Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How it began... How I became interested in shemittah.

My discussion about Shemittah began in the year 5747. But my personal story that brought me to focus on Shemittah began years before. I remember as a young girl how my parents would consistently send packages to Israel for my Aunt and her family. Any time we heard that someone was leaving to Israel my mother would shop and prepare a care package. My aunt would gratefully receive all the care packages and would value every item as if it was the greatest gift. It felt good to be on the giving end. I was in my 20's, single and was working as a computer programmer in Young and Rubicam. I had joined a Bnei Akiva Garin called Moreshet Avot and the plan was to eventually make Aliya to Kiryat Arba. In the summer of 1980 I decided to take an extended vacation leave and went to Kiryat Arba as a volunteer for the Social Services Dept. of Kiryat Arba. I lived in an available studio apt. in Kiryat Arba. I helped in the Maon Keshishim, and befriended an elderly Yemenite women in her 80's, helped take care of 2 adopted Downe Syndrome babies whose adopted mother was pregnant and on bed rest and I tutored a young girl who had epileptic seizures. It was a very productive summer and at the end of the summer one of the families of the Garin mentioned that an apt in their building was for sale and perhaps I was interested. Being that the apt cost $16,000 and with the lawyers fee would amount to no more than $17,000, I bought it with the agreement that I would work the following year in the States and pay it off in installments. It took a year and then I was ready to make aliyah. I had an apt and decided not to use my zechuyot because I had what I needed b"h. In December 1981 I made aliyah. I was determined to be independent and not be a "shnorrer". I was going to work, and not live off of handouts. It hurt me that people of Israel had the reputation of being shnorrers.

Soon my parents began to send me care packages. My nature did not allow me to be on the receiving end. It seemed to me that in America they considered themselves as rich and if you lived in Israel it meant you were poor. I still preferred to be the giver and not the receiver. I didn't like the attitude of Magia Li, it's coming to me because I live in Israel. I was a proud human being and felt that Israel should be a proud State. Within time I made a vow to myself not to accept gifts from others even if it meant rejecting gifts from my own parents. In retrospect the vow was a mistake but I only came to that realization through a very long and agonizing process. I did understand the seriousness of breaking a vow. Therefore even though my parents were heartbroken on my decision not to accept gifts from them, I persisted. My life became unbearable. Because not only wasn't I not accepting gifts from my parents in America, I felt that it would be an insult to them if I did accept from others in Israel. By the end of 1986 I was in a terrible bind. I could not continue living this austere lifestyle and yet I was very afraid to break this vow. Because the purpose of the vow was leshem shamayim, to correct what I perceived to be an a Chillul Hashem. The Chillul Hashem was the fact that many in America and all over the world thought we were "the poor people in Israel", Aniyee Eretz Yisroel and they felt sorry for us and therefore wanted to help us. In reality we were the opposite and should be perceived to be the opposite.

Then I started to read about Shemittah. It was a year that everything belonged to Hashem and we relinquished all our loans and the Land was "returned" to its rightful owner. I saw a way out of my Neder. The produce did not belong to anyone and it had special Kedusha. Farmers declared their fields Hefker and the produce had Kedushas Shviis. What I was eating belonged to what another designated as their Mitzva. So others were returning what they had to Hashem. The Mitzva gave me the right to eat from this produce which had special sanctity. It was then that I perceived a key to the Tikkun of the Chillul Hashem. The Tikkun was the way one gave and the way one received. If one gives in the spirit that I am doing a Mitzva and giving to Hashem than that is the right way to give. The person receiving was not receiving directly from the one that gave. The person receiving was receiving directly from Hashem. Hashem created a Mitzvah which gave him the opportunity for his sustenance. The receiver would desire that Am Yisroel do the Mitzvoth of the Torah and thank Hashem for his livelihood. Others examples of this besides Shemittah are the Mitzvoth of Leket, Shikcha and Peeah. The landowner would do these Mitzvoth and the poor person thanked G-d for his livelihood and be grateful that the landowner was a righteous human being that fulfilled the Mitzvoth. The Kohanim and Leviim are other examples. The Nation is obligated to give Terumot and Maaserot. The proper attitude in performing these Mitzvoth is to say I am fulfilling Mitzvoth. One is not chas veshalom allowed to think I am giving you the Kohen a personal gift and you in turn owe me something. Because if the Kohen took this as a personal gift and even tried to pay it back in some way it was an insult to his Kehuna. The correct way to give is that I am performing a Mitzvah of Terumah and Maasrot. The Kohein and Levi are recipients of other peoples Mitzvoth. They in turn would pray that the people keep the Mitzvoth of the Torah because their sustenance depended on it. This was a tremendous revelation to me and one of many. I understood that I misjudged how people were giving and misjudged how people were receiving. Or perhaps there were flaws in the way people were giving and receiving. If one was embarrassed from receiving that indicates that the giver perhaps had the wrong intention or perhaps the receiver had the wrong intention.

The Shemittah year was a personal tikkun of my character traits. I by nature was a giver. In the Shemittah year I learned how to receive. I by nature did not like to borrow money. In the shemittah year I learned how to borrow. Prior to the Shemittah year I was fasting on a regular basis in order to come closer to Hashem. In the Shemittah year I ate. The list goes on and on...

I cannot describe to you the resistance however to this years experience. If this experienced would be implemented large scale it was no less than a political, social and economic upheaval. The reaction was totally unified agreement against these ideas. I reached the summit but I was alone. At the end of the Shemittah year I went to Hakhel and was thrilled to start anew with the beautiful Mitzvoth of ownership, the laws of tithes, etc. But I was emotionally drained and very alone. I borrowed money from my family in America to pay my overdraft (in retrospect a mistake). I came to America for family Simchas and was unable to withstand family pressure not to return to Israel especially because in Israel these ideas of shemittah were met with such resistance alienating me from almost everyone I held dear, friend, family and rabbinic leaders.

So I was in Golus and the pain was unbearable. But recognizing that perhaps the world was not ready for these ideas about Shemittah I was quiet. It was only after September 11, 2001, 14 years later, which occurred immediately following a shemittah year did I begin to once again speak about shemittah. I saw the nuclear, biological and chemical threat against mankind and thought to myself that no matter how scary implementing shemittah might be, these alternatives were way scarier.

I started writing about Shemittah and my article was eventually posted by Arutz7 in 2004.

Dear Robin, We posted your article on Shmitta under the above title on our Torah page. The URL is http://www.israelnationalnews.com/article.php3?id=3743 Thanks, again (after a few years, no?), Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

18 years later I am still focused about Shemittah. When Shemittah is kept, we declare the Land belongs to G-d. Only the Nation of Israel has the obligations to keep the commandments thereby bringing sanctity to the Land. No other nation even a nice "democratic PA" has the inclination to keep the commandments. If we truly had the desire to keep the commandments in the Torah we would simply say "Sorry, but only we are the violinists that can bring out the music of the Land for all to enjoy. G-d promised the Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel, via His Covenant with our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their seed thereafter. We in turn have obligations. Every seven years and every 50 years we return the Land to G-d declaring that all that we have is His. (The Yovel year can only be observed when the 12 tribes are back in the Land of Israel.)

I am convinced that the moment we declare that we wish to stay on the Land and keep the commandments of the Torah, such as Shemittah, G-d will come to our rescue.

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