Appreciating the Stop Signs in Our Lives
In the world there are a number of beautiful things:
Trees and flowers, people and landscapes,
By keeping one's own eyes open, one can see at least a hundred marvels each day.
Leah Goldberg, Israeli poet (1911-1970)
If you're anything like me, sometimes it feels as if life goes by at a dizzying pace, with no sign of rest in sight. Lucky for us, Jewish tradition provides us with the shmita (release or sabbatical) year, which occurs and is observed every seventh year in the state of Israel.
During the shmita year, which is this year, 5775, we are commanded not to cultivate our fields, and to forgive the debts of those who owe us money. As a result, farmers in Israel are neither sowing nor planting nor harvesting crops on their land this year, and in an effort to maintain the mitzvah, the state of Israel imports vegetables and fruits from other countries for the duration of the shmita year.
What do farmers do if they cannot sow or plant or harvest crops?
They have to reach out to the people around them for help.
But only a society whose citizens have amazingly strong faith and trust in each other can survive in this way. In this regard, I like to say that Israeli society is like a molecule or a virus, always changing and evolving in order to survive.
Indeed, as Israelis, we are taught this concept from a very young age: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh, which means all Israel is responsible for one another. Only when I entered the army, however, did I come to understand the true meaning of this phrase as "We are obligated!" In fact, being a member of the Israeli army community takes this idea to a whole new level. Your friends and fellow soldiers become your brothers and sisters, and the relationships forged in the military last a lifetime.
Following my army service, I came to the United States to serve as a sh'liach (emissary) at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL, a wonderful Reform community that finds just the right way to bring people together. Unfortunately during the last several months, the situation back home in Israel has become especially fragile and more complicated than ever. Recently, terrorists disrupted the morning service at a temple in Jerusalem, using guns and axes to murder five innocent worshippers.
In the aftermath, as secular Jews stood side-by-side with religious Jews, obligated to care for the injured, I was reminded of the phrase I've known since childhood: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh. Indeed, in that moment, all the differences - political, religious, social, and economic - disappeared as all Israel demonstrated its responsibility for one another.
As I prepare to celebrate my first-ever American Thanksgiving, the image that most often comes to mind is a dining table brimming with traditional Thanksgiving fare - a turkey and all the fixings. More important than the food, though, are the friends and family sitting around the table. Indeed, I am grateful for my many blessings, including the friends who will surround me at our Thanksgiving table. I'm grateful, too, for holidays such as this one and the shmita year that serve as "stop signs" in our lives, helping us to fully appreciate each other, our jobs, our Jewish journeys, and all that is good.