Keep the Faith: We need the time to reset, renew – Worcester Telegram

Posted By on August 29, 2021

Rabbi Aviva Fellman| Telegram & Gazette

A recent social media post shared by a colleague said, I feel like after the year weve all had, our rabbis should be able to stand up on Rosh Hashanah and just exclaim, I am so overwhelmed! I dont know what to say! and wed all kind of nod and say cheers, Ill drink to that.

This past year has been hard. It has been hard personally, professionally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, intellectually. It has been so hard.

This Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins this year on Monday evening, Sept. 6, marks the start of the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year. This once-every-seven-year designation comes from the Bible.

The command to observe the Shmita year is found in Leviticus (25:2-5), When you enter the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather the crops. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord. You shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat the Sabbath produce of the land.

The idea of the Shmita year invites us to look outwards, beyond the boarders of our own properties, beyond the doors of our own homes and rethink the world that we live in and to tune into the ways in which we can actively make a difference. In a way, it is like a full year of teshuvah (of repentance), and repairof not only our relationships with others but also in our relationship to the land.

During this seventh year, God commands us to let the land rest, release debts, resolve disputes, and to open our hands and hearts to those in need. The Shmita year mandates that we stop. It mandates that we restore, refresh, and renew. We are reminded that the land is ultimately not ours, we are its stewards. The land, as well as the fulfillment of the covenants, lie with the Divine.

In trying to find continued meaning and power in Shmita, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, cites two other rabbis. Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, best known for his tales of the Golem, pointed out that the story of Creation was written in such a way that each day, each new creation, is seen as a step toward a completion that occurred on the Sabbath. What was Creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way: God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so. The implication is clear. We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don't have a mechanism that allows them to pause. But that would make us less than human. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.

Shmita is not a call to live for one year with different rules that help us adjust or compensate for the unequitable accumulation of debt or dissatisfaction and injustices of the other six years, only to dump us back, unchanged, into that real world. Shmita is a rehearsal of a new way, a time to practice living in a world of enoughness, where each of us is filled and flourishes with enough, where disproportionate inequities would not, and could not, exist. And when Shmita is over, and we re-enter the other six years, we take a bit of what we learned with us and put it into practice in our everyday live.

We are all tired. We are all worn. We are all lost. We are all grieving. We are all pivoting. (I want my High Holy Day sermons to write and deliver themselves.) We are all (hopefully) trying our best. And yet somehow, that still does not feel like enough. We need a reset.

We need this year. We need this pause. We need this period to refocus, renew, and refresh ourselves, our communities, and our world. We need it, and certainly, our world needs it too.

This Shmita year, may we focus on getting down to our rootsthe foundation of who we are, what grounds us, and focus on breathing, being, and replanting our values so that when we start to emerge, we are able to grow as people of faith and community.

And cheers, Ill drink to that! (and then maybe take a nap too.)

Rabbi Aviva Fellman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester. She is also an active member of Worcester Interfaith, teaches in W.I.S.E., and is a married mother of four.

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Keep the Faith: We need the time to reset, renew - Worcester Telegram

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