I recently returned from our Holy Land, Eretz Yisroel, where I visited the headquarters of OK Israel. It was so nice to meet our counterparts, the rabbis and staff, face to face and see their wonderful operation firsthand. I must say, however, that I was a bit surprised by the general public’s intense focus on kashrus. You see, it’s only natural for people to become complacent in their everyday routine. In the Diaspora (Golus) unless your life’s work is in the kashrus field, most kosher consumers glance at the hechsher on the label for a second or two and move on. When eating out, if they see a kosher certificate hanging on the wall, they are happy.
But this year is shemitta in Eretz Yisroel. It was so delightful to see people actually reading kosher certificates and questioning the different establishments about their hechsher. I saw people everywhere paying close attention to the different kashrus details. It wasn’t enough that the sign said “Kosher L’mehadrin”. Was the date valid? Where were the vegetables from? Was the produce from last year (the sixth year)? (Yes, there are ways to preserve sixth year produce!) Was the produce from outside halachic Eretz Yisroel? Or from heter mechira (which many do not rely on)? I found it interesting that, in contrast to what most people believe, shemitta is not something only for the Israeli farmers; it turns out to be a “kosher wakeup call” for all of us.
It connected well for me as I was walking through the Old City of Yerushalayim. I was told that in the days of the Bais Hamikdash some of the stairways leading up to Har HaBayis were intentionally uneven, with some steps higher than the others. This forced the Yidden to focus on their steps. They needed to concentrate on the fact that they were now walking into the Har HaBayis. In a way, shemitta has the same effect; it forces us to focus our attention on what we are eating.
Now, Yidden all over the world are celebrating Pesach, the holiday of Geulah, of Yetzias Mitzrayim. We need to join our brethren in Eretz Yisroel and heighten our awareness of kashrus. There is no better time than now, at the Yom Tov of Pesach, and, coupled with shemitta, our antennae can be on an all-time high. May this intense focus on the mitzvah of kashrus, which feeds our physical bodies and our holy souls by giving us strength to do mitzvos, carry over and heighten our awareness and help us each experience the final Yetzias Mitzrayim out of Golus.
Wishing you all a kosher and freilichen Pesach,
Rabbi Chaim Fogelman