Inherent in the concept of Shmita is an understanding that as much as we toil to shape the land, the land shapes us as well. How does it shape a person to raise children where their great-grandparents were raised? How does it impact a child to rest in the shade of a tree planted by their grandmother? How does it change a family to observe Shmita together, to support each other through a year with no harvest? What would it mean to observe many cycles of Shmita and to know from family experience that getting through each one is achievable with planning and cooperation? The story of such a family would be filled with resilience, generosity, and trust. When we put our faith in the land, the land responds and instills in us an equal measure of faith.
Last week, Abraham and Lot parted ways. Abraham gives Lot the choice of where to settle, and he chooses Sodom, in the lush valley of the Jordan, because it was “entirely watered.” It seemed to be a fertile land that would provide for him with little work. Sodom was a land where the people took without giving. They took from the land, thinking it’s resources infinite, and this led to a culture of taking. The people of Sodom came to believe that they deserved anything they could see.
Contrast this with Abraham, who is the great paragon of giving. Right after his circumcision, during the heat of the day, he runs to prepare food for travelers. He is confident that he has what to share because he has been living in harmony with the land – with the trees and crops and animals, all of which he offers to his guests.
The Shmita cycle offers us a unique lesson. The way we interact with the land informs the way we are in relation with people. The measure of our faith in the land correlates with the measure of our generosity towards others. To be in right relation with the land we live on is to cultivate within ourselves a sense of the paramount value of connection, and the primacy of generosity over selfishness.
Eliezer Weinbach is a National Programs Coordinator for Hazon. He was raised with a deep love of G-d and creation, and discovered fully integrated Jewish environmentalism at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. A graduate of Yeshiva University and the JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Education) Fellowship, he holds onto seemingly divergent concepts as tightly as he can.
Shmita Friday is just one piece of a large conversation that has been ongoing for a long time! We’d love to hear what you think – post a comment below, join our facebook group, and start talking about shmita with your friends and family.