Sunday, September 9, 2007

Shemittah: Relax, Eretz Israel

All these hurricanes, storms, thunderstorms, tsunamis, earthquakes, snowfalls, defrost of the Arctic cap, monsoons, typhoons and cyclones whirling around the planet with more and more intensity make people scared locally, furious when not refunded and their houses not rebuilt. Politicians get alerted and peaceful “greens” might swirl in rebellious upheaval of consciences with a touch of Tantric Buddha "Om Mani Padmeh Hum - hey to lotus flowers" non-violent sit-ins and cry for fresh air, blasting in trumpets made of human bones. Chabad Himalayan hospitality at their refuge in Kathmandu mingles with the pleasure to share some tea flavored with rancid butter in a saffron purple trumpets that seem to roam in and out from the deepest entrails of the worlds. The eternal snows are more solid than the Arctic [skull] cap. The Vesuvio is infuriated and belches forth the pangs of our ever-pregnant Mediterranean Sea. The region gets shaken by her immemorial abyss of measureless reigns of might and historical foolishness. Greece was on fire and villages were uprooted from the cradle of our civilization.

We reach Tishri 1, 5768 on the eve of that New Year, i.e. September 12th. On that day, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Romania will elect her new patriarch. For the Julian Eastern-Orthodox calendar in use in Jerusalem, this corresponds to August 31st and the end of the Feast of Mary, the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth who - for the Orthodox - fell asleep in death = died in Jerusalem. New Gregorian calendars (used as universal agendas) will celebrate the Tree of the Life as the cross on which Jesus was crucified, noting a time of autumnal renewal that it should historically be possible to compare or consider as parallel to "newness times". Beyond the pagan sign of torture, the cross has the shape of the Old Hebrew letter "tav" and sends forward into the Coming and Revelation of God in the messiah (Sukka 52b). Curiously, the TaNaKh reading on the first day of New Year is from Genesis 21; on the second day the “Akedat Yitzchak / Binding of Isaac” on the wood (read throughout the year) (Gen. 22) is read because Rosh HaShanah is the day of conception and attempted sacrifice (Rosh HaShanah 10b.11a; Pessikta Rabbati 40).

Rosh HaShanah has something more than Pesach / Passover. It is white and bright, joyously shining, whiter than any sort of good clean fun living whiteness. It is a good time for taking a real break. A time to feel that, whatever down in the dump and definitely down to the wire, human beings will ride out all whirlwinds and make life worth living. Thus, it is intriguing to note that this excess of waste, spoiled lost and burnt energy as regards how we fritter away the wealth of Good Earth and consume it can hardly be corrected. We need at times some health and ecology freak, nu? Nu-nu, actually, the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios of Constantinople (Istanbul) has been active for years about the spiritual and ethical responsibility that is incumbent to humankind to respectfully handle and take care of the Earth, our planet, its nature, environment, ecology.

The patriarch insists on the fact that this is not some sort of wild hippy trend. He wrote a lot of books and articles about how to preserve the creation, the plants, fruit, fields, crops by developing a sane mental and environmental protection and preservation “fitness” activities. Ecology includes “oikos = house (Gr.)” and the method for studying and analyzing the how our planet can preserve its life-bearing balance. The Oriental spiritualities have always scrutinized with much deference the sources of our breathing in and inspirited creation: “Ekumene = Gr. realm of the house = world” and corresponds to Hebrew “Yaval = fruit and tevel = inhabited world”. On September 5th, 2007, the Ecumenical Patriarch called for a time of penitence at the international meeting in Sibiu that targets both respectful attitudes toward our flourishing environment as also mental equilibrium based on healthy spiritual values. It is appealing that a Christian head of the Church can call for penitence for the sake of Creation. He lives and is the citizen of a country affected by historical troubles and showing a persistent opacity toward the simple fact that Turkey firstly was a homeland for Jews and Christians.

But the major point is that, in terms of ecology freak, the Jewish communities should be very forward. The account of the creation of the universe insists on the inestimable shaping of herbs, fruit, greens, animal and vegetal microcosm that allows maintaining the equilibrium and stability between the species in a context of constant change and struggle for life. Where are our beloved dinosaurs, mammoths, eagles, vultures? In a sense, Noah’s ark and its shipment that went through the flood do correspond to the preservation of the Noahide commandments. Moreover, we can technically create all kinds of new natural products or animals and cloning, for example, is a part of the quest.

I explained in the previous blog that “shemittah = year of remittance (of debts) and rest for the ground” will start on Rosh HaShanah 5768 till it comes to an end. This means that all land owned by Jews in Eretz Israel must “enjoy a rest, be uncultivated”. A full one year relax or holiday for a land that is definitely entitled to be exhausted. It is a Sabbath for the soil (Vayikra 25:1-7; Devarim 31:10-13). The Book of Chronicles explores the redeeming significance of these restingSshabbatot, in particular during the time of the exile in Babylon. This is hinting point of reference to the existence or visible absence of the Mikdash / Temple. The Land of Israel has the right to rest and to remain unfarmed. It means a lot because usually everything is connected in Israel with the Mitzvot and thus the presence of God’s Dwelling. In 5712 (1951), crowds gathered at mount Zion at the end of the first shemittah year since King Agrippa in 42 CE! As the “Time” reports, there were fewer religious Orthodox Jews compared to nowadays and “shemittah’ing” was special: the Torah was read from a truck. Land was the major resource for fragmented pieces of Jewish land properties; each inch was so valuable and the farmers would not really be pious.

It happens that 5768 is a year in which the State of Israel will be shemittah’ing ten years after its Jubilee (Yovel) and ten years before turning 70. We are nearly 60 years (shishim) and no clearly fixed and accepted borders. There is more: the bigger part of the Orthodox rabbis does not include the whole Land of Israel owned by Jews and that should have a rest, be unfarmed. It excludes at the present the Negev and many other areas, with some shadowing regions like Gush Katif. It is evident that right now the city is not “cultivated” by the Jews. But it shows the interrogations that interfere in the process of applying or not the “Year of rest and remittance”.

On the other hand, debts should also be remitted. This is comparable with the same problems as for the land. We are short of money: virtual credit card reimbursements are not allowed between pious Jews or can be handed over to a sort of “beyt din – court” which is empowered to collect the money for the debtors who will get it at the end of the shemittah. Let’s say this is a way to keep alive a debt instead of “remitting” it. The Autumnal Feasts precisely consists in being fundamentally able to forgive, release and cancel the great variety of servile bonds that may endanger somebody’s freedom. Jewishness is the fruit of forgiveness, remittance of debts, pardon of sins and transgression from Ur-Kasdim and out of Egypt. From the time of Hillel down to the present, the rabbinical authorities have tried to restrict this remittance of debts to the sole Jews and between them alone. This could make sense because of the hideous financial pressure exercised against the Jews. Interestingly, if we want to transfer a pending reimbursement to a rabbinical court, online files can be filled before Wednesday 30th of Elul 5767 to pass such an agreement on the web.

The question is frankly inspiring. We are franticly preparing for the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. Pious or Orthodox Jews will respect the rules governing the shemittah year. In the fields, products that grow by themselves are allowed to be eaten. Some vegetables, grains and beans that grew during the shemittah may be allowed. The main problem is linked with wine and vineyards and, then, Jews can transfer their land to non-Jews who will cultivate the grounds. This is an engrossing question for this new year: can we limit our actions to sabbatical year contracts and deals with non-Jews? Non-Jews do have very parallel interrogations with regards to their own abilities to cultivate or transfer their land.

“Whoever visits the sick relieves them of a sixtieth part of their illness” states Talmud Nedarim 39, 72. It somehow shows – about a number which will make sense in the coming year in Israel – the intensity of the period we enter in. Jews are rooted in the priestly and sacrificial fundamentals of forgiveness, pardon, atonement that exerts an immense impact on the Jewish souls and minds. The real imprint is prophetic that may appear reduced to series of rituals: yes, we can do the physical effort not to eat up the products stored in our fridge on Yom Kippur. Yes, we may pardon what is unforgivable between Jews and still… No, this is not the true heart of the matter.

The shemittah implies that we make ourselves free by releasing the others and quitting the land – let it rest or be farmed by others. It may commit to eventually lose money. It should normally leave the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Israel in a total reliance upon God and a full trust in the enemies of the State of Israel. Indeed, it should be possible, by shemittah’ing over and over, in the future, to come closer to our aliens as our strangers might accept to discover Judaism not because they are in our networks, somehow involved in our national identity. The prophetic time will be to accept each other and being totally different and capable to build together.

The Amidah for Rosh HaShanah (here slightly shortened) includes one of the most beautiful prayers, full of openness: “Our God and God of our fathers, reign over the entire world in Your glory and reveal Yourself to all the inhabitants of Your terrestrial world. May everything that has been created understand that You have created it; and everyone who has a breath of life in his nostrils declare: the Lord, God of Israel is King and His Kingship dominates everything”.

Happy New Year – Shanah tovah 5768

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