The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest”– Leviticus 25
Shmita, the 7th year, a “year of release” – a sabbatical year. The year 5782, which just began, is a “Shmita” year. The Talmud asks “What is the purpose of the sabbatical year? The Holy Blessed One said to the people of Israel: Sow for six years, and rest during the seventh year, so that you will know the land is mine.”
The sabbatical year is a time of recovery for the land. A Shabbat for the Earth. It is said that all Jewish-owned land in Israel is not to be worked, to be left fallow.
Just as we need to rest, so does the Earth. As we think about the last 19 months, what does it mean to rest? Floods, fire, plague. Increased time at home, lack of travel and social interaction. For many, it has been a year of loss, of pivoting – as Steven Ingber, CEO of the Jewish Federation, would say of “flying the plane as we are building it.” We did that and more. We had children and teachers in day schools with masks while other schools couldn’t figure it out. We zoomed and were “live” all at the same time. We masked and unmasked. We talked about tents, and in person. We are still zooming. And we are still masked.
In the Shmita year, it is important to take the time to absorb and accept the changes that have affected us all, over the past year and a half. What did you do over the past year and half? Join a book club? Take up knitting? Start drawing? Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network were able to increase their music visits to their homebound clients because of zoom and include family members from out of state thanks to zoom. I also think about the way the CEOs of the agencies came together weekly during the beginning of the pandemic and how the needs of the community were immediately met.
Seniors needed their meals brought to them? Done. More volunteers needed for meals on wheels? Done. Women’s Philanthropy Board Meeting pivots to Zoom? Done. And more people joined than ever before because they don’t have to be there in person – who knew?
Jewish Working Women’s Network started a weekly lunch and schmooze on zoom and began programs that went on for months featuring various community members sharing their expertise with the community. It’s hard to say that some good didn’t come out of the pandemic.
When I think of the word fallow, I shudder. It means uncultivated. It is so contrary to what we do at the Federation. For so many of us, our job is to reach out and encourage people to be part of the community, whatever that means. We try to connect people to NEXTGen, Women’s Philanthropy, Israel and Overseas, Affinities, Finance, or our agencies. We want to engage as many people as possible in our communal activities, and to make sure as many people as possible understand how the community works together to provide services.
How do we do this in a Shmita year?
You can think about Shmita for the land as Shabbat is for the soul. We have Shabbat as our weekly rest. We rest so we can continue to grow. It’s a day to take a break from the routine. Shmita is a year to give the land time to reconnect with G-d, so that it can reach its full potential in the next year and the years to come. We rest on Shabbat so that we can recommit to the week ahead. Shabbat is an intentional rest, with intentional reflection. Regardless of whether you believe in G-d or not, our tradition teaches us that rest and relaxation is a must, both for humans and the earth.
Something else we have talked about is “getting back to normal” – Honestly, I don’t think this is possible. There is going to be the “new normal”. The normal post-COVID. Potentially this Shmita year can be used as a time for rejuvenation. Maybe it should be used to make time to pay attention to what grows in the soil that rests. Maybe rest is the best thing for you? Take the time to binge that show on Netflix. Bake that cake. Or maybe it’s time to meet with the nutritionist!
It is important to lie fallow, to remain uncultivated. To give ourselves time to see what comes next. As hard as it is, we must allow ourselves to take stock in who we are after one of the hardest experiences of our lives. And truthfully, it isn’t over. But this Shmita year gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate. Time to think of who you want to be when the Shmita year is over.
Marianne Bloomberg is Associate Director, Philanthropic Engagement at Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. She was a 2021 Hadar Jewish Wisdom Fellow.