Observing the shmita year

Dear Families,

We made it! The holidays are over — no more eating or fasting or praying or endless questions and learning! Well, not really because we continue with so much even during this coming month of Cheshvan where there are no holidays except for Shabbat — the most important one! And then, can you believe it, Hanukkah starts Sunday night, Nov. 28 right after Thanksgiving. Fortunately, it is the Jewish leap year and we will have two Adars and then talk about the holidays being late!

If all this is not exciting (and confusing) enough, this is a shmita year! Shmita, the “year of release,” which is more known as the sabbatical year falls in this Jewish year 5782 which began on Sept. 7. Just as we have six days of work and rest on Shabbat, the Torah calls us to work the land for six years and then let the land rest for the seventh year. After 49 years, seven cycles of seven, the 50th is Yovel — the Jubilee year. However, the Jubilee year has not been marked for centuries so we don’t really know when it is. In the shmita year, debts are to be forgiven, agricultural lands to lie fallow, private land holdings to become open to the commons, and staples such as food storage and perennial harvests to be freely redistributed and accessible to all. You can find this in the Book of Exodus 23:10-11 and also in the Mishnah and Talmud on the agricultural laws of Israel.

The recognition and observance of the laws of shmita are a very real part of Israel’s reality today touching on the religious, agricultural and economic life. It can be very exciting but also very challenging. We have always been a people connected to the land. Hazon.org is America’s largest Jewish environmental organization with the goals to create healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond. Today, shmita is being viewed as a means of addressing the global environmental problem and economic instability of the 21st century. Each of us should take the opportunity of this to learn more and find ways to impact the way we live our lives to create a better world for now and the future. Shmita, the sabbatical year, could not come at a better time with all the concerns of today. What can we do? Think about it!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center

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