|The Torah portion this week calls for keeping the sabbatical year, every seventh year, in which we give the land (and ourselves) a rest. Why? And how in our busy, modern lives, in which our work extends well beyond the fields, could we possibly experience the meaning of this guidance?
As with the weekly Sabbath, we are given time intermittently during the years to “turn the machine off,” as if to say we aren’t to be devoted to the machine and what it produces. So long as the machine runs ceaselessly, our instinct tempts us to venerate, even worship, those material things or selfish interests that go far beyond the rightful benefits of our work. This excess can be due to a sort of obsession with our acquisitions and accretions, with our acting as if we’re lords of the earth.
Don’t we need reminders and experiences that teach that we are mere stewards of what we possess and that God is truly the owner?
This guidance says, yes. We serve God. It’s not all about us or for us. Further, we tend to treat others more lovingly, more fairly, more justly, more mercifully when we see ourselves as servants of God rather than master unto ourselves.
We remember also that it was God Who created the earth. We celebrate a sabbath of years, as well as each week. By separating this time, we cherish the same principles – respect for and honor of God, rest for ourselves and that part of God’s creation under our purview, and a dedication of time for holy purposes.
As we have studied, God leads us to holiness, in large part, to cause us to show a greater heed to loving kindness and compassion, as against domination, greed, over-interest in, and undue pressure for, material gain.
Could we live out a sort of sabbatical year in our own time and place?
While it’s unlikely that many of us could or would literally take a sabbatical year of the sort described in the Bible, we could fashion experiences that bring its meaning to our lives. For instance, we could slow down our commercial or other acquisitive activity, rest ourselves and “the land,” and puncture any budding mania we may feel to overdo our commitment to growing material assets.
In its place, we could devote time to study, service, spiritual orientation, teaching and learning, re-acclimating ourselves to the values we hold dearest, the truths and virtues God has taught and expects of us. Perhaps refreshed and re-dedicated to service of God and our fellows, we would come back to more normal time out of this designated time ready to live more fully in the Way God has given us.