Title: The Sabbath of the Land
By Rav Kook
Translation & Commentary by Yedidya J Sinclair
I was fortunate to review Rav Yedidya Sinclair’s commentary to and partial translation of Rav Kook’s Shabbat Ha’Aretz this summer in view of fields proudly adorned with signs proclaiming shemitta observance. Bearing witness to this and having heard first-hand testimonies of Jews living out the agricultural legacy of our forefathers and mothers, one cannot help but marvel at the fruition of R Kook’s prophetic vision which underpinned his halachic daring in passionate defense of the heter mechira in Shabbat Ha’Aretz.
Rav Kook’s case is made up of two parts: first, the hakdama (the text of which is provided together with a translation by Rav Sinclair), a poetic vision of shemitta as a catalyst or analogy for the spiritual renewal of our people and second, a detailed treatment of the concept of heter mechira and halachic advocacy in favor of utilizing it.
Rav Sinclair masterfully sets the scene by working through the Biblical sources for shemitta and yovel clearly demonstrating that a simple pshat reading provides dual reasons for these commandments – bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro; first as a recognition that despite the sweat of our brows and the toil of our hands “we show that we are not the land’s ultimate masters” and second as a reminder that in “the constant economic struggle of all against all” we must never lose sight of our duties to eradicate poverty and hunger from our midst and ensure equality of opportunity for all.
Following a brief biography of Rav Kook, Rav Sinclair proceeds to trace and then weave disparate strands from the abundant storehouse of Rav Kook’s thoughts, uniting and bringing these to bear on the subject matter to illuminate, for the English-speaking world, the breathtaking tapestry that is Shabbat Ha’Aretz.
This in itself is an exercise worthy of comparison with Rav Kook whose world-view was multi-hued and his existence consumed with the revelation of the klal (universal) within the prat (particular) and vice versa. This is expressed by Rav Sinclair himself in his summary of this aspect of Rav Kook’s thoughts, commenting that “The ultimate goal of Israel’s particularism is universal – the perfection of the whole world through the full realization of holiness in the life of the Jewish people”. In the context of shemitta, Rav Kook believed that its observance by every individual farmer is absolutely imperative for a collective, national realization of our spiritual potential.
Rav Sinclair’s take on the hakdama as being Rav Kook’s aggadata on Hilchos Shemitta is innovative and movingly explored over the course of several pages. Prior to this, he succinctly outlines the halachic arguments put forth by Rav Kook and here, over a mere eight pages, Rav Sinclair can lay claim to an immense contribution to the world of Rav Kook’s thought. He brings to the fore Rav Kook’s genius as a halachist – something that is perhaps lost or under-appreciated outside of academic circles (and certainly by this reviewer) amongst his vast and varied oeuvre which is dominated by kabbalistic mysticism. For this alone he deserves tremendous credit.
Rav Sinclair expresses the hope that with this work he is able to “show the profound connections between these contrasting elements and their mutually supporting role in achieving Rav Kook’s purposes.” He can be rest assured that this endeavor magnificently realizes that hope and for that, I am personally grateful.