I believe that it is appropriate during the Sefiras HaOmer countdown between Passover and the holiday of Shavuos to contemplate our own life and our relationship to events in the world around us. Especially in this era of history, a realistic assessment of world events is likely to lead one closer to the Master of the Universe, as it becomes increasingly clear that we cannot depend on the surrounding culture.
Recently, a friend sent me a disturbing article from the New York Times, reporting on a Dutch soccer game during which fans repeatedly chanted anti-Jewish slogans. This is not the first time such words have been heard, but what’s new here is that the chanters seem to represent a new coalition. The article quoted a spokesman for the Simon Weisenthal Center, who called this "a new alliance between neo-Nazis and jihadists.”
With apologies for repetition, I want to say that I have mentioned this phenomenon many times in the past. My book, 2020 Vision, opens with a quote from the great 19th century commentator the Malbim on the Prophet Ezekiel, which prophetically pinpoints this worldwide coalition between the children of Ishmael and Esau as the harbinger of the Final Redemption. According to the Malbim, this coalition against the Jewish people will lead to the War of Gog U’Magog and then to the Final Redemption with the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Undoubtedly, we are seeing this come to pass before our eyes. The crucial point is to remember where it is all leading and to derive strength and hope from the imminence of the Final Redemption. Our Sages instruct us in proper conduct during the time preceding the Messiah’s arrival: “Rabbi Elazar was asked by his students: What can a person do to be spared the travail of Moshiach? And he responded, ‘One should occupy oneself in the study of Torah and acts of kindness’”(Sanhedrin 98b).
One group of Jews is following this advice in the most remarkable way, and we recently had the merit to see it firsthand, thanks to the kindness of Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, the dedicated leader of Keren Shviis. This group, the farmers of Israel who leave their land fallow every seventh year (shmitta), is conducting itself with mind-boggling self-sacrifice and public allegiance to Torah, even if it means personal hardship. Keren Shviis is helping these farmers in many vital ways.
“Shmittah observed here” sign at the entrance to a farm
Rabbi Shmuel Bloom with farmer Doron Tygg
What is their “act of kindness?” Very simple: they are helping to liberate the Jewish people from exile!
Rashi points out that the Torah commandment of shmittah is intimately linked to our ability to live in the Land of Israel. The first exile in Babylonia, which lasted seventy years, atoned for the seventy shmittah cycles that were unobserved just prior to the destruction of the First Temple (Rashi on Leviticus 25:18). It follows that observing shmittah is a stepping stone to ending exile and rebuilding the Holy Temple!
One farmer we met reconnected to Torah soon after shmittah began. He had a crop of 25,000 (yes 25,000) eggplant seedlings with a contract to sell them for a very large sum to a supermarket chain. At the last minute, he decided to keep shmittah and he tore up the contract! You might think he had second thoughts and regrets, but no: His face was radiant with happiness! I believe his virtuous wife, who also spoke to our group, was a powerful factor in encouraging his heroic stand.
Another farmer described his personal journey from a childhood on an anti-Torah kibbutz, his years of rebellion, when he wandered literally on foot from Israel to India, his travels back to the Land of Israel and to the safe haven of the Torah. Today, against all the odds and “logic,” he is putting everything in G-d’s hands as he upholds the Torah with courage and joy!
The connection between shmittah and the Land of Israel is so powerful! My friends, when we keep the Sabbath are we not keeping life itself? “Shake off the dust! Arise! Don your splendid clothes, My people!” Is it not so for the Sabbath of the Land? I recall hearing of the great rabbi who, when he returned to Israel during Shmittah, kissed the earth and wished it “Good Shabbos!”
What will save us, my friends? Let’s be real! Is it treaties? Is it politics? What’s the answer?
A friend recently told me a word from Reb Yonason Eibeschutz on the blessing “rofeh chole Amo Yisroel - Who heals the sick of His Nation Israel”. Doesn’t G-d heal the other nations also? Why only “His Nation Israel”?
In order for us to beg G-d to heal us, we have to know that He is the Healer! If we believe the doctor is the healer then how can we ask G-d to heal us? The Jewish People knows that G-d is the Only Healer and the doctor is His messenger. So it is with the Sabbath; so it is with shmittah and so it is with every commandment! There is only one healing for the world and that healing is Torah.
Sefiras HaOmer is a season in which we can heal ourselves and the world.
We understand that the nations are forming a worldwide coalition to try to destroy us, G-d forbid! If we believe in the reality of their power, then we are in deep trouble, just as our ancestors were in trouble when they became assimilated into the Egyptian culture.
But if we, like the courageous shmittah farmers of Israel, cast our lot completely with the Master of the Universe, then we will soon see the end of exile with the coming of the Messiah, may it be soon in our days!
Farmer Amir Dromi