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Nitzavim: The Great Equalizer, by Sarah Zell Young

Shmita is not only about the seventh year, shmita is a cycle preceded by 6 other years. It invites us to inventory ourselves, our choices and our middos, character traits, in the previous cycle and envision how we want to relate to ourselves and others in the coming seven years to co-create a better world.  

In Parshat Nitzavim, Moshe Rabbeinu is giving a speech to the people of Israel at the end of his life. He addresses every Israelite, young and old, poor and rich. Moses includes everybody, both past and future generations, who are not present.

It is not with you alone that I am making this covenant and oath, but with whoever stands with us here today before the Lord our God as well as those not with us here today.” (Deut. 29:13-14). 

Moses lays out two choices: light or darkness, blessings or curses, life or death, and urges the Israelites to choose life.

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil … I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you and your children may live. (Deut. 30:15, 19)”.

What does Parshat Nitzavim teach us about shmita? 

Moses speaks to everyone no matter their socioeconomic or societal status.

“You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— (Deut. 29:9-10)”

Shmita is the great equalizer.  It asks us to forgive all debts and let the land rest so everyone can come and partake in its bounty, the same way all were invited to listen to Moses. 

Moses Speaks to generations past, present, and future.  In the same way, shmita makes us think in broader time horizons in cycles of seven, the shmita cycle and 50, the Yovel cycle.

Near the end of Leviticus,  there is a list of blessings and curses the Jewish people will experience based on their observance of Shabbat, Shmita, and Yovel. So too in shmita, we are given choices to observe the shmita and be blessed or to receive curses.  This mirrors the choice Moses gave to the Jewish people in Nitzavim.

Shmita is not only about the seventh year, shmita is a cycle preceded by 6 other years. It invites us to inventory ourselves, our choices and our middos, character traits, in the previous cycle and envision how we want to relate to ourselves and others in the coming seven years to co-create a better world.  

Nitzavim invites us to follow the path laid out for us by Moshe Rabeinu in relation to self, g-d, and community. You can be inspired by shmita values in this process and continue to choose life throughout the shmita year and beyond.


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sarah young headshotSarah Zell Young is an Associate Director, National Programs and comes to Hazon with over a decade of educational and nonprofit management experience. She most recently was the Director of Finance at a flagship Jewish day school and a co-director of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Boston University partnering with Hillel. While living In Israel, she earned a certificate in educational and spiritual leadership at the Claudia Cohen Women’s Educators Institute, was an inaugural art fellow at Pardes, and a Dorot Fellow. Sarah is also a certified Urban Zen Integrative Therapist and an award-winning visual artist and is excited to be bringing her creativity to an organization that shares her values of learning from the wisdom of Jewish tradition to create a sustainable world for all.

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