This is a shmita year. Shmita is Hebrew for “release” and is more helpfully translated as sabbath for the land. The centrality of cycles of seven in our tradition cannot be overstated. The first cycle of seven days is embedded in the DNA of creation. Seven is the basis for our week, our calendar year and our agricultural practices, i.e., economic/ecological wisdom.
The wisdom that allows us to live in sustainable economies is sorely needed right now. I plan to take this year to embody shmita principles as best I can in this column, in our programming and our rituals. Look forward to classes and holiday gatherings to take place outside whenever possible. I encourage all of us to make more of a shabbat community, to gather with small groups to celebrate reflect and recreate together. And I will articulate here some of the insights and practices of shmita. Let’s start at the very beginning:
The 7 of the creation story implies that there are 2 cycles of three days and then a day of rest:
Day One: Light/Dark
Day Two: Separation of waters below and above, i.e. the heavenly expanse
Day Three: Soils and Seas plus vegetation.
Note the parallels here with the next three “days”
Day Four: Planetary systems, i.e. rulers of day and night
Day Five: Egg bearing animals, i.e. creatures of sky and water
Day Six: Mammals and humans, i.e. creatures of earth.
And then the day of rest.
So the biblical tempo is to make a start (1-3); refine your goals (4-6) and then rest, enjoy and reflect. This process can be applied to any project or career trajectory. The practice of Start, Refine and Reflect can keep us moving towards our goals, even as we adapt to shifting conditions.
Our holiday calendar is deeply embedded in the first holiday, Shabbat, the seventh day and continues to roll out over the seven day spring holiday of Pesach/Passover which is observed around the spring equinox. Seven weeks later, we have a holiday called Shavuot, Hebrew for “vows” and the Hebrew word for “sevens” (!). The next biblical holidays are in the seventh month after the Passover; the whole month of Tishrei is full, with Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the harvest festival of Sukkot at the fall equinox. The whole seventh month is like a shabbat for the year. During the winter dormancy, there are no Jewish festivals until Passover. Purim and Hanukah are post-biblical holidays, based on historic events during the Persian and Greek hegemony, respectively.
Once the biblical agricultural holidays are articulated for human cycles of work and pause, a further expansion is described for a 7 year cycle, shmita, and then a 50 year marker, which equals 7 cycles of 7 years and the 50th year. The 7 year cycle of shmita and the 50 year cycle called Jubilee are major events in the economic life of the Israelites, relating to all aspects of commerce, ownership, and relationship to the land. The cycle of 7’s organizes our personal week and year and it also organizes practices of rest and renewal which effect the entire landscape, economy and community. It is the 7 year and 50 year cycle that we will explore in future columns for guidance about sustainable land and economic practices.
May the 4’s be with you. And also the 7’s