What I wrote last week struck a chord. Many of you wrote back to share ways you were also affected by the shutdown of major social media platforms. You wrote about how you are bringing more awareness around your use of Social Media to conversations with your families and communities.
While the momentary shutdown was an actual boundary that limited our use of social media. One soulful parent wrote in about how it reminded her about the imagined boundary that is upon us this year in particular – a boundary that is meant to limit consumption, re-focus our attention on the earth, share and rest. That boundary is Shmita.
Shmita literally means “release” and connects us to the biblical injunction to let fields lay fallow every seventh year. While the laws of shmita only hold practical application in the Land of Israel, shmita as an ideal has far-reaching implications. Socially, it is a year to recognize the hard labor of farmers and offer them the rest they deserve. Interpersonally, it is a year in which debts are released, and those who borrowed money they can’t pay back have a chance for a fresh start. Agriculturally, it is a year when the earth can rest, and produce its natural yield, limiting human intervention and cultivation.
And while we may be better versed in Shabbat celebration, that comes as a disruption to the centrality we place on work, and helps us refocus our attention every week on rest and reflection, shmita is a shabbat on a much larger scale. Rav Kook writes in Shabbat Ha-Aretz, Shabbat of the Land (published by Hazon, 2014 and beautifully translated by Julian Sinclair):
What Sabbath does for the individual, shmita does for the nation as a whole…Our mundane lives, with their toil, anxiety, anger, and competition do not entirely suffocate [our] creative force. On the shmita, our pure, inner spirit may be revealed as it truly is….There is always a tension between the ideal of listening to the voice inside us that calls us to be kind, truthful, and merciful, and the conflict, compulsion, and pressure to be unyielding that surround buying, selling, and acquiring things…Stilling the tumult of social life from time to time…is meant to move this nation, when it is well-ordered, to rise toward an encounter with the heights of its other, inner moral and spiritual life.
Shmita with a rhyming tone stands in contrast to the word shlita, or control.
I have been fascinated to hear how friends are applying this ancient shmita law to their lives this year:
One friend is not buying anything new.
Another friend decided to only buy clothes for her and her children at thrift shops, not willing to overspend at major clothing chains.
Another friend stripped his garden of all vegetation to observe what the land would naturally yield.
And yet another friend decided that what needs to lay fallow in her home is the frenetic energy of everyone on their screens late into the night, and created her home as an internet-free zone from 9pm onward.
What I love about these examples is that each friend considers the ways shmita can be an ancient wake-up call inviting us to set more boundaries in our lives and to help us reconnect to the “voice inside us” to be more “kind, truthful and merciful.” Bringing a shmita consciousness into our lives and even making a commitment to something we want to be released from, instead of controlled by, is a good place to start.
Blessings for the journey,