Dear TEE community,
Jewish tradition imagines a world founded in cycles of work and rest, exertion and renewal:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to The Source of Being, your God…For in six days The Source of Being made the skies, the earth, the seas, and all that is in them, then rested on the seventh day (Exodus 20).
Our ancestors believed that this cycle should apply not only to the days of the week but to years as well, observing shmita, “release,” every seventh year.
This cycle was, in turn, capped by the yovel, Jubilee year, which took place every fifty years (concluding a series of seven cycles of seven years). These observances involved not just a day but a full year of rest from regular work. The Israelites were instructed to live off of what they had stored or could forage and all debts were forgiven.
It is unclear to what extent shmita was practiced in ancient Israel but the values of rest and release were central to both biblical and rabbinic belief.
Underlying this tradition was an understanding that, to paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, we are human beings, not merely human doings. No person and no land can produce without cease. In contemporary parlance, shmita is about sustainability for both the earth and ourselves.
As we enter the month of Elul (beginning Saturday night), we are a month away from Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, this is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, an “accounting of the self.”
Each year since I came to TEE, I’ve created a special class for Elul as part of that preparation for the High Holidays. This year it seemed appropriate to explore the traditions of shmita and what they might mean for our lives and our times. Living in a culture in which it has become increasingly difficult to disconnect, in an era when the viability of our planet is at stake, and in a society with vast economic inequality, the values embodied in shmita provide an important guidepost for restoring ourselves and the earth.
Each week of the class we will focus on a different topic.
I’m delighted that for our session on August 23rd we will be joined by Rochester City Council member Mitch Gruber, Chief Strategy and Partnerships Officer at Foodlink. (Click here for a full description of the classes and login information).
I hope you will join me in studying and discussing these significant questions as we prepare to enter the season of return and renewal.
Rabbi Drorah Setel