In Sept., I wrote about this special year — the shmita year, the sabbatical year. As it goes on for all year, expect to learn more and be reminded by me and other places you “visit” for learning. It does add some thoughts as we approach both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Here are the Torah words: “And six years you shall sow your land and shall gather in its fruits. But the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it; that the poor of your people may eat…” (Exodus 23:10-11) “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:2-4) Later in the text, we read about the Jubilee year, which is to occur every 50th year when “each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family.” According to tradition, every seven years Jews who live in Israel allow their croplands to lie fallow and forgive all debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Food that grows is called “ownerless and anyone may eat it but owners may not profit from it.”
Shmita technically applies only to Israel, so how does this matter to us? Many organizations and environmentalists are taking the opportunity to use the concepts of shmita in modern times. Giving both people and land a fresh start is good for all of us and this definitely applies to us today. For the land, we must remember that we are to be the protectors of our land and letting it rest makes sense — caring for the environment makes sense! We do not “belong” to the people we work for — we are not slaves — yet many people today are slaves to their jobs. Shabbat every week is to guarantee that we get the rest we need and deserve. Shabbat for the land every seven years is a way to guarantee that we don’t overuse and abuse our land.
The PJ Library, a program of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, provides Jewish books for young children and resource guides for educators. Here are some ideas for teachers, families and children for teaching and living this shmita year:
• Shmita is about release and letting go: what can you clear out of your home or office? What routines can you change or get rid of? What can you reimagine and re-envision in your life? What debts can you forgive?
• For children: talk about what it means to rest on Shabbat: What does it mean for the land to rest? What can we do to help people who are hungry?
• Get in touch with the land: start a garden, compost, dig in the dirt, learn about farming, find out about shmita in Israel.
• Find out about Jewish organizations — a great one is Hazon (www.hazon.org)
Take time this year to think about and talk about what it means to care for the land and for ourselves and find ways to do this for your family.
Laura Seymour is Jewish Experiential Learning director and Camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.