Av: Shmita in Time
Rabbi David Jaffe
Of the many different aspects of Shmita, the one that most animated my year is Shmita as Shabbaton, or a Sabbath in time. I spent this past Jewish year, from September, 2014 through last month, living in Jerusalem, on a sabbatical from my regular work as spiritual advisor at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish High School in the Boston area. We are now back, reintegrating into life here in the U.S. with several learnings that can be useful reminders for bringing a Shmita consciousness into regular life.
We are stewards, not owners: For a farmer, leaving the fields fallow for a year is a reminder that she cannot do whatever she wants with the land. The land ultimately belongs to God. Same with money. Forgiving loans in the 7th year is a reminder that you are only stewarding the money and do not get to decide, on your own, how to spend it. The new realization for me this year is that the same goes for time. I choose how to use my time, but it is ultimately not mine. I am given a certain amount of time on this planet to use, but it belongs to God. The fact that we are stewards could lead to good intentioned efforts to maximize the resource. Find the most efficient way to farm and then work the land non-stop. Invest wealth as best as possible to produce more and more wealth. Exploit every second of time to be productive. Shmita comes to correct this impulse to maximize efficiency. Shmita, and its cousin, Shabbat, teach us that, paradoxically, the best way to use time is to regularly stop. Stop what you are doing and what you think is so important. Just stop. On Shabbat this means not being productive at all. During Shmita it means stopping what is the usual routine and doing something different. I am a teacher and I love teaching. I barely taught at all this year. Shmita is an interruption that breaks us out of the undifferentiated flow of time in order to appreciate time.
How can you bring a mini-Shmita into your life and stop what you are doing for some period of time?
How could you bring a Shmita consciousness of stopping and doing something different into a regular vacation?
Renewal: Shmita was traditionally a time that farmers would take off from their routine to study Torah and enhance their spiritual lives. We had projects we look forward to doing that never got enough time during regular life. My wife wrote and published her first book. I got my first book contract and learned a new field (religion and conflict resolution). All these things would have been very difficult had we not fully stopped our regular activities. We are back with lots of energy to integrate these new learnings and experiences into our regular life.
What is something new you would like to do during a Shmita in time?
Perhaps there is something you want to return to that has not been part of your life for many years?
Stopping takes time: Just like we need to cook and prepare for Shabbat ahead of Shabbat, Shmita takes advanced preparation. We started planning for this change a good three years in advance. We organized lots of support from friends, family and mentors to think through the decision to take this year in Israel. We had to plan financially to be overseas for the year. Once we made the decision to do it, about a year in advance, we spent lots of time on logistics including finding schools for our children. There were still many things left to the last minute, but having our minds directed at this experience for so long made going and returning feel integrated into our life.
What preparation would you need to do to take a mini-Shmita?
How much lead-time would you need to make this kind of stop in your life?
As this formal Shmita year comes to a close I bless us all that we bring this idea of stopping and renewal into our daily lives and find the ability and courage to make change, even if it is small. Shmita consciousness is not just for the 7th year any more!