Yesterday, even before the Shemita year begins, I had the privilege of leading my first Shemita tour, with my students at MTVA.
We started in the Bet Midrash, learning the Biblical portions describing this incredible commandment, and trying to understand the inspiring messages and challenging vision the Torah sets out for us: an entire year devoted to spiritual reflection, to bridging social gaps and showing concern for others, to recognizing the fundamental equality of all people, and to internalizing the truth of our complete dependence on our Creator.
After this, we continued out to an archeological site in the Jerusalem mountains, where we learned some more texts and understood what Shemita observance would have meant in ancient times. Then, in the afternoon, we moved into the modern era, touring the beautiful historic town of Mazkeret Batya and hearing the tragic and inspiring story of a small group of determined farmers who risked everything they had in their attempt to keep this mitzva in the first modern Shemita year, 5649 (1888-1889).
The most inspiring part, though, was at the end of the day, when we met a farmer who was completing his final preparations for Shemita. Although he has simpler options, this dedicated Jew is investing a huge amount of time and risking a lot of money to run his farm throughout the Shemita year in a way that will (with Hashem’s help) provide the Jewish people with kosher lemehadrin grapes and tomatoes. He showed us his specially-outfitted greenhouse (מצע מנותק) where the tomatoes grow indoors in special flowerpots, so that he can grow vegetables while simultaneously fulfilling the commandment ושבתה הארץ – to let the land rest. And then he took us out to one of his vineyards, all of which he pruned now, before Rosh Hashana (three or four months earlier than he would in a regular year), in order to keep the mitzva. He showed us the potentially detrimental effects of this action, and emphasized that now, he is relying directly on Hashem’s blessings.
In the late afternoon, before returning to Jerusalem, the girls recited mincha right there in the vineyard, barely 24 hours before the Sabbatical Year was to begin. Before they started, I told them of a beautiful custom that is carried out today on Kibbutz Shaalvim – shortly before Rosh Hashana of the Shemita Year, they go down to the fields in order to do a “Kabbalat Shabbat” and wish the fields a “Good Shabbos” just before this new year of holiness and hope descends on Eretz Yisrael. We decided that our mincha in the vineyard can serve a similar purpose.
And so my friends, wherever you are in the world, let’s all embrace this unique once-in-seven-year opportunity as we welcome in the Shnat Shemita of 5782.
Yes, I know it’s Monday, but still…Shabbat Shalom!