Like many of you I had a garden this summer that was strangely impacted by all of the rain in July. Not only did the tomato plants rot, but the weeds went crazy. The more I tried to weed the faster they seemed to grow until finally I gave up. But I also found that dormant wildflowers also grew. I had kinds of beautiful varieties I had never seen before. So now my yard is very colorful and very overgrown (and I was still able to harvest a few delicious tomatoes).
Rosh Hashanah 5782 begins an interesting year according to how agriculture works in the Torah. It is a year of “release” or Shmita, a year in which the holy land is to lay fallow, and land is essentially ownerless, so all – people and animals – can come and gather food they need from what grows naturally. Just as human beings have six days of work and rest on the seventh day, the land is plowed and planted for six years and then has a Sabbath of its own in the seventh year.
“For six years you are to sow your field,
for six years you are to prune your vineyard,
then you are to gather in its produce,
but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land,
a Sabbath to the Lord:
your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune,
…Now the Sabbath-yield of the land is for you, for eating:
for you, for your servant and for your handmaid,
for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you;
and for your domestic-animal and the wild beast that are in your land shall be all its produce, to eat.” (Leviticus 25.1-7)
Our sages described how crops were harvested and stored up before the Shmita year, and then distributed throughout the community equally so that everyone had what they needed. Shmita is a vision of a sort of utopia in which we realize that the land belongs not to human beings but to God, and we can be filled with gratitude for what we have; we can prepare, we can share, and we must take care of each other.
As utopic as this Torah vision is, it is also extremely hard because “normal” expectations and world views must change dramatically. But oftentimes it is through such change that we see more clearly what is most important, and how to move forward.
Last year we had to cease and withdraw from our normal lives. We were doing our holiday services physically apart from each other for the first time. This year, let us choose to let go of “normal” expectations, shift our perspectives, and embody the kind of rest, reset, and radical rejuvenation bound up in the teachings of Shmita. Just as many are observing actual Shmita in Israel, may we embrace the teachings and values it offers to all of us in the Diaspora: interconnectedness with all life, gratitude to the Source of All Life, and a deep responsibility to community.
L’shana tova to you and your families.
Rabbi Alison Adler is the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.