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Shmitah for our Souls

By Rabbi Kami Knapp Schechter

It’s ok if you find yourself exhausted these days. I feel it too. Why are we so exhausted? Perhaps it feels like this pandemic will never end. Perhaps our world feels so divided. Perhaps we are worried about our European neighbors. Perhaps, like me, you are experiencing all these things simultaneously, thereby compounding the fatigue. It’s ok if you feel exhausted these days.

In Exodus we are commanded: “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat.” And in Deuteronomy we read: “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.” Both refer to the shmitah year, the year of release, the year of rest. This year, 5782, is a shmitah year. And it feels so needed at this moment in time.

The shmitah year mirrors the culmination of the week of creation: for six days G-d worked and on the seventh G-d rested. Just as we rest on the seventh day, Shabbat, after six days of work, so too does the land rest every seven years. In the shmitah year, debts are to be forgiven, agricultural lands to lie fallow, private land holdings to become open to the commons, and staples such as food storage and perennial harvests to be freely redistributed and accessible to all.

Our sages decreed that the laws of shmita only apply to the land of Israel, so those of us outside the land of Israel are left considering how we might participate in this year of release and rest. How can we join with other Jews around the world in honoring G-d’s commandment to release and rest? We can expand the definition of shmitah to be a year of release and rest for all of us. We can identify that which we have been holding on to for the past six years, perhaps uncovering the root of our exhaustion and allowing ourselves to release it.

The Torah teaches us that when we let the land lay fallow for a year it replenishes better than if we had continued to till the land. The Torah also reminds us that if we let debt accrue for long periods of time we push our society into levels of the “haves” and the “have nots.” Therefore the shmitah year provides our society with an opportunity to rebalance itself more equitably. If we participate in the shmitah year we too will replenish better than if we just kept pushing, we too will rebalance our lives if we release and rest this year.

Allow yourself to take time away from work to recharge. Allow yourself to just get things done and not be exemplary. Use this year to be kind to yourself. This is crucial for our renewal. I urge us all to take the time to rest so that we can have the space to reflect on our triumphs and challenges over the past six years as well as make commitments to change for the better. Let this year be one of replenishment not of continued depletion.

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