With the onset of the new year, another shemittah year has concluded. Now that the year is over, the mitzvos regarding shemittah, for the most part, cease as well. Prohibitions regarding produce that grew in the shemittah year and maintain shemittah status still apply. The procurement of the post-shemittah esrog, therefore, takes on a different form depending on where you shop. In the absence of a pruzbul, as well, one is forbidden to collect a loan after shemittah has concluded. But these laws ultimately tie back to the actual shemittah year itself. However, there is one mitzvah connected to shemittah that still remains, although it is not in practice today - the mitzvah of hakheil.
Hakheil, as it is discussed in this week's parsha and in the gemara (Sotah 41a,) was indeed a sight to be seen - the entire nation gathered in the Holy Temple as the king read from the Torah. Why, though, was this practice reserved for once every seven years? And why at the end of shemittah?
Malbi"m explains that shemittah is a year of complete devotion to spiritual growth, a year when the farmers and all those whose who work the land turn away from their tiring and distracting service of the land and devote themselves completely to the service of HaShem. It is a time when all are putting their faith in HaShem as He miraculously carries them through the year. This is the time to capitalize on this spiritual peak and bring everyone together for the reading of the Torah in the beis hamikdash before they all return to their fields to go to work once again.
This idea underscores the importance of capitalizing on our spiritual growth to bring ourselves yet another step higher. This is really the lesson of Tishrei of every year. It may be suggested that expecting all Jews to exit their homes and live in a temporary dwelling for a full week might not have been in the realm of possibility, for example, in the middle of the summer. It is only after the spiritual high of Yom Kippur, following the aseres yemei teshuvah, that we are able to devote ourselves to such an extent. So, immediately after Yom Kippur, without leaving a moment to lapse back into our regular routine, we thrust ourselves into the mitzvos of Sukkos.
It is customary to capitalize on the auspiciousness of these days by taking on stringencies that we do not keep the rest of the year, such as pas Yisrael or chaleiv Yisrael. There has been much said about this practice. Why do we do it and whom are we fooling if we know that the day after Yom Kippur we will go back to doing what we’ve always done?
I once heard an inspiring parable in the name of R’ Ahron Lopiansky, Rosh HaYeshivah of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, which explains what we are trying to accomplish. This is sure to resonate with those who drink coffee, which is approximately everybody. Coffee is often enjoyed hot – but not too hot. Right out of the pot, it usually needs a couple of minutes to cool off before it drops to that perfect drinking temperature. This, of course, begs the question, why not skip the wait? Why not brew the coffee at the desired drinking temperature so it can be enjoyed immediately? Nevertheless, as coffee aficionados will have you know, doing so will produce a drastically sub-standard brew of coffee. (The optimum brewing temperature is approximately 200° F.) Not enough of the flavour will be extracted from the beans and the result will be barely drinkable.
Such is the case with our spiritual levels we wish to maintain throughout the year. If we really want to be able to maintain an ideal “drinking temperature” for the rest of the year, we need to “come in hot.” We need to start off on a higher, perhaps unrealistic, level to extract all of the goodness from the aseres yemei teshuvah so that when ultimately simmer down, we are just right.
Have a good Shabbos and a gemar chasimah tov.