By Talmidah Y
In the years preceding seminary, I made a lot of calculations: My year will be the 56th year of Israeli-controlled Yerushalayim. I’ll be there for the 75th year of the State of Israel. In all those equations, I didn’t account for the fact that I would also come during the seventh year of the Shemittah cycle, a.k.a. life is super-confusing, you don’t really know what you can eat, you just want an apple but can’t really have that without ending up with a rotting core in your small seminary apartment, so you eat rice cakes. Lots and lots of rice cakes.
Because of all the intricacies relating to Shemittah, the mitzvah initially felt burdensome. Another inconvenience in an already complicated year. I felt lucky that I only needed to deal with a month of restrictions, and even luckier that Mr. Green (my favorite Shemittah-proof salad place—10/10 recommend) is only a 17-minute bus ride from MMY. (It should be noted that, yesterday, my Maps app asked me if I wanted to set Mr. Green as my default location. Sorry, Mom.) But apart from the occasional salad that I get from there, alas, my fruit and vegetable game has been pretty nonexistent.
After two weeks of Shemittah-related grunting, I had a perspective-shifting experience. I was on a cross-Yerushalayim bus with some friends, twiddling my thumbs and people-watching as all different types of people cycled through bus 12. Everyone looked very different from one another; some wore mitpachot and others black hats. But everyone on the bus was focused on one thing: the grape.
There was a little green grape, barely discernible due to the dirt covering it from its cross-bus voyage, rolling up and down the aisle. I found it entertaining to watch each person lift his or her feet as the grape aggressively bounced by, as if scared that the one little grape would dirty their perfectly clean shoes. It became a game. Grape rolls by, lift feet. Repeat.
One person, though, broke the rules and showed me the beauty that could be found in Shemittah. A friend I was with marched right over to the grape, lifted it up, and put it in her pocket. I was bewildered. After all, she just stole the bus’s soccer ball! I prodded for a little, desperately begging her to explain her bizarre actions. Her response reframed my view of this mitzvah, allowing me to see it for the gift that it is. She explained, “How could I let it roll around when it could potentially hold kedushah? I need to dispose of it properly in case it does.”
At that moment, a switch was flipped. Shemittah isn’t a burden. Rather, it’s a recognition of the kedushah inherent in the land. The tiny grape and the Mr. Green salads show me the same thing: the land of Israel is so much more than a destination or a gap-year location. The land in which I have the z’chut to study is saturated in history and holiness that was built through centuries of dedication by Shemittah keepers. I’m just the lucky one who gets to be next in the chain.