“One of the life messages I took from the retreat was to notice, instead of being judgmental, during meditation – and during life as well.”

— Lay retreat participant, Winter 2012

Shmita 5775

What is a shmita year?
What lessons can be drawn from this ancient practice to enhance our contemporary lives?
The Institute staff explored these questions with a monthly blog series. Links to the blog posts can be found at the bottom of this page.

“At the end of seven years, you are to make a Release (shmita).
Now this is the matter of the Release: release” (Deut. 15:1-2)

This rule relates to relinquishing of debt: an obligation that has not been repaid by the seventh year was released, let go, forgiven. The debtor came out from under the burden of his debt; the creditor freed from holding that debt. In conjunction with the practice of shmita, in the seventh year, the Torah also proscribes all productive engagement in farming: fields are allowed to lie fallow, vineyards go un-pruned. All have access to whatever might grow on its own, and no one could claim greater rights, asserting ownership. These practices, as the Sages of antiquity understood them, pertained only in the Land of Israel, rooted in the concrete relationships described above.

How might we incorporate shmita-consciousness outside the Land, as we enter a year of release? We can bring the practice of release into our every moment: releasing the breath to move freely in and out of the body; releasing assumptions about others (and ourselves) to discover something new, to become new; releasing the stress in our bodies to sense our natural inner peace and ease.

Releasing sounds simple, but it requires intention and practice. In fact, it is quite difficult. The Sages exemplified how difficult letting go is in the midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1) where they argue that those who allow their fields to lie fallow, their vineyards to go untended were similar to angels. In particular, they are “the mighty in strength who fulfill God’s word” (Psalm 103:20). In this light they exclaim, “Have you a mightier person than this?”

Letting go of what we perceive to be our possession; letting go of our daily habits of livelihood, professional identity, schedule; letting go of what we rely on to make us feel secure; letting go of the assumption that we are right—this is what release asks of us. It is a courageous act, an expression of inner power. It is very difficult. It is, perhaps, the hardest thing we will ever do, as every letting go is in anticipation of our final release from this life. We—rightly—cling to life, but we become habituated to holding on, even when letting go may be the source of blessing.

 – Rabbi Jonathan Slater


Elul: Practicing Letting Go
Tishrei: Go with the Flow
Cheshvan: Fear of Hunger
Kislev: Releasing Fear, Growing in Generosity
Tevet: Resting Resolutions
Shevat: Reaping What Is Naturally There
Adar: The Obligation and Joy of Giving
Nissan: The Gift of Curiosity
Iyyar: Relinquishing Control
Sivan: Life of All the Worlds
Tammuz: Being with Grief
Av: Shmita in Time