When missiles, neighbors who make a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, and inexpressible love of the land collided, Shaike Shaked internalized that this year, for the first time since lifting his hoe and spade close to half a century ago, he’ll be bidding a yearlong farewell to his beloved greenhouse and vegetables. This year, instead of fearing falling missiles, he’s going to focus on his spiritual climb.
Shaike Shaked and the sacred soil of Eretz Yisroel are one, the longtime farmer likes to say. Shaike’s story is one of deep love for his beloved land. For over 40 years, he’s been living and breathing the rich brown earth, the fresh produce and the greenhouses that he built with his own two hands.
Shaike speaks the language of the soil; he possesses a sixth sense when it comes to crops, and he instinctively knows exactly what every seedling and sapling needs in order to grow and flourish. He knows which patch is thirsting for extra water, which can use that sprinkling of fertilizer and which will benefit from another caress of warm sunshine…
Until two decades ago, Shaike Shaked, his family and crops dwelled in relative peace and harmony. But then Hamas terrorists assumed control of Gaza, wreaking havoc and horror upon the Jewish border villages.
When newscasters report that another missile has been fired from Gaza and landed in an open field, everyone in Israel, from the residents of northern Tzfas to southern Ashkelon, exhales a collective sigh of relief. Yet Shaike Shaked of Netiv Ha'asara, one of the closest Israeli settlements to the Gaza Strip, requires several extra seconds before the fear can pass.
As soon as the siren sounds, he and his family sprint toward their protected space, preparing for the inevitable boom and praying that neither they nor any of their neighbors will be injured. Shaike’s home has already sustained damage from several missiles, and the large windows from his living room offer him a direct view of his Moslem neighbors in the adjacent Arab neighborhood Al-Attra in the Gaza Strip.
Even after they exit the protected area, taking a deep breath and massaging their limbs to ensure that they’re safe and sound, the fear and anxiety is far from over. To the average Israeli citizen, "open area" is a code word for "no casualties,," but for Shaike Shaked, there’s a lingering fear of where precisely in that nameless "open area" did the missile make contact?
A difference of twenty meters right or left, north or south can mean the difference between the preservation and devastation of his life’s work, his livelihood and forty years’ worth of labor.
As one whose bond to the earth is inseverable, Shaike Shaked intrinsically knows exactly where to plant every seed, where to weed and where to fertilize. He also knows when to let the land rest. Forty years of physical labor have taught Shaike more than a thing or two about his earth, and they’ve built him up to this moment.
Shaike is no longer a young man. His face and neck are sunburned, and his palms calloused from grueling fieldwork in all climates and weather conditions. He’s tilled the soil under the baking sun, beneath pellets of rain and hail, and under the threat of missiles from his Arab neighbors.
Now that he’s getting older, Shaike is gradually educating the younger generation about the secrets of the earth. He teaches his grandchildren to connect to the earth, to listen to it and love it. Yet deeper than his love and bond with the earth is his love of G-d, and Shaike has discovered that part of loving the earth and being its faithful friend is giving it a break now and then and taking that extra time to sit back and focus on other meaningful aspects of life.
In the month of Tammuz, 5781, Shaike Shaked planted his last. After forty years of farming, he—and his farms—are taking a long-earned sabbatical. Shaike is dedicating this year, Shmitah 5782, to himself and to G-d.
It’s not a vacation, he knows. With glassy eyes and tears that he’s careful not to shed, Shaike studies the field through the large windows of his house. In the few weeks since Rosh Hashanah, they’ve already sprouted weeds and wild grasses. His greenhouses abound not with savory red tomatoes, but with desert sand and an occasional vegetable that sprouted on its own but that has no one to trim or fertilize it.
“Come on, Grandpa!” his young grandchildren have been imploring for the past three months, but Shaike firmly stands his ground. The land needs its rest, and so does he. After forty years of intense farming, Shaike Shaked, now almost 70 years old, now wakes up with nothing to do in the morning.
His hands are empty, and he doesn’t know what to do or where to start. In a flash of inspiration, he heads to the office store nearest his house, purchases a large oak tag and several markers, and inscribes in giant red block letters “Kan Shomrim Shmitah. Here, We Keep Shmitah.” The sign is hung with great pomp and circumstance so all the neighbors can see and be inspired—those on both the Israeli and Arab sides.
Shaike is on his own in Netiv Ha'asara; he’s the only farmer in his entire moshav who has committed to keep Shmitah k’hilchasah. The others go about their regular business, unaffected and uninterested in this mitzvah.
Ironically, it was the Arab neighbors across the Israel-Gaza border that motivated his change in perspective. “If my neighbors on the other side of the fence can make the pilgrimage to Mecca even once in their lifetime because it’s their ‘mitzvah,’ then who am I—a Jew privileged to dwell in the Holy Land, in Eretz Yisroel, on a tract of land that we’re forced to repeatedly prove to the world belongs to the Jewish people—not to fulfill my G-d-given mitzvah?” he asks rhetorically.
A glistening tear escapes the corner of his eye as he points desolately to a charred bit of earth where, just several months ago, an IDF jeep was hit by a Gazan missile and exploded in a ball of fire that killed a 19-year-old soldier.
“If they can do whatever it takes to travel to Mecca, then I can do whatever it takes to give my land a rest, give myself a rest, and serve as a role model to my children and grandchildren.” This appreciation was sufficient to inspire Shaike to keep Shmitah, and keeping Shmitah meant keeping it all the way—with every law and stringency. There would be no leniencies, no heter mechirah. If he was going to keep Shmitah, then he was going to keep it l’chumrah!
A new year is upon us, and we’re all hoping and praying that it will be a quiet year. A year without blaring sirens and falling missiles, a year of peace and tranquility. Yet even if, chas v'eshalom, Hamas continues their campaign of terror, for the first time in nearly as long as Shaike can remember, he won’t have to worry.
The panic will last only as long as it takes his family to reach safety, but his beloved greenhouses—which for this year are no longer his—are not his concern. This year, he forfeited ownership of the land and consigned responsibility for it to Hashem.
For Shaike to continue meeting his goal of keeping Shmitah, he needs Keren Hashviis. Shaike must still continue covering all his regular expenses, even without revenue, or else he stands to lose his greenhouse next year, as well. It’s for heroic men like Shaike that Klal Yisroel unites now in support of our Shomrei Shviis!
For Eretz Yisroel. For Klal Yisroel. And above all, for Hashem Yisborach.