Sunday, January 27, 2008

Personal Reflection on Israel Shmitta Trip 2008

The three prong objective of active service work, Jewish textual studies and supplementary education while on the Yeshiva University Winter Kollel and Service Corps in Israel was both thought evoking and life altering. Our Rabbi’s teach us that the Torah was given to the nation of Israel on condition that we act and fully embrace its texts. The launch of placing these three objectives together ultimately brought this dream and wish to fruition.

Besides for the mystical ability for this setup to build an uncanny sense of comradery between a group of twenty men, it also reiterated and reinforced that our Torah is not just a book of letters, but that its words are alive. Although the Torah was given thousands of years ago all of its values are as much alive today as they ever were.

Starting from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and then following suit at the Tower of Babel, the world has been plagued with strife, the Shmitta “issue” in Israel has proven to be no exception. The nation of Israel is socially, economically, politically and halachikally torn on this topic and briefly having the chance to hear all sides unfold was truly mind boggling. Nonetheless, it seems that the only antidote to this plague and strife is through the mediums in which we utilized during this trip. We were given the opportunity to listen from an American unbiased perspective, as representatives and specialists from different social groups within Israeli society expressed their enthusiasm and personal angst from Shmitta. I found it to be exciting that these members of Israeli society were legitimately discussing and toiling with the proper way to observe this biblical commandment (albeit possibly rabbinic nowadays). This was an inspiring and overwhelming experience that I for one, did not entirely soak up until the trip was entirely over and had already landed back in New York City.

By taking what I gained from this overseas excursion in Israel, and applying it back to my everyday interactions, will provide new light to the way that I study as well as interact with my contemporaries. The greater Jewish community has been blessed with a love and willingness to offer a helping hand. This compassion and sincerity towards others is otherwise known as, Tikkun Olam. While participating on Yeshiva University’s Winter Kollel and Service Corp, I found myself in situations which I had never dreamed that I would ever be in. I was in soup kitchens and warehouses that were donated to enriching the lives of the needy. I helped a woman who had virtually lost her entire livelihood in Gush Katif by partaking in weeding her greenhouses. I picked oranges from a 150 acre orchard that was entirely donated to charity. By having these interactions with the needy it made their predicaments real to me. These experiences humbled the fortunate and made us more willing to give. No longer was the needy woman in the soup kitchen just a story, but she became my story. The second that I helped her she helped me. While fully engulfed in these occurrences the words “kol yisrael areivim zeh ba zeh” rang in my ears. I recalled hearing teachings from my Rabbi’s who said, “Anyone who saves one life within the nation of Israel is as if he saved an entire world”. The amazing part about this adage is that while it is true that we helped many a person, they kindly reciprocated by helping us become better Jews.

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