Behar and Behukkotai – on shmita, sabbatical, sustenance

In this double parshah, we have the rules for leaving the land fallow on the shmita, the sabbatical year. We know that agriculturally land requires time to be left fallow in order to maintain good soil quality. But there are ways in which the agricultural can give rise to the cultural. Many of us are considering the idea of shmita metaphorically, especially now as we are in currently in a shmita year.

We live in an age where there is a lot of talk of mindfulness, of living in the present moment. And yet we simultaneously live with the expectations of being able to multitask, of being constantly accessible, and of being able to manage our many roles seamlessly. We are overworked, overcommitted, and overwhelmed. Devices meant to make our lives easier often make us feel that we can never take a break. They are there to enable us to be “connected,” and yet I believe there has never been a time in history when people feel less connected to their families and communities.

Shmita literally means release. What if we released ourselves from some fear, guilt, and obligation? What if we asked ourselves what can I let go of? Fields which give us food and sustenance, if overworked and overwrought, will stop producing. And we are the same. If we are overworked and overwhelmed then we will be unable to be fully available to those we love. We too have a limit. And in this culture that measures goodness by productivity, it is good to remind ourselves that rest breeds productivity. Just like the harvest will be better if we rotate our crops and let the land rest, we will be better if we have a chance to rest and recuperate as well.

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