In this year of shmita, the Earth Sabbatical Year, I plan to to write about the practical wisdom derived from this practice. Last month, I outlined the centrality of 7 in the cycle of Jewish holidays, ranging from the weekly sabbath and going on up to the cycle of 7×7 years, the Jubilee, the 50th year, arriving after 7 shmita cycles, for a once in a life-time experience.
When we practice a pulse of work and rest, we support our re-generativity and the re-generativity of the soil and the life that depends on it.
Conversely, the cycle of 7’s appears in the Torah’s description of what happens when we turn our backs (Leviticus 26:14 and following) on this life supporting guidance: “God will do the same to you…” The consequences mentioned here include anxiety, depression and despair, poor harvest and domination by our enemies. And then: “If you still do not listen to Me, I will increase the penalty of your crimes sevenfold. The harms this time include acid rain, and exhaustion of the people and the land. And sevenfold again, resulting in child mortality and depopulation, plague and wild animals. Four times this curse is expanded sevenfold, resulting in exile and ruin. The Torah’s explanation is: “The land will have her sabbaths” (26:34). She will be desolate according to the number of years she was abused and denied her rest.
This is not a vision of God-In-The-Sky throwing thunderbolts at errant humans. This is natural law, giving us feedback when we violate the terms and conditions of use. These horrors are consequences, not punishments. And many of them among us already.
Jewish philosophy holds that God is good and nature is generous. The living systems of earth are the stage upon which human actions are played out. We support and continue the good and generous model in which we are created. Or we stand in the way of abundance and flow that gives life to us and all. Our greed, selfishness and over consumption create waste and corruption of the natural order.
There is a very real possibility that some of you reading this today will live to see an irredeemable shift in earth’s climate that will have unpredictable and catastrophic consequences for all life. Indeed, it is underway. Perhaps we can let ourselves feel the collective suffering already underway and the suffering that may yet be unavoidable. Perhaps that apprehension can motivate to realign ourselves with generosity, simplicity and appreciation.
“When their stubborn spirit is broken, I will forgive their sins…the land will have enjoyed its sabbath while it lay in desolation without them…” (26:41 and following).
It is natural for us to feel grief at corruption and waste. And it is natural for us to want to repair and rebalance harms. There is joy in our aligning with the natural order and its generosity. This is not a call to obey the God-In-The-Sky. It is a call to heed the higher and more sensitive in ourselves, so that we live joyfully and generously.
I know many of us in the valley bear the natural grief and remorse at the conditions we have collectively created. We are a sharing and generous community. May we see the blessings of our good impulses increase, for all of us and for all.