Hanukkah this year is different than in past years, and not only because we are still living in a pandemic and Hanukkah is starting Thanksgiving weekend. This year, 5782, is a Shmita year. According to our Torah, every seven years the Holy Land shall lie fallow. It is a Shabbat Ha-aretz, a sabbath for the Land. Crops are not planted and harvested, but people can glean from what grows naturally. The poor and wild animals are invited to take what they need. Even for those of us who do not live in Israel, the values of Shmita are more relevant than ever. Shmita is a radical reset of how we understand our relationship to the earth, the cycles of nature, our responsibility for each other and all creatures, and how we relate to what is “ours” and what we really need. Shmita values help us foster compassion, empathy, care and even partnership with all life.
These themes are interesting when we consider Hanukkah. Once a minor holiday, Hanukkah has become commercialized in our society – as has Christmas. Many of us parents struggle with balancing our kids’ desire to keep up with their friends and fit in, with making sure we are teaching the essence of the holiday. Along comes Shmita to remind us that we can live with enough. We don’t need more and more and more just because commercials and ads tell us we do. When we do shop, perhaps do so from local businesses to support them, or find recycled or reused things (I am a big fan of consignment stores; many websites offer gently used goods). Of course, gifts can be donations in someone’s name to an organization that reflects that person’s values or concerns. Planting trees, giving gifts to local charities or volunteering time is a great mitzvah. You likely have other ideas along these lines.
Shmita raises deep questions about the nature of a healthy and sustainable life, for individuals, society and the earth. Hanukkah is a celebration of bringing light into darkness, and the weak overcoming the oppression of the powerful. Put them together this year, and reframe how we understand the beauty and even simplicity of this eight-day Festival of Lights. The act of kindling the hanukkiya and sitting with the light (with or without latkes and chocolate) can itself be enough – grateful for light, love and life itself. May you and your families enjoy this holiday season, chag sameach.
Rabbi Alison Adler leads Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly.