The Greatest Generation

My grandparents belonged to “The Greatest Generation.” They were Americans born around 1920, whose childhood was marked by the Great Depression and who came of age during the second World War. This was a generation that embodied success through grit and hard work, whose moral compass was set by the clarity of good G.I. Joe vs evil Nazi. They were idealistic and realistic, Western, and value-driven. They were the original baseball-and-apple-pie patriots, many of them children of immigrants, homegrown nationalists who were committed to family and country. 

My grandfather, Rubin Goldstein a’h, a few months shy of being awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery on D-Day.

Growing up in the forties and fifties, journalist Tom Brokaw remarked that even as a small boy, he felt the dignity and honor of the generation that preceded his:

Looking back, I can recall that the grown-ups all seemed to have a sense of purpose that was evident even to someone as young as four, five, or six. Whatever else was happening in our family or neighborhood, there was something greater connecting all of us, in large ways and small. (The Greatest Generation, Chapter 1)

The young people who have come of age in the current war will be Israel’s Greatest Generation. Specifically, those in their twenties and thirties, those who mobilized within hours and left their families and lives for months on end, will form the core of our future. They will profoundly impact Israel’s identity. They will take the helm of Israel’s broken political leadership. They will fundamentally reshape our culture and its aesthetic expression. They will recharge the religious nature of the Jewish people – they will bring us all closer to the Divine, the children steering the hearts of their fathers to return (Malachi 3:24).

We should confidently put our faith in Israel’s Millenials and Gen Z because they are the ones fighting the war. War is a refiner. On the battlefield, facing his own mortality, the soldier is stripped down to his fundamental self, and sees – perhaps for the first time in his life, perhaps for the first time in recent history – what is real in this world. Why do I fight? What is my life worth? What do I value even more than life itself? He sees reality, and he shows it to the rest of us. The Israeli soldier is right now in that rarefied space of absolute, shocking truth. Look into his eyes: he is a man beyond any other man. 

It sounds cruel to think of war as anything but hell, and to stretch our consciousness beyond just wanting all of our loved ones in uniform home safe and sound, but the truth is that the soldiers on the front lines have merited an experience that has and will transform them in a way that those of us who do not or cannot fight will never merit. Winston Churchill pined for his people to have such character: 

Come on now all you young men, all over the world. You are needed more than ever now to fill the gap of a generation shorn by the war. You have not an hour to lose. You must take your places in Life’s fighting line. Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are. ‘The earth is yours and the fulness thereof.’ Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities. Raise the glorious flags again, advance them upon the new enemies, who constantly gather upon the front of the human army, and have only to be assaulted to be overthrown. Don’t take No for an answer. Never submit to failure.  (My Early Life, Chapter 4)

War sloughs off layers of falsehood and fantasy that have weighed Israeli society down and rendered us sluggish and disaffected. This war, more than any other in all of Israel’s history, has exposed for us all the shocking reality of what we collectively had refused to confront for the last hundred years. We had buried our discomfort with the concept of an enemy that is determined to destroy us under heavy layers of false constructs: it is only Hamas, not the Palestinians, who want to dissolve Israel, and they are a minority, and if we give them enough freedom and money and agency then they will be willing peace partners. We pundited and punted and hemmed and hawed and had conferences and singalongs and made excuses and murmured diplomatic niceties and ran to shelters and shot down rockets aimed at our cities but now – now we must look to the soldiers. They have merited the awful, transcendental experience of milchemet mitzvah, of being called to battle for Israel’s very right to exist, where the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you (Deuteronomy 23:15). They have done what they were charged to do: your camp shall be holy. And so our soldiers are our holy ones now, for they have been refined through war. They have an unsurpassed clarity of purpose and mission. 

We, on the edges of this war, can more easily fall prey to the nihilism and helplessness that threaten to weaken our resolve. Our vision is confused and clouded by the squawking cacophony of cynical spin-masters, the smug and self-righteous international and local institutions who push immoral agendas. It is a sisyphean task to remain steadfast under the constant barrage of poisonous rhetoric. I find myself turning again and again to the soldiers themselves for their ironclad steadfastness, and for their optimism. 

America’s Greatest Generation was characterized by their “towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order. They know how many of the best of their generation didn’t make it to their early twenties, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war the world has seen” (Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, Chapter 1).

Our soldiers currently fighting in our greatest war are creating our new world, and defining its direction. They are forming not only the internal space of their own lives, but of our collective national consciousness as well. God has granted Israel our Greatest Generation. They will lead us to discovering who we are meant to be. 

Our son Ruvi, named after his great-grandfather Rubin

War

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?” 

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

War was born to Israel on October 7, 2023, a new creature that burst like fire through its mother, who had born many other wars, but never one like this. There she was, in her kitchen, readying the Sabbath meal. “Suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone, with sinews, and flesh and skin”. The labor pains were brutal, and unexpected, folding the mother unto herself in blinding agony on that bright holiday morning. She could not speak, but she motioned to the others around her, and hordes upon hordes came to help her deliver. War came roaring into the world on that day that was neither night nor day, but an accumulation of moments calculated by the mounting horrors, by burnt and mutilated flesh, by kidnapped babies and raped girls. It was stillborn, almost – “sinews and skin – but there was no breath.” The mother herself would have to breathe life into this new being.

We – Israel – are the mother. A month ago, we caught our collective breath, and all together, we breathed life into the war. We breathed life into it as easily and as naturally as we ourselves breathe and feel our hearts beat. We did not need to think, or to calculate. Just as the body instinctively knows how to labor, Israel knows instinctively how to survive, and how to rise to the moment. 

And this is our moment: not just an historical moment, but a transcendental one. This is the moment of our national reckoning, and of our collective glory. This moment is “the time for war.” War reasserts reality. It cuts through all of the petty and false constructs we have made for ourselves, and exposes what is authentic and true. We now plainly see how very much we are “a nation dwelling apart, not reckoned among the nations.” We are still reeling from the great and horrifying shock of discovering the depth of the visceral hatred towards Israel. We wear our loneliness as if our skin was turned inside out, raw and open. But we do not feel alone. In our loneliness, we understand that we have God, and He has us, and that we have each other. And that understanding has been chiseled deep into the hearts and souls of everyone who feels his place is with Israel. 

In the aftermath of the birth of this war, we are each of us like the handmaiden at the splitting of the sea, כשפחה בים, taking in that which even prophets couldn’t fully comprehend. This is an event that will live far beyond the limited scope of our time in this world. But we are tasked to live through it. We have to make sense of what hasn’t ever existed in the world before: the newness of Yisrael-as-nation that will fight כאיש אחד, as one man, in full unity of purpose and mission. We will no longer accept the savagery of an enemy that has sworn our destruction; we will hunt them, and dwell securely. Yet right alongside the pain sits serenity, and awe. They both inhabit our souls in equal measure. 

This war has brought us to a simple, pure recognition of who we are, and of our place in this world. The pain tears and claws at us without letup…yet who is not profoundly emotional at seeing the glory of Yisrael? What Jewish heart does not burst with pride and hope, and with the strongest sense that God is present here – that He is with us in our sorrow, and in our triumph? We sense the transcendental moment with startling clarity, like the handmaiden witnessing the sea parting before her. Zeh eli v’anvehu, elohei avi, varomimenhu. This is my God, and I shall praise Him; the God of my fathers, and I shall exalt Him

There is a quickening felt in Israel, as a single body straightens and tightens into itself in preparation for a prolonged and vicious fight. And yet at the same time, there is an opposing drive to return to how things were, to blunt the process of real change, to reduce our present circumstance to a terrible inconvenience involving “what one needs to do during wartime.” We crave comfort and routine. We crave returning to the familiar, to what our lives looked like before October 7th, even if the status quo back then was to remain beleaguered and terrorized. The point of this war should be the restoration of a reality that has always been present, if generally unacknowledged by us and definitely mocked by our enemies: we are Yisrael, a nation that dwells apart from other nations, a people united in God’s Name, an old-new people who want to live in peace in the Land that God had promised to our forefathers. We should not allow that clarity to be muddled by fanciful delusions or nostalgia. What was before cannot and should no longer be. 

Hatred of Jews is not the result of a narrative that paints Israel as the oppressor and Hamas as the oppressed; it is the basis of that narrative. It is the root, not the consequence. This war is being waged in service of narratives, and the time has come for us to mobilize around ours. Remarkably, this is exactly what is happening. The awakening of Israel to its identity, to its core values, to its shared purpose and deep mutuality, is genuine and true. The spontaneous mobilization of the collective Jewish people, and for those many who have the moral clarity to support them in their fight, have helped us discover who we are. Our charge is to sustain everything that we have achieved, lest all be lost: 

…I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us. (Eric Hoffer, The Longshoreman Philosopher) 

A mother has arisen in Israel. She has birthed a war – now let her raise it, and let it do what it was born to do.

Let’s Meet in the Sukkah

My friend Alan was telling me yesterday about his evening. He had signed up for an event in a stranger’s sukkah in Jerusalem. Along with some of his older kids, he went to join other Israelis in “learning and delving deep, and perhaps even arguing – but together – about what Israeli, Jewish and democratic identity really is.” That was how the program is described by its organizers, “Shomrim al haBayit haMeshutaf” (Guarding our Shared Home) and “929” (the non-denominational educational platform promoting a chapter a day of Bible study). There were open sukkot all around Israel during the holiday, Alan urged, and so I found one twenty minutes from my home, and went. 

Hagit was our host. She lives in HaSolelim, a secular kibbutz on the northern fringe of the Jezreel Valley, founded in the same year as my religious moshav, just as Israel was born. I placed the wine we had brought on the heavily-laden refreshment table. Hagit cautioned offhandedly that her sukkah was not kosher, a fact that Iris, the evening’s moderator who had introduced herself as the rabbi of a liberal, humanistic congregation in Haifa, affirmed. I was sitting next to Iris throughout the evening; as she handed out the source sheets she had prepared, she explained to the participants that she has been a professor of Bible for upwards of thirty years, and our time together would be spent discussing texts. She had gorgeous nails, and a rattail haircut, and I really longed to ask her about the rattail because she seemed an open and generous person who would welcome any question, but she had already launched the program. She asked us all to share what was permanent in our lives, and what, like the sukkah hut in which we were gathered, was transient. 

Dov was sitting on the other side of the circle, a passionate man in his early seventies. He quickly jumped in. “I’ll tell you what’s permanent for me: my love for Miri, and my belief that Israel is a state of all of its citizens, Palestinians included. I’m a Marxist and an atheist, but the Tel Aviv I’ve lived in for thirty years isn’t the same Tel Aviv now.”

“No, it isn’t,” Miri agreed, close to tears. “What’s permanent to me is Dov, and my family, and traditions are very permanent and important to me. I never pray on Yom Kippur, but this Yom Kippur, toward the end of the day, I felt compelled for some reason to go down to the Habad service on the street and say a memorial prayer for my parents. And my friends, people who I’ve known and demonstrated with for years, ruined that for me. They screamed and tore apart the whole set-up. You know, Dov doesn’t look like the type, but he cried and cried that night. I hope that what happened during this year’s Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv is ara’i (fleeting, transient).”  

Eilon was probably the youngest one there, in his thirties I would guess. He came from Jerusalem to visit his family who live in a religious yishuv nearby. He was serious and intense, earnest about protesting judicial reform, one of the two men there who was wearing a kippah, and the most pessimistic. “If we’re going to divide like we did thousands of years ago into two kingdoms, ‘Yisrael’ (the left, secular, symbolized by Tel Aviv and Haifa) and ‘Yehudah’ (the religious, right, symbolized by Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria), then I don’t see a future for Israel, and I came to talk about that.”

Ronya and her husband Alon were far more cheerful. Alon’s t-shirt said ‘HumanBeing,’ and he spoke for a long time in a very calm, measured tone. “Permanence is family. What we are fully confident in is how temporary these divides amongst us are. The loudest voices are the extremes, and we are here to represent the majority, the moderates, who may disagree but will be civil about it and work to find solutions.” Ronya had a beautiful smile, and added that what was permanent for her was her willingness to listen to others. “Like, for instance, I belong to a large group of Israeli women from all walks of life, Haredim and Arabs included, and we meet up every Rosh Hodesh in a different location. I had participated in a demonstration of the “shefachot” (lit. maidservants, where women dress in the red-hooded costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale to symbolize their fear of a dystopian state where they might be silenced and oppressed), and was talking about it at our meet-up. I was surprised to hear how some of the religious women were deeply offended by our protest. But they heard me, and I heard them.” 

Iris instructed us to form chavrutot and discuss the verses in Genesis 12, where God instructed Abraham to leave his land and birthplace, and travel to a land that God would show him. We were to talk about what “eretz” (land) and “moledet” (birthplace) meant to us in the context of those verses. First to speak in our congenial group of three was Dana, a vivacious gym teacher with a young son, who made aliyah from Russia when she was twelve. She had denied her moledet for a long while, she said, determined to be fully Israeli, becoming an officer in the IDF and moving to a kibbutz. “I know what tyranny is,” she said, “and I fear it here as well, but I cannot imagine it would be as bad as Russia. But I’m starting to consider whether I belong here.” 

Eliezer Yaffe, from nearby moshav Nahalal, challenged her on that. He shared with us that if Israel fell, then so did he: “I have no other land.” His moledet is one and the same as his eretz, unlike his famous grandfather and namesake, who emigrated to Israel as a young man during the Second Aliyah and founded both Nahalal and Tnuva, the first agricultural cooperative. I asked Eliezer if he felt the same existential threat now as he did before leading his soldiers in battle during the Six Day War. “No,” he said firmly. “You and I and Dana are here, talking. That was war. This is a family spat.” 

We shared easily, different tribes within one large family. Miri said that was the beauty of Israel, unlike Armenia, which she had just visited. “There, you go into any restaurant, amazing food, but it’s all the same. Here, I go to my sister-in-law who is Moroccan, and the food she serves! Gan Eden. She comes to me, maybe she doesn’t like my food as much, but it’s different, and that’s the beauty of it.” Chava scolded her from across the circle, “Don’t knock your gefilte fish. Who doesn’t love gefilte fish?” (Chava is Tunisian.) 

When we gathered once again as a group, some challenged that sure, this was a lovely gathering, but that was only because we didn’t talk of any substance. We didn’t brainstorm how to reform the judiciary, or whether it should be reformed at all, or the unease that brought us and many others together in these types of forums. But most of the participants felt that the evening had given them hope, that really, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis want to get along and are willing to compromise so that our tribes can live together harmoniously in a Jewish, democratic state.  

One more time, around the circle, for whoever wanted to part from the sukkah with thoughts of permanence and transience. “Generations come and go, but the land is forever,” quoted Bracha, a retiree from across the street.  “The land, and the Torah. I am not observant, but I love learning Torah, and that is my permanence.” 

It was my turn. “Before we arrived this evening, I spoke with my son who was heading with his soldiers to guard those who had come to pray at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem. I asked him if all was well, and he responded as he always does: zchut, Ema (it’s an honor, Mom). He heard where we were going, and he gave the same response: walla, zchut. My “permanence” is the zchut that I feel to be here, at this place and in this time, in this land and with you all. What should be “ara’i,” for all of us, is a sense of despair. I think of Joseph, who all but tore the Children of Israel apart, but was also the one who united them together. If we believe that we can ruin everything that we have built, we must also believe that we can heal.”

Dov thought about this, and said to us all: “I don’t believe in God, or in being in Joseph’s Tomb, and I wish your son wasn’t there. But I’ll pray for his safety, Tamar, and that is something you can always depend on as permanent with me.” 

As we parted, with sincere hope that we might meet together again and talk more about what unites us, and how we can bridge our divides, I whispered to Miri: “I hope next Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, you can say a prayer for your parents in peace.” And she grasped my arm and said, “What a zchut that would be.” 

Maybe nothing of permanence was achieved in that sukkah, but the temporary warmth of sharing between Jews of different stripes opened and stirred something deep inside us all. I think that was what we were all fundamentally seeking; that was definitely why I had come (thanks, Alan, for pointing me in the right direction). For those frustrated that we offered no solutions, I thought: we can keep at this, and maybe we’ll get there. We ended the night in song, because we are Israelis, and Israelis love to sing together: “Who is the man who desires life? He who guards his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking badly. He who turns away from the bad, seeking out and pursuing only peace” (Psalms 34).

Six Years Until the Next Shmittah

Do you remember what a farm was like in your childhood imagination? Mine was the idyll. I had all kinds of romantic notions since I grew up in suburbia, where the strip mall met the farmland. Summer Sundays meant a trip to Baughers to pick peaches, even though the rest of our fruit came to our table in supermarket plastic. We’d pile in the brown station wagon and within minutes be in the lull of the “broccoli trees,” a cruciferous border of white oak that protected the placid stretches of unbroken, rolling fields from humanity’s urban sprawl. I might have thought the view was pasted on the car window, such was its unrelenting sameness, punctuated only by the occasional red silo. We drove down Taneytown Pike, passing exits to Finksburg, Pleasant Valley, Dundalk. When we got to the exit for Boring, MD (I’m not kidding, look it up), we’d have already been immersed in the motley medley that made up our excursion soundtrack: John Phillips Sousa, Uncle Moishy, WBAL talk radio. Farms were in reach, but known only in the vaguest, most sanitized sense, as occasional destinations where we could feel even more wholesome than the already pretty wholesome lazy Sundays of Orthodox Jewish Baltimore in the 80s. The reality is you had to pass Boring in order to get pretty much anywhere, and as kids, that suited us fine. 

This was the pre-Trader Joe’s era. Sure, there was plenty of produce and natural bounty to hunt and gather from store shelves, even for the kosher consumer, but limiting the sum total of our sustenance to what the supermarket offered felt very…economical, efficient. Sterile. Now there’s a profusion of options that bring the farm directly to your grocery shelves, but back then we’d slap on dungarees and head out for a pick-your-own afternoon. It was an opportunity to reconnect to sun and dirt. It was a chance to see nothing but orchards for miles around, and that somehow felt really good to everyone.

We would head to one of three local farms open to the public. We would pick fruit, buy apple butter, drink cider, sit on picnic blankets, pet goats. As a child, the line between Old MacDonald and reality was vague. It certainly seemed that the book drawings of Wilbur the pig prancing towards the County Fair after a good buttermilk bath, or the enchanting scenes scripted by James Herriot, were true to life. These regular outings were a twine-and-burlap thread winding throughout an ordinary parochial childhood. All of the bale mazes, pumpkin sculptures and 4-H contests scattered throughout my formative years reinforced my sense that farming life must be the sweetest, most straightforward life of all. 

Torah study from a young age fortified that mythos. So many of the scenes in the Torah involve the outdoors, the fields and animals. So many of the mitzvot are linked to harvesting crops, tending to fruiting trees, preparing grain, and caring for and properly slaughtering animals. Our holiest day, Shabbat, is described as a day where we abstain from work, first and foremost fieldwork and animal husbandry. Our holidays are all intimately linked to the harvest cycle.

I grew up in my oxford-and-plaid three-piece religious school uniform believing along with my classmates that were we ever to have some land in Israel, then we would keep a corner of our fields available for the needy to harvest (peah). We’d make sure not to go back to collect any sheaves of grain that had been forgotten (shiche’cha) or had inadvertently fallen from our baskets (leket), and of course we would redeem our firstborn donkeys with a lamb or goat! (The donkey would have to be redeemed even if we were farming outside of Israel, but I’m not sure that we third graders sensed that distinction.) It went without saying that we’d time sabbaticals to coincide with shmittah, the final year of a seven-year cycle, where it is forbidden to plant, harvest, prepare or improve the land of Israel. Not only would the land rest, but we would observe that cycle along with her.

Well, here I am, briskly walking toward middle age, getting deeper and deeper into the realities of modern farming in the Holy Land. Unsurprisingly, there really is quite a lot of pastoral serenity and romance in the farming life, very much in line with those childhood memories (minus the red silos and 4-H contests, though my neighbor does show her purebreds in national competitions). We have quite an extensive poultry population. I can’t quite say “production,” because at this time we’re still only consuming the eggs and the birds per our own family’s need, and haven’t branched out to a broader market. There’s the regular egg collection, the feeding and daily care of the chicken, turkey and quail, the in-house slaughter and processing that defines our lives as real-deal farm-to-table. There’s the upkeep of the olive grove, and soon we’ll be starting on the aquaponics greenhouse to grow vegetables and farm fish. 

Where the haze of romance dissipates into a more rooted, mature and real love is in contending with the reality of 21st century farming, especially for a Jew in Eretz Israel. We do not practically observe the mitzvot of peah, leket and sh’checha – not because we’ve opted out, but because they are no longer relevant. The poor do not gather in the fields, scythes and baskets in hand, waiting for landowners to grant them access. Shmittah, too, has many work-arounds, including otzar bet din and heter mechira, both mechanisms that I won’t get into here but which pose halachically acceptable options for farmers to keep planting and harvesting as if it wasn’t a shmittah year. Once we have the aquaponics greenhouse up and running, shmittah won’t be relevant to the large bulk of our enterprise, since the strictures of shmittah don’t apply to vegetables raised on grow beds. 

Shmittah has come and gone, and there was no need to take a sabbatical, since the type of farming that we do doesn’t involve planting or harvesting annuals. True, we were limited in tree care, and the suckers and weeds surrounding the olive trees just about engulfed them. That was an exercise in restraint, since there were so many gorgeous days that begged us to get to work and tame the growth. But other than that, our shmittah observance was passive. I barely felt the limitations of shmittah any more than other Israeli Jews. 

This is because for the non-”traditional” farmer, meaning those of us who no longer grow fruit and vegetables straight from the ground, shmittah has gone the way of many other old-world practices. Most of the mitzvot of shmittah are “thou shalt nots,” the לאווין that govern industry involving encouraging plant growth or harvesting annuals or perennials. But for the non-traditional farmer, which is the route more and more new farmers are choosing throughout the world, these strictures aren’t the ethos that guide a more conceptual shmittah observance. For them (and for us), the positive command to “have the land rest” evokes all kinds of creative ideas as to how we might actively observe the cessation of working the land. 

(While all of those לאווין constitute a prohibition of עבודת הגברה, meaning that we are prohibited from certain agricultural-related work, the positive mitzvah of shmittah is an imperative that Eretz Yisrael – at least those areas that are under Jewish ownership –  itself rest. And lest we think that the mitzvah is a call for us to sensitize ourselves to what it means for humans to work the earth, and how we must honor its living biome, keep in mind that shmittah doesn’t apply outside of the Land of Israel. The Chazon Ish even rules that it is prohibited for a Jew to observe the shmittah strictures on land outside of Israel.) 

Back to Baughers, and Wilbur and 4-H ribbons. Now that I know a bit more about farming – now that Ira knows a lot more about farming – are we any wiser, or more jaded, about the mythos of the pastoral? Is farming just like I remembered it? 

Well, it is, and it isn’t. It is different from my recollections because we’re actually in it. We’re invested, in pretty much every way possible, in educating ourselves about all sorts of methods, and putting in a great deal of time and resources into keeping the animals thriving and seeing through this “barn-raising” of sorts. It’s not the spectator sport of my youth. 

And yet, the type of farming we’re embarking on and already involved in maintains much of the romance that enticed me as a child. Since the organizing principle of the farm is to observe how animals, earth, plants, fish and insects might work in harmony to produce food that we can consume, with minimal input but masterful oversight – like a conductor coaxing out the very best from his talented orchestra – there’s a notable emphasis on simplicity, on nature’s processes, on happy animals and healthy dirt. The quiet of my daily routine is like the quiet of Baughers’ orchards. I no longer have the wonder and thrill of a kid in a petting zoo, but I can take as much time as I need to think about the marvelous complexities of briyah which exists as totally separate from humanity.1 (I spend many hours around books or out learning about the human impact in this region since the most ancient times, but precious little of my time involves the natural world, sans people.) Sure, there are charts and timers and feeding schedules and chores that pull us into the conductor’s box at all hours; it is busy, but a serene kind of busy. The simple, peaceful and happy rhythms do remind me of my childhood Sundays. 

“God blessed mankind and said: Multiply, and fill the earth, and conquer it.” Unusual word choice here – “and He blessed them.” Is the blessing for the traditional sense of conquest, implying power, control and dominion? I think here it might mean “mastery.” Evolve to the point where you can master the land, God blesses us, and live in harmony with all of life. Nurture your holy curiosity. Watch how the black soldier fly larvae will feed the chickens and the fish, and how these animals will in turn feed us, and how the most nutritious food that we are providing them – the larvae – is in turn fed by all of our kitchen scraps. Understand the ways of the world, and then: conduct this great symphony with mastery, and conquer the myriad mysteries of briyah, God blesses us. 

Maybe shmittah is an opportunity for all to pivot away from tired routines that dull us to the possibilities surrounding us. Just like Shabbat can give me pause to think in new ways, Shmittah calls us to explore how we might let this miracle land rest a bit from our toil. Give some headspace to thinking about your food sources. Go out for a stroll and focus in on the cacophony of sounds that are constantly present, but rarely appreciated. Maybe start a compost pile. Maybe learn a piece of Torah related to the holiness of Eretz Israel.  

But for those who are trying to coax something out of the land, the abstinence from interference during the shmittah year gave the space to get creative. It provided even more of a push to learn what we could of natural order, of the dynamic interplay of different elements of briyah, and figure out our role as the head of it all. I know this sounds highly conceptual, but it’s really just down-to-earth curiosity and problem-solving. Just like we bring all we gain from Shabbat into our workweek, here’s hoping that the opportunities and lessons provided by the positive mitzvah of shmittah – to figure out our role in the existential rest granted to Eretz Yisrael once every seven years – carry forth into this cycle, and that next shmittah will allow us to look back with satisfaction at years of gorgeous harmonies that we had a hand in overseeing. 

1 What is “Briyah?” It is the entirety of the potential of creation. Once that potential has been completely realized, then Briyah is complete – that’s what is known as the “ketz hayamin,” or the “end times.” It’s a challenge anticipating the end of it all when you are so enraptured with the process of creation – maybe that difficulty is worth discussing, but in another post.