A Shmita Prayer, To and For Our Children

Fred Scherlinder Dobb

About Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda MD; on the board of Interfaith Power and Light; chairperson of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Father, husband, environmental activist and educator, writer and teacher. Jewish & Human member of the web of Creation. Booster for shmita-consciousness.

About A Shmita Prayer, To and For Our Children

After an introduction, this work is meant to be read aloud by all the adults in the congregation, individually or in unison. In addressing this prayer to our and others’ children, we simultaneously acknowledge the intergenerationality that is a core component of shmita-consciousness; tug at heartstrings, in ways that might move adults to live more sustainably and justly, as shmita asks us to; and put those who read it aloud “on the record” in apologizing for the path we’re on, and committing to do better.With numerous allusions to Jewish liturgy and teaching, this prayer is a mash-up of three genres. It is part-vidui (confessional, and thus useful for Yom Kippur), part misheberakh (healing prayer, with a nod to Debbie Friedman’s powerful popular rendition), and part hoda’ah (expression of gratitude).Our shul will bring in the new/shmita year of 5782, at erev Rosh Hashanah, with this communal prayer — two readers offering the narrative opening, and then a handout or screen-share of the unison passages, so that hundreds will say this together. It could be employed just as easily on Shabbat Shuva or on Yom Kippur, or anytime in 5782 with the change of just one phrase (from “During these Days of Awe” to “Early in” or “During this Shmita Year).Adat Shalom, like many other communities, is already well-acquainted with shmita, and has done much with it during and since the last cycle. I gave a series of High Holy Sermons six, seven, and eight years ago, as part of our ongoing effort to “make shmita into an English word” that is common, well-used, and trips off the tongue. This new shmita prayer follows up on those and other shmita resources, which can be found at https://adatshalom.net/learn/rabbi-freds-teachings/shmita/; I hope these materials prove helpful to others, this time around.
     READER 1:  A homonym: banayich, your banim, your children; and bonayich, your bonim, your builders.  Tradition says they’re the same: our children are our builders.  But what foundations are we laying, upon which they might yet build?  Which of our structures, with which openings, will be their starting place?
 READER 2:  We now begin our cyclic (shmita) year of release — of planned fallow-ness; of equity, and simplicity; of letting go, and letting nature take its course.  Of rest and play for all, when we join our children in their play, and let them show us the way.  If we did really let our children lead us, if we truly planned and built around their needs:  what would change?  What must we do better?
READER 1:  This cycle comes around just twice or thrice across childhood.  It invites us to think beyond the ups and downs of grades or screen time, markets or elections, public health.  It beckons us to approach the big questions intergenerationally.  And it serves as a sort of seventh-year super-tshuvah, demanding a deeper-than-annual look at where our paths have strayed from love or justice or sustainability — and commanding a clear commitment to improving that path.
READER 2:  On these Days of Awe [for later use: In this Shmita year], we adults — born in and shaped by the previous century, from an era already being eclipsed — we offer a prayer for every child in our community, and in our world.  We offer our vidui, confessional, apology; our misheberakh, fervent healing prayer; our hoda’ah, acknowledgement, expression of gratitude.  We offer this for each other’s, as well as our own, children & grandchildren.  For the generation now rising, we say together:
Ahavah rabbah ahavanu etchem, with great love we have loved you, our children, our builders, our hope, our future.  Yet we have fallen short, forcing you to clean up our many messes.  You will inherit our mixed legacy, that shines in some places with divine Ohr, and looms elsewhere like a plague, Choshech, total darkness.  Will we commit in time to changing our ways, and leaving you the the fullness of Creation?  And if we do, will you forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement?
The world we have shaped is far from redemption.  Against the wisdom of Torah, and against the conscience of our hearts: inequity only increases, injustice yet infects, on our watch.  Carbon has catastrophically climbed, spiking ever higher, with us at the helm.  Division has been sown, and grown, with unity seeming ever more utopic and distant.  If, and only if, we turn — if we fully support your efforts to right the ship — will you forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement?
           May the Holy One who blessed our ancestors, who gave us the abundance we now enjoy, help us find the courage to help make YOUR lives a blessing!  You, our progeny, are in need of healing, due in part to we who came before you.
       With our belated tshuvah, may you know refuah shleimah:  a renewal of the body politic; a renewal of social spirit, and inner spirituality.  A return to the living source of our bodies, the spirit of Mother Earth.  A release from all that is not sustainable, and all that is not just.
           Our children, our builders:  we join you in the spirit of shmita, release — of healing — of tikkun, repair, setting things aright — of tshuvah.  We reaffirm our commitment to making this a shanah tovah, a good year, that sets up a truly good future — seven years hence, and far beyond.  Ken y’hi ratzon:  may the will be there, to make it so.