This week we have a double portion, yet it begins with a different type of Shabbat:
2. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to the Lord. 3. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit; 4. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest to the land, a sabbath for the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. 5. That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your vine undressed; for it is a year of rest to the land. 6. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you; for you, and for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired servant, and for the stranger who sojourns with you, 7. And for your cattle, and for the beast that are in your land, shall all its produce be food.[Leviticus 25 ]
As discussed several times before Shabbat is a rest from the work from the six other days of the week. The shmita year, or Sabbatical, provides a rest for the land. While many have debated the economic points about the Shmita year, I think there is something else that needs to be explored: how does it affect people every seven years.
As they did with the carrying prohibition on Shabbat, and what to do with large amounts of leavened products on Passover, the rabbinic mind found a way to handle the issue of the shmita year, and actually let produce grow on it in the Sabbatical year. Like the hometz locked in a closet for the duration of Passover. The fields are sold to a trustworthy gentile for the year, and thus are not owned by Jews. Modern Israel does indeed follow this practice, though some still think it’s a cheat and leave their fields fallow.
A year ago it was a Shmita year in Israel. I was there on a tour with my mom at the time. One of our stops of course was the Kotel. There I placed a small note in the wall, and had a profound experience. One was to hear clearly in my mind the words of the Song of Songs: “My dove in the cleft in the rock” as a dove flew overhead an landed on a crack on the wall. I also heard something else too, a line from Richard Bach’s book The Bridge Across Forever. To say the least not only was the note granted but the line from the book that has struck me true since I read it decades ago also came true:
you already know her
. The change that I have experienced in the last year is phenomenal. Sweetie came into my life, and I realized this week how much has changed in my environment, and what now needs to change: my mind.
It is a very different thing after living so many years as a completely single person being in a relationship, and having to think about someone else, and she has to think about me. There’s a lot of give and take, a lot of negotiation, but in the context of someone I’m so deeply in love with and connected to, it is a blessing to have those discussions. It is neither the Drama we both can’t stand or something we have to work on. Someday we’ll live under the same roof, and how we define each of our personal spaces and boundaries will bring more adjustments to how I think and live. Those too, will be a blessing.
After thirteen years in the same apartment and now contemplating spending my life with Sweetie, I realized something. I have some very set patterns, and because of those set patterns I have not been able to see where I can improve and grow. The Torah this week tells us that the Sabbatical is for the land to rest. Yet, in doing so it makes a change every sevens years in the status quo of how people think. How one gets their food or makes their living changes radically. In that change we see all the things we take as the status quo in a new light, and we have the ability to see if we should change or not.
Whether one is forced to trust a stranger for year with a livelihood and six years of personal effort, work, or stops and does nothing for year, the farmer who observes the sabbatical year changes his whole perspective. Even looking at what is good and what is evil changes. Looking at those who have nothing, the widow and the orphan, changes.
This may be the reason so many curses are connected to the observance of the shmita year. We need that time, otherwise we might descend into evil deeds without even noticing. Not only does the land rest if we are exiled from the land but in exile we are exposed to the extreme in a change of world view: we are thrown from our home to live among strangers, and left there until we repent fully of our evil deeds.
The point of the Sabbatical to me is clear. It is to allow the land to rest, but it also to allow a year of reflection and change in ourselves.