Long ago, when I was learning in Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin, my Mashgiach was the renowned Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l. He had learned under the Alter of Slabodka, zt”l. Trained in the flagship yeshivah of the Mussar movement, Rabbi Miller was especially skilled in identifying the many acts of chessed that Hakadosh Baruch Hu does for us and teaching us to say, “Thank You.”
Who among that group could forget his remarkable description of a green apple turning a bright red to announce to us that it is ready to be consumed? Rabbi Miller ingrained into us the notion that the little everyday things that Hakadosh Baruch Hu puts into the world that make it more pleasant for us are His expressions of love for us. We just have to learn to think in those terms. We must recognize them and express our appreciation for them.
In truth, the Torah gives us many opporunities to say that “Thank You.” When Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives us a place to live, the Torah instructs us to say “Thank You” by putting a mezuzah on the doorpost. When He gives us clothing we are instructed to put on tzitzis. When he grants a son, if it is a firstborn we make a pidyon haben and for all our sons we perform a bris. Before we partake of food, we make a brachah and so on. One role of each of these mitzvos is to express appreciation and say “Thank You” for the wonderful blessings that we are granted.
In our generation, I feel that there is a special appreciation that we owe Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Our great-grandfathers would have given their right arm to be able to enjoy the benefits of having Eretz Yisrael. Do we think twice about the special zechus that we have to be able to approach the Kosel Maaravi from where the Shechinah never left to speak to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and pour out our hearts to him?
How about the fact that our sons are able to learn from Gedolei Torah in yeshivos just a few blocks from where Avraham Avinu offered Yitzchok at the Akeidah?
How about the opportunity to send our daughters for a year’s experience in Eretz Yisrael in a seminary minutes away from where the Beis Hamikdash stood? Do we ever stop and think, as Rabbi Miller would have admonished us, to say “Thank You” for this great chessed?
Then again, how would we say “Thank You?” The Midrash Tanchuma in Parashas Behar actually tells us. In a fascinating conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hakadosh Baruch Hu the Midrash reveals the secret. The Ribbono shel Olam tells Moshe Rabbeinu that if Klal Yisrael wants to show appreciation and in fact, ensure that they continue to have the benefit of living in Eretz Yisrael, the way to say Thank You is to keep Shemittah. By leaving the land at rest during the seventh year, we are saying that we understand that it is Hashem’s land that He allows us to use it. We realize it and we appreciate it. That is not only the way that we say Thank you — it is also the way that we can guarantee that we will not be forced to give it back.
In the early 1970’s there were only a handful of farmers outside of the Agudah and Poalei Agudah kibbutzim and moshavim that kept Shemittah. Thanks to the work of Harav Binyomin Mendelson, zt”l, the Rav of Komemius, that was continued by his son, Harav Menachem Mendelson, zt”l, close to 3,000 farmers are preparing to leave their farms fallow starting this coming Rosh Hashanah.
I cannot think of a better way for American Jews to show their appreciation for our being able to visit and live in Eretz Yisrael than by making it a little bit easier for these farmers to withstand the terrific nisayon of giving up their parnassah for a full year.
We know that Eretz Yisrael is not yet what we really want. We know that we really want Hakadosh Baruch Hu to come down with His full glory and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and bring the entire Jewish nation back to Eretz Yisrael. We want to let Him know that at the same time that we want more, we appreciate what He has given us. We are also hopeful that as Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, told me, the keeping of Shemittah will lead us to the full redemption, “b’Shviis nigalim.”
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