel we witnessed two episodes that prove that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to reach the spiritual ideal that Rav Kook is describing. The first was a series of violent rallies where Ethiopian Israelis claimed that their community is not being treated fairly. The second was that Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel was sentenced to a minimum of eight months in prison for bribery.

On the other hand, the Divine light clearly shone last week when Israeli safety crews traveled to Nepal to rescue all of the stranded Israelis, bringing them home safely, including Or Asaraf’s friends who helped find his body, bringing him to Israel for a proper burial. Teams of doctors, nurses and medics set up makeshift hospitals to help anyone in need of medical attention. This was a true Kidush HaShem, sanctification of God’s name.

As our new government is being set up during this Shmita year, we hope and pray that our leaders will practice loving kindness, truthfulness and compassion and serve as role models for the entire Jewish people.