Rosh Hashana, Shmitta and the Land of Israel

We approach the upcoming days of awe with anticipation mixed with fear and trembling, as we perceive them to be the time of judgment and repentance.  The Mishna describes the day of Rosh Hashana as the “Day of Judgment” of the whole world, since this day does not actually commemorate the birth of the world, but rather the birth of Adam and Eve.

With the creation of Mankind came the creation of the concept of time. When man was immortal, the passage of time was not perceivable. When man became mortal and was faced with the prospect of death, the passage of time became an issue of great importance. The ticking clock of mortality prods man to find purpose and meaning in a life that otherwise tumbles towards death and lack of meaning.

It is also a time for the people of Israel to explore their own process of growth as Hashem’s destined plan moves forward at a quickened pace. Almost every year, on the Shabbat (Sabbath) before Rosh Hashana, the entire world's Day of Judgment, this dramatic verse from the Torah portion of Nitzavim is read in the synagogue:

You stand this day (Hayom), all of you (kulchem), before Hashem your G-d: your heads, your tribes, your elders, your officers, and every Israelite man; your young ones, your wives, the stranger at your gate; from your wood hewer to your water drawer.” (Deuteronomy 29:9)

These words were spoken in the last 24 hours of Moshe’s life. Moshe (Moses) is telling his people that he has endured the burden of being their protector for forty years. Now that they are about to enter the land, they must be prepared to enter the next phase of their Divine mission. They must learn to “stand before Hashem" and move beyond merely being an instrument for achieving His purpose. Now they need to learn to become participants in Hashem’s plan.

Henceforth they are going to stand by themselves before Hashem their G-d. They are to do that in the land where Divine involvement with the world is more visible than in any other part of this world.

Is that an expectation that would prove too daunting and frightening for this people?

The Baal Shem Tov related that whenever the word ”Hayom – this day” is mentioned it refers to Rosh Hashana. Just as the Israelites were bidden to stand "this day" before Hashem, the same is being asked of us on the upcoming Rosh Hashana. Can we also develop the courage to do that and look upward and forward without being daunted by feelings of inadequacy?

The word "Hayom – this day" is used elsewhere as well.

"And it fell on this day (Vayhi Hayom), that he (Elisha the prophet) came there, and he turned into the upper chamber and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant: ‘Call this Shunamite.’ And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him: ‘Say now unto her: Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for you? Should you be spoken for to the King, or to the captain of the host?’ And she answered: ‘I dwell among my own people.’" (II Kings 4:11-13)

The Zohar (Parshat Beshalach) offers a deeper insight into the encounter between the prophet and this simple woman.

When the prophet Elisha asks this woman if he can intercede on her behalf on “this day – "Hayom” he was referring to Rosh Hashana and “before the King” refers to the ultimate King.

Her answer gives insight and inspiration to all who are cognizant of their own standing before the King on this Day of Judgment. She answered "I dwell among my own people”– although I may feel inadequate to stand before Hashem on this or on any day, I wish only to be judged together with the entire people of Israel. Only when I become part of the corporate soul that is the people of Israel can I receive the empowerment to “stand before Hashem”.

That is the deeper meaning of the verse “You stand this day, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d." Only in the unity of the people (all of you – kulchem) is our judgment tempered with ultimate Divine mercy. Only when we understand that we are all part of a greater whole can we muster the courage to change and elevate our individual souls.

That is the deep lesson that was learned in the difficult days of this recent summer war. The people of Israel found each other and in so doing they developed the courage to withstand the terror raining on them from the skies and the hatred radiating towards them from the world.

It is only in that unity that we understand our role in Hashem’s plan of liberating the whole world. Only armed with such an understanding will we have the perseverance to remain attached and committed to our role and purpose in the land of Israel.

Our entering into the land and our performance of Hashem’s commandments become the ultimate sanctification of G-d’s name. That is essentially the reason the nations want to pry us away from the land that was given to us by G-d.The wr

This lesson will be reinforced by the upcoming Shmitta year. Essentially it will be a year in which we “give up” the land and return it to its Prime Owner. That perhaps is the deeper meaning of the verse "When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord" (Leviticus 25:1-2), because in essence the land does not even belong to us, it belongs to Hashem – "because the land is Mine" (ibid:23).

Our presence in the land is the ultimate sanctification of G-d’s Name and the absolute fulfillment of our purpose.

Reb Shaul Yedidya Elazar, the Modzitzer Rebbe, teaches the following on this verse:

"When you come to the land that I am giving you (asher Ani noten lachem)" (ibid 25:2).

In the words "that I (Ani) am giving you”, the Torah teaches that in this land G-d will give you your own “Ani”, your identity, your “I”.

It is only in the land of Israel that you will discover your inner purpose and destiny. It is only there that you will be able to truly fulfill the “Ani”, the “I" that you were commanded to be.

That insight will give us the strength to remain steadfast in our connection to Hashem and courageous in our commitment to His land. 

For then "'The nations will know that I am Hashem', declares the Lord, 'when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you to your own land'"( Ezekiel 36:24-26).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *