D’var Torah: Cantor Michael McCloskey (Behar/Bechukotai)

Shemitah and the Small Moments

The Sabbatical year, or shemitah is the quintessence of Sabbath. Whether for a year or for one day in a week, we cease being consumers and producers, and devote our energy to being contemplatives, appreciators, celebrants, and relational beings.  During the shemitah year our ancestors were commanded to let the land lie fallow.  What grew naturally was permitted to be consumed by the landowner, servant, day-laborer, and domestic and wild animal alike.

According to a deep and meaningful rabbinic teaching, there is none mightier than the one who observes this mitzvah.  Promulgated in the name of Rabbi Isaac, the text acknowledges that many people desire to do good and engage in a particular act of devotion or loving-kindness for a day, a week, even a month.  However, our nature is to eventually become distracted.  The “mighty one” who observes the shemitah, sees that which is his, which he has worked for, given freely and equally to any who are hungry, sees his field uncultivated, and the fruition of his work put on hold.  

We, in Greater Boston and around the world, are currently living with many of these challenges, as we are forced to reconsider the ways in which we work, measure productivity, and structure our time.  As many more people currently work from home, our earth seems to bloom more brightly than ever without so much pollution of fossil fuels. Animals are more easily observable in our parks and surroundings due to the reduced human impact.  

Some of our commentators point out that though the purpose of both Shabbat and Shemitah is partially for the land’s benefit, it is also for us,  as we are drawn into closer relationships with our fellow beings and the Ultimate.  Now unable to hug our friend, visit a grandparent, or physically get together with a classmate, we have become innovative, mindful, and aware in a more significant way of the power of relationship and of small moments shared with others.

My hope is that we will carry some of the lessons of quarantine and shemitah as we very carefully begin to reopen and renew our homes, communities, and world in the coming months.

Cantor Michael McCloskey, Hazzan M’hanekh/Cantor-Educator, Temple Emeth of Chestnut Hill

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