“When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for hashem… your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.” It seems that there has never been a harder mitzvah to observe than the mitzvah of Shmita, the sabbatical year. Imagine today God asking us to close our business for one year and just rely on what we have!? Who knows what our field or business would look like!? The next year we would have to start all over again.
Why is the mitzvah of Shmita connected to the land of Israel? Why shouldn’t we observe Shmita in Canada? We are currently counting the Omer leading to Shavuot, a holiday that does not have its own date for it depends on our counting which we start on Pesach (Shavuot falls always on the fiftieth day after Pesach). Our Sages used this concept of counting to try and explain the connection between Passover and Shavuot.
The Maharal of Prague for example says that God wanted to tell us that Passover, which reflects the exodus from Egypt, is only the first stage and gets its true meaning only with the second, ultimate stage: Shavuot. On Shavuot we received the Torah and it was only then that the people of Israel truly became a nation for God and not just a nation of slaves on the run. But the interesting thing is that in the Torah Shavuot is never referred to as the holiday on which we received the Torah. Not even once does it state such an idea! Only last week we read about it: “You shall count fifty days and you shall offer a new meal-offering to Hashem.” Shavuot has nothing to do with the day on which we received the Torah! The only thing we know about Shavuot is that it celebrates the new harvest of the field. We also know that there is a famous argument in the Gemara about the date on which the Torah was given: Rabbanan say it was given on the seventh of Sivan, but Rabbi Yosi says it was given on the sixth of Sivan. In other words: We can’t even be sure that Shavuot is actually on the day that the Torah was given. Even in ancient times when the month was set according to the Beit-din there was no assurance that Shavuot would fall on the day of Matan Torah because if we add a day to the month or reduce one, our fifty-day-count will not be completed on the day the Torah was given. So how is it that Shavuot today is known as the day on which we got the Torah when it looks purely like a matter of coincidence?
All our holidays appear to be closely linked to nature; that is how they are described in the Torah. Our ancient holidays represented different stages of the agricultural season reflecting what was happening in the fields, but at a certain point in history they were changed into what we would define as religious holidays that represent such things like coming out of Egypt, receiving the Torah and so on. The nature theme of our festivals is forgotten and neglected among us to such an extent that when I ask someone why we take four species on Sukkoth, he won’t give me the simple answer that we take four species of plants that grew in our fields in order to present them to God, but rather he would quote some Midrash of Chazal that talks about the idea how each species symbolizes a different kind of Jew.
When we went into exile, we lost the connection to our land and Judaism limited itself to the “four amot of Halacha”, our holidays lost their natural meaning and chazal needed to focus on a different meaning with a more “religious” touch. However, once we are coming back to the land of Israel, we can start performing all the Shmita laws. Then we have to go back to nature in order to see God in nature, in our work and in every aspect of our life, thanking Him and acknowledging that everything comes from God.
It seems that in our time we have returned to Israel but we have not yet returned to nature. We are not yet able to see God in nature and we are not connected to the original meaning of our holidays. Instead we return to malls and big private houses, we return to big Shuls and Yeshivas, but we haven’t returned yet to the original Judaism, the one that connects us with God and nature.