Sova Blog

The Sova (Enoughness) Project is a joint initiative of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College, the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, and the Heschel Sustainability Center.  Inspired by the upcoming Shmita year which begins Rosh Hashanah in September 2014, the goal of the project is to raise awareness across the global Jewish community about issues of environmental and economic sustainability by engendering a multi-disciplinary conversation among Jewish studies scholars, economists, activists and communal leaders. The Sova Project is a partner of the Hazon Shmita Project and the Siach Network.

Below is an article by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, the co-founder of the Sova Project and the founder and director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network:

The Narrative of Shmita

Let’s face it: Shmita has a marketing problem. It comes only once every seven years. It has little name recognition. It treads perilously close to being confused with the handy but derogating Yiddish wordshmata – rag.  It has no memorable ritual to ground it; no identifiable symbol associated with it; no compelling narrative to frame it. It is – as presented in the Torah and in tradition – just a series of laws.

It’s as if we had to market in one spiritual bundle seat belts, the gas tax and city circulators. Those of us in the know could see the connection – safe, affordable, sustainable and equitable transit. We would know too the greater context: that the flow of people, ideas, goods and services form the backbone of the body politic.

But the whole is not intuitively obvious. Neither is Shmita. So how do we capture the power of the seventh year in an image or symbol that can move the spirit?

As a start, we have to embed it in a story. Perhaps that is one of our first jobs this coming Shmita year: figuring out how to articulate, frame and fashion Shmita’s irresistible, inspiring, integrated story.

The name of this blog is a first attempt to do that. “Sova” says that Shmita is not just about abiding for a year by a cluster of loosely related laws regarding land, wealth and debt, not just a temporary way to rectify some inevitable injustices against land and each other of the other six years. Rather, sova sees Shmita as a visioning of a world in which all of our material and spiritual needs are met in the deepest, most reciprocal, sustainable and satisfying of ways. This requires two things: (1) material sufficiency – everyone having enough – to afford us the freedom for spiritual pursuit and fulfillment. And it requires (2) spiritual fulfillment to release us from any excessive or misplaced desire for material consumption so that we may recognize when we have enough.

As the economist Manfred Max-Neef teaches, we need to distinguish between needs and satisfiers. Our needs, he argues, are finite. He classifies them as:

  • Subsistence
  • Protection
  • Affection
  • Understanding
  • Participation
  • Leisure
  • Creation
  • Identity
  • Freedom

Each need has a cluster of satisfiers that fulfills it. So Subsistence has foods; Protection has homes.  We err when we fill one need with a satisfier meant for another, say sex for Affection or shopping for Creation. A false or misplaced satisfier can never yield satisfaction. “You can never get enough of something you don’t really need.”

So Shmita can be seen as a time when we rehearse, for one year, what it would be like, what it would feel like, for us to live a life of “enoughness,” when we were able to pursue – and be blessed with—the right satisfiers to meet the right needs. In the process, at the end of the Shmita year, we would know where we fall short – in ourselves and in our systems. Through trying to live “as if” the world of reciprocated fullness and fulfillment is here, through trying to fill our needs efficiently with appropriate satisfiers, we will learn to recognize “enough.” We will learn, as a society, where we and our systems fail in the pursuit of sova, and we will learn more about what we need to do to build a world of goodness and plenty.

As Jeremy Benstein wrote earlier on this blog, “we know in our heart of hearts that [sustainability] is not the ultimate ideal we should be striving for.” Sustainability – the ability for generations to move forward without diminishing earth’s resources for the generations yet to come – should be the non-negotiable foundation of our world.  It should hardly be a spiritual aspiration.

Shmita, then, is a not call to live for one year with different rules that help us adjust or compensate for the inequitable accumulation of debt or dissatisfaction and injustices of the other six years, only to dump us back, unchanged, into that “real” world. Shmita is a rehearsal of a new way, a time to practice living in a world of “enoughness,” where each of us is filled and flourishes with enough, where disproportionate inequities would not, and could not, exist. And when Shmita is over, and we re-enter the other six years, we take a bit of what we learned with us and put it into practice in our everyday lives.

That is our frame for the story of Shmita, a taste – and a test – of a world of sova, in which we all pursue material and spiritual fulfillment not through lowering our sights or desires, but through filling them rightly, with and through the presence of each other.

Nina_150Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is the co-founder of the Sova Project and the founder and director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network, an organization dedicated to greening her local Jewish community; the founder and director of the Baltimore Orchard Project, an organization that grows, gleans and gives away urban fruit; and a co-founder and chair of the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, an interfaith organization that works on behalf of the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and all its inhabitants.

The views expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sova Project or its founding partner organizations.  All comments on this site are the responsibility of their writers.