Can this Torah Tool help Save our Earth?
Midsummer finds us almost at the end of this year of Shmita - the seventh year in the Semitic cycle of utopian dreams. Shmita is the year of release, a sabbatical of rest and renewal for the earth and those of us born of her who toil like her soil and also in need of periodic pauses. In chapter 25 of Va’Yikra this radical concept resurfaces along with the added ideal of the Yovel -Jubilee - the Shmita of Shmitas, every 50 years. Just like every seven days we rest from work to practice Shabbat which reminds us to be human beings as opposed to humans doing, every seven years the earth also get to be renewed - and if you count seven years times seven we get to the big release - the Jubilee.
וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃
“In the seventh year the earth shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of יGod: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.” (Va 25:4)
The problem is - it isn’t happening anymore. Not really. The Jubilee may always have been a prophetic fantasy of societal reset, with no real historical proof of its enactment. Shmita however is well recorded, and used to be observed in ancient times when Jews lived on their land. Since the return to the land in the 20th century many attempts are made to reconcile this vintage model with modern needs. Shmita today is observed in Israel through legal loopholes that don’t let the land or the farmers rest. Recent beautiful and creative attempts to adapt this concept of release towards personal and public wellness do succeed to a degree but on the whole - this innovative concept does not seem to fit in modern capitalist global socio-economic mindset. And that’s tragic because we need the gift of Shmita more than ever.
(On a very personal note - this ‘Below the Bible Belt’ blog only came to being because I was privileged to have a sabbatical this past year - five months off work to rejuvenate. In the non-doing - this idea of daily bible learning came about.. So - rest does not necessarily yield rest.. But it does refuel ideas.. )
Norman Gottwald, an American biblical scholar, wrote:
“we are left with the logically perplexing but morally empowering paradox that the Bible is both grossly irrelevant in direct application to current economic problems and incredibly relevant in vision and principle for grasping opportunities and obligations to make the whole earth and its bounty serve the welfare of the whole human family.”
In the next and almost final chapter of Vayikra, the dire consequences for not observing Shmita will be revealed.
Meanwhile -there are only three months to go for this Shmita year, and the next one is seven years away. Maybe more of us will align and design better and more successful methods to bring this life saving idea back to the top of our priority lists. My teacher and friend Micha Odenheimer brings it home here: “The ultimate hope of Shmita activists is that the principles underpinning Shmita will begin to penetrate the global culture in much the same way as the idea of a weekly rest day eventually spread from Judaism to nearly every corner of the globe, becoming a major linchpin and catalyst in the ongoing movement for human and workers rights. “ Amen.
How can we each still live up to Shmita’s ideals through the remaining months of this year?
May this sabbath bring being and rest, renewal and reflection - to you and to all. Shabbat Shmita Shalom.