What We Can All Find In The Shmita Year

Many of our friends are preparing for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and commencement of the Jewish High Holy Days, which begins this evening at sundown. As I am wrapping up my yearlong effort to read the Bible cover to cover, I am walking away with many insights (along with a good number of questions). One of the things that became clear to me over the course of my 365 day biblical journey was how deeply rooted my own faith is in the faith and history of my Jewish friends. Our story started with their story and our book with their book.

This understanding has inspired me to learn more about what my friends are celebrating this week, and why. In the course of my research, I came across an article written by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, expounding on the significance of this particular new year, which is known as a shmita, or sabbatical year. Pursuant to tradition, a sabbatical year occurs every seventh year, and requires a creditor to grant a remission of debts. For my Christian friends, a discussion of the laws concerning the sabbatical year can be found in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy Chapter 15.

According to Rabbi Cardin, “Shmita means release, as in opening up a clenched hand to free what is held there. It specifically refers to a farmer’s hold on his land, for while in all other years he has exclusive rights to his fields and their yield (except for the annual gifts to the poor, the priests, and the Temple that the Torah calls upon him to give), during the shmita year, his rights to his land are suspended. His fences must come down; he may not sow or harvest; his fields are thrown open to all; any yield that grows of itself must be shared with whoever comes to glean.”

She continues, “In this way, old patterns are shaken up, even broken. Relationships to others, work, land, nature, one’s very purpose and goals in life are reset, and hopefully righted.”

While much of the Rabbi’s further discussion centered on the use of the shmita year to promote a new way of thinking about the economic and social order of the world we are living in, I couldn’t help but go beyond her assessment and ask what more the concept of shmita could mean for me on a personal level.

I kept going back to this. “Shmita means release, as in opening up a clenched hand to free what is held there.”

My husband will tell you that I am a fist clencher. No, I do not throw punches. (I have thrown an unlit candle and some sofa cushions, but those are stories for another day.) But when I am overcome with anger or fear or battling a bout of panic or anxiety rooted in old wounds buried deep he will often find me lying on the bed with my fists clenched and folded up over the center of my chest.

He will gently urge me to uncross my arms and release my hands, and it is often when I finally acquiesce, that I can begin to relax and heal and forgive and move forward.

The Rabbi is right, by forgiving economic debts and releasing our grip on monetary fulfillment we can certainly shake up old patterns and right our relationships with others and the world around us. But what about the emotional debts we owe and are owed? Debts of angry words and hurt feelings, debts of exclusion and inattention, debts of half-truths and manipulation, debts of jealousy and impatience, debts of physical infractions. These are the debts we hold most tightly, the debts that shape our character and mold our way of interacting with the world around us. They are debts that are more burdensome than any financial obligation to which we would ever be tethered.

What a beautiful opportunity there is in a shmita year. I know that we pray each week in Christian church services that God “…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…” (Matthew 6:12) and we endeavor to make shmita ongoing, but I also know, for me at least, achieving shmita is a constant battle as my best intentions get lost in the hustle and bustle and demands and expectations of life in this world. How can there be anything more grace-filled than a tradition, a break, a celebration, every seven years that gives you the time you so desperately need and demands that you stop, slow down, and release?

So my friends, as you celebrate your shmita year, know that I am celebrating in my own way along with you. I wish you and your families love, health, happiness, patience, kindness and forgiveness in the months ahead. Shanah tovah, to you and yours.

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To my Jewish friends, share with me what I am missing, what I got right (hopefully something!), what I got wrong (hopefully not too much!) and what I should explore next to better understand our shared heritage.

To my Christian friends, share with me how you think you can use an understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage with our Jewish friends to strengthen and guide your own faith journey.

To all my other friends who don’t identify with either the Christian or Jewish traditions, share with me any of your traditions or beliefs that are similar to the concept of the shmita or sabbatical year.

10 Comments

  1. Splendid Empress

    Thank you for this post. It has given me much food for thought. I really appreciate this line ” How can there be anything more grace-filled than a tradition, a break, a celebration, every seven years that gives you the time you so desperately need and demands that you stop, slow down, and release?” and hope to find a way to put it into practice for myself this year.

    1. Andrea

      Oh so glad you enjoyed it. It was really a bit of a stretch for me to write. Took me out of my comfort zone. Good luck finding release! I find it to be a constant battle 🙂

  2. Silverleaf

    I love reading about religious traditions and religious history so I found this fascinating. I also clearly need to let lots go (I may not clench fists but I definitely clench teeth, shoulders and stomach) and this was a good reminder to do that. Very well- written and informative piece!

    1. Andrea

      So glad you enjoyed this. My interest in religious traditions and history is relatively new, but I am loving the opportunity to learn. I clench teeth and shoulders too…not stomach though…I guess I need to up my game!

  3. Rambling Rose

    Wonderful post. Firstly for finding common grounds to unite .. and then for sharing something that is so meaningful. I too was struck by “How can there be anything so grace-filled…”. Gives a new perspective as something so needed to disengage from all things that bring down the human spirit; to be released and renewed. .
    Clenched fists 🙂 at least they don’t strike out !! I mutter under my breath and many times above it too!! Emotional debts … something to work on this Shmita year. Thanks

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