If we have the courage to open our hearts to the Mussar of Shmita we see that all lives emanate equally from the One. They have the same claim to nurturance and protection and well-being as do we, to resources and opportunities. Shmita, if we open our hearts, broadcasts a call for redistribution of resources to humankind loudly.
Parshat Ha’azinu opens with metaphors of the land of Israel, the Divine, and the people of Israel. Nature and weather describe how our hearts are to welcome the words of Torah, to be in constant relationship with them, to absorb them. God calls on the earth to hear God’s words.
Our parshah says:
“May my discourse come down as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.”
The song of Ha’azinu, one of the most captivating in the Torah, relies profoundly on nature to communicate its Mussar. The desert and our national journeying in it, the eagles and rocks, the honey and the lamb, the grapes and the goats. This poem is abundant, even overflowing, with the poetry of nature.
Ha’azinu evokes, and invites us to encounter, a world that was not only the world of our ancestors but the world of humans before the industrial age. This level of encounter with nature is something many of us reading this (and I who am writing this) seek out by going to places where humans have protected Nature.
The Shmita year opens a different dimension of time, nature, and encounter with the Divine. In Israel, that impact can be quite physical, schedules freed up from normal labor, private property, and harvest now public. The land that we in a non-Shmita year plow and harvest – this year it’s bounty is not our bounty. If we have the courage to open our hearts to the Mussar of Shmita we see that all lives emanate equally from the One. They have the same claim to nurturance and protection and well-being as do we, to resources and opportunities. Shmita, if we open our hearts, broadcasts a call for redistribution of resources to humankind loudly.
If you are outside of Israel, I invite you to hear the call as well; learn about Shmita with others, abstain from buying new clothing and items when possible as a way of allowing the Earth to rest and subsisting on what already is. Honor Shmita’s call to justice and redistribution of resources by giving the money you save to Tzedakah. If you have land, allow at least some of it to rest.
Shmita dances in the nature imagery of Ha’azinu, projecting a clarion call that there is no human renewal that will be sustained if Nature is not allowed to rejuvenate. Social justice is inexorably woven with the Shmita cycle in which the earth is allowed to renew itself, in which we human beings are obligated, for one year, to behave as if we don’t know better than Earth herself how to rejuvenate. The Torah demands that we step back, that we realize that we, too, are smaller than the Creation. And even if our post-Industrial egos do not accept this message, integrating the practice of Shmita into our lives this year connects our hearts to those of our ancestors who knew an Earth whose awe-inspiring power was very present.
Rabba Amalia Haas is Director of Spiritual Engagement at Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, Rhode Island and a chaplain at the Cleveland Clinic. Her company Bee Awesome educates the Jewish community about bees, climate and the Jewish calendar, and markets honey for Rosh HaShanah. She facilitates life cycle events, professional development, and community retreats grounded in Torah, mindfulness, bibliodrama, nature, art and music. She was ordained in 2020 by Yeshivat Maharat and is an alumna of Yeshiva University and Oberlin College.