Topic: Shmita

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Noah: In Search of Balance by Hannah Henza

The story of Noah is a tale that shows up in many ancient forms. But the lessons we learn from the various deluge narratives are more applicable today than perhaps ever before.  As the story opens, we are told that Noah remains singularly righteous as the rest of humanity falters. How is this possible? Just a short while ago we were being given the Garden “to tend and guard.” We were just beginning to explore the ways that humanity could spread across the land with divine blessing. So what should be done when human corruption rears its destructive head again? In this case, God provides clear instructions: Build an ark and take in the animals. This is similar to the instructions we are provided for Shmita: Prepare and gather extra produce ahead of time. As the Earth is subject to the largest reset ever imagined, Noah, his family, and God’s creation will be protected with the promise of a new world; a more righteous humanity. And yet, once they finally step out of the ark and make their new life we are immediately presented with more human failure – the Tower of Babel, an attempt by humans to build a […]

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Bereishit: The Sabbatical Paradigm by Jeremy Benstein

“And there was evening, and there was morning” (Gen. 1). Nature has rhythms. “Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Summer and winter, Day and night… ” (Gen. 8).  Human society too has rhythms. Or at least it did, once. Traditional societies, whether nomadic or agrarian, had their rhythms, tied to the natural ones. They depended on them, were sustained by them.  Genesis 1 tells of another rhythm: the 7-day ‘beat;’ what we call a week. In Hebrew, shavu’a, related to sheva’ – “seven.”  Or better: 6+1. Six units of work, one of rest. It must be a pretty good ratio, since it has lasted for thousands of years.  That, however, makes the “1” seem like an afterthought, a utilitarian pause to catch our breath before plunging back into the main attraction, work.  But that “1” is anything but an afterthought. It is Shabbat, the pinnacle of the week in Genesis 1. It is the cessation of creative intervention in the world in order to celebrate creation’s abundance, revel in it, share it, build our families and communities around it. We don’t rest in order to work; we work in order to be able to be worthy of Shabbat. In order […]

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Moving from the Real to the Ideal – Rabbi Dov Linzer

The Torah commands us in the laws of Shmita for the first time in Shemot 23:11: “And six years you shall sow thy land, and shall gather in the fruits thereof. But the seventh year you shall relinquish it; that the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your oliveyard”. The Shmita year is one in which we cease our working of the land to recognize that all that we have is God’s. It is a year when the poor eat freely from the land and when all debts are released, a year of greater economic and social equality. The vision of Shmita is a utopian vision, but can it be translated into reality? The mitzvah to free one’s slaves presents a similar vision and a similar challenge. The very first in the long list of laws in Shemot states that any slave purchased must be freed following six years of servitude. This is the first law given to Bnei Israel – newly-freed slaves themselves – by God, who declared at the theophany at Mount Sinai that, “I am […]

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The Dream of Shmita – Deirdre Gabbay

I have been wanting to write in response to the situation we are all in for several weeks, but each time I’ve begun, I’ve gotten confused and had to stop. There are so many facets of this time and situation that no words can embrace it in all its various aspects. My mind and heart have been crowded with disorganized and conflicting thoughts and emotions. But here we sit, with time to reflect, under these unique and unforgettable conditions. Shmita, described as the Sabbath of the Land, is part of a relationship between the Earth and God. The human being’s role in this relationship is precisely to step back and permit it take place – to cease our exploitation of the Earth for one year out of every seven and enable it to rest. It seems obvious and forgivable for me at this moment to write about Shmita, since it is my special topic. This is in no way the golden version of the Year of Release that I have unabashedly dreamed of and that I had hoped to play some part in bringing about with care and intention. It is humbling and terrifying to witness the devastation that the […]

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Visions for Our New Land

Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 28th Adar II, 5779 Dear All, I had asked Janna, Rebecca, and Shamu – leaders of our Adamah program – to write something for all of us, about the new land we have been able to buy at 181 Beebe Hill Road, contiguous with our existing Adamah land at Isabella Freedman. They’ve written an extraordinarily beautiful piece, and I hope you enjoy it and are inspired by it as much as I am. In the Jewish tradition of fractal sevens, between the seven days of Shabbat and the seven years of shmita, we have sefirat ha’omer, seven weeks of seven, starting the second night of Pesach. Seder night – just two weeks from now – is our gateway to this journey. I hope that what they have written offers wisdom for all of us. Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov, Nigel “Our design at 181 deepens the resilience of our farm while nurturing the land and a community. And maybe it will offer inspiration to you ahead of Pesach…” As we walked on the new land across crusty snow this January, we were tempted to shout out and point: Put fences here! Plant trees there! Fix that […]

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Listen Ya’ll! | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Alex Voynow, Jewish Farm School  Parshat Haazinu [NOTE: Applications for the next JOFEE Fellowship cohort are open now through October 5! Apply today!] In Ha’azinu, Moses sees the Israelites for who they are: humans, scarred by 40 years of impatient wandering and in no mood to listen obediently. Moses is 120 years old and holds so much wisdom; this is the last day before his death, and he has some things to say. He has the story of his life to tell, which in his epic personal union with the Israelite people is also the story of God. He needs them to understand, like the tender, concerned patriarch that he is, how to live in God’s favor so they can blossom into the promised land and not mess up this covenant (fast-forward: oops).   What he has to say is so important that he does something that really resonates with me. Moses speaks language that heaven and earth themselves will understand, and in a language that will more likely move the people: in song. He launches into a 48-verse poem doing his damnedest to sum up his life’s spiritual learnings. I’m not going to get into it because it’s densely […]

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Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Jared Kaminsky, Shoresh Parshat Shoftim The parsha of the week is Shoftim, which means Judges. As Moses nears the end of his life, he wants to ensure there is a system of governance in society. Shoftim gives detailed ordinances on many topics of law, including appointing judges, laws that kings should follow, creating cities of refuge when crimes are committed, and the rules of war. For example, the parsha states that appointed judges are forbidden from taking bribes and there must be two credible witnesses for a conviction. Another ordinance demands that kings must not have too many horses and must always carry around two Torah scrolls to remind them that G-D is above them. The Torah even provides a city of refuge for those who accidentally murdered someone to live in safety! While many of these laws do not apply to modern society, there are some important insights into preventing corruption and treatment of humankind that we can still learn from. Moses recognized that every generation has the obligation to critically examine and apply the laws of the Torah. As Jews we should examine the laws that govern the places we live and work to protect the rights of […]

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Reflections on Kindness | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Brenden Jackson, Amir with Shalom Community Farm Houston Parshat Eikev In Parshat Eikev, Moses calls upon his people to reflect on their past in order to remember and obtain the future that was promised to them. As they prepare to enter the Promised Land, the lines blur between past transgressions, promises, sufferings and joys, made inseparable from the current joy at the edge of the holy land. As summer comes to a close here in Houston, so does summer camp programming, which means ending my mentor role with summer farmers and transitioning to fall programming. With the end of the summer chapter, I find myself guided by Moses’s reflections while I enter the reflection stage of this particular learning cycle. Here in Houston, we have several projects occurring and converging at one time: On the one hand, we have Shalom Community Farm – a Jewishly centered agriculture program aimed at connecting flora and Torah for community members. On the other hand, we are developing a Garden Kitchen program with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, where I grow, harvest, and prepare produce with different community members. While in many ways these projects are totally separate, Amir has […]

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Fear and Donkeys | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Henry Schmidt, Shalom Institute Parshat Balak I thought Balak was a story about a donkey. That is to say, when I sat down to write this blog post, I expected to write about the talking donkey we’ll soon meet. Understandably, a talking donkey tends to get a lot of attention. However, this time I found the ending of the parsha (Torah portion), an ending I had always overlooked, to be what especially spoke to me. Let’s start with an overview. Balak, King of Moab, sees the growing people of Israel and how they have conquered all of Moab’s neighbors, leaving Moab directly next to the potential threat of this dynamite group of nomads who seem to be on a roll. Worried about the Israelite’s winning streak, he summons Balaam, a pagan sorcerer, to come and curse the Israelites. “‘There is a people come out of Egypt; it hides the Earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed […]

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Korach: Disruptive Visionary or Disgruntled Rabble-Rouser? | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Eliezer Weinbach, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon Parshat Korach וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, חַיִּים–שְׁאֹלָה And they and all their belongings went down, alive, into Sheol Numbers 16:33 I was traveling once, and my tour guide, a wizened Arab, asked me if I wanted to see the pit that swallowed Korach’s followers. Intrigued, I followed my guide through the desert. After some time, through a haze of heat and mirage, we saw smoke billowing from a fissure in the ground. My guide doused a towel with some of his water, and tied it to the tip of his staff. He cautiously approached the fissure, and held his staff over the smoking vent. To my surprise, the wet cloth began to burn. As he was walking back to me, I could hear voices carried on the warm desert wind. Faint voices, singing, or perhaps chanting. Softly enough that I wasn’t sure if I was hearing anything at all. “What are those voices?” I asked my guide. “Those are the children of Korach,” he replied. “They are slowly lowered into the hellish heat of the Earth and then raised back out, rotated like a roast on a spit. When they finish […]

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Sabbaticals, shmita, post-sabbatical…

by Nigel Savage October 19, 2017 | 29 Tishrei 5778 Dear All, This week is the start of the rest of our lives the first week after the end of the Jewish holidays, and my first week back at work after my sabbatical. In the next few weeks, I’ll be sending out a short series of essays, reflecting on Hazon and our work in light of my sabbatical things I’ve learned, things I’ve been thinking about. I want to thank everyone staff, board members, funders, stakeholders for enabling me to take this time off. It has been important for me, and I hope in due course it will be significant, in a positive way, for Hazon and for our work. In this first email back I want to write again about time itself and sabbaticals and shmita. This is the start of year three. Year one (the first year after shmita) was 2015-’16, ie 5776. 5778, this year just begun, is year three. When we get to Rosh Hashanah in September 2021, that will be the start of 5782, year seven, the sabbatical year, shnat shmita. It is this very curious thing, that being Jewish is so inextricably wound up with the […]

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Walking Behind Kindness: Parashat Naso | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Jaclyn Kellner – Coastal Roots Farm; Encinitas, CA “I’d like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain behind someone who may show me kindness.” This statement, from Ruth to Naomi in the Book of Ruth, holds so many aspects of what a Jewish Community Farm can provide. This week’s parsha, Naso, spells out the different functions distinct groups and structures had while traveling in the desert. Naso begins by taking census of and detailing the specific duties assigned to each family line of Levites and ends by listing each tribe’s offering for the inauguration of the alter in the Mishkan. This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of co-organizing a Shavuot Festival at Coastal Roots Farm. Over 300 people attended, of all ages, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It was incredible to see an event have such strong Jewish content and influence while remaining a welcoming and accessible festival to all. The festival focused on exploring the story of Ruth and on Shavuot’s agricultural roots celebrating the start of the summer harvest. Participants danced to live klezmer music; learned how to make cheese and tend to their tomato plants; and painted, created, and wore exquisite flower crowns in celebration of […]

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Prayer in Action: Upholding our Covenant for a Brighter Future | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Daniella Aboody, Wilderness Torah, Berkeley, CA Parashat Chayyei Sarah Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly!  P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for prospective fellows will continue to be reviewed as positions are available. The Torah portion for this week, Chayyei Sarah, begins with the death of our matriarch Sarah. We see Abraham mourn the loss of his beloved, and then immediately take action by purchasing her burial grounds—the cave of Machpela—and then sending his servant to go find a wife for their son, Isaac. Abraham says goodbye to her in an honorable way, and then makes moves to follow through on the covenant that God has made with him and Sarah—the promise of land and descendants. God makes this promise on several occasions, but only now, once Sarah […]

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Grappling with the Ark of Responsibility | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Bailey Lininger, Tamarack Camps, Bloomfield Hills, MI Parashat Noach Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly!  P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for cohort two are now open for both prospective fellows and prospective host institutions and will continue to be reviewed as positions are available. Some days, my job makes me feel like Noah, stocking his Ark full of animals before the flood, the weight of the world’s responsibility on my shoulders. Let me explain: At Tamarack Camps, where I’m placed as a JOFEE fellow, I have the good fortune of being the supervisor of Tamarack’s brand new nature center: The Teva Center. Just finished in June 2016, we’ve slowly but surely been filling with new animal residents ever since. Our goal is a nature center filled with […]

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Emerging from an Organizational Shmita

By Nati Passow 11 months ago, I posted a piece on the Jewish Farm School website about how we were choosing to embrace Shmita as an organization.  You can read the entire piece here, but the final paragraph sums up the gist. We are using the Shmita year as an opportunity for fewer programmatic commitments, more organizational reflection, and a focus on building a strong local foundation in Philadelphia.  It is our hope that in this year of rest and renewal, we are feeding the soil that will, in turn, feed thoughtful, inspired, and sustainable organizational growth for the next Shmita cycle. What played out over the following 11 months has proven to be incredibly significant as we enter into a new phase of organizational growth, in line with the beginning of the next Shmita cycle.  Since 2013, we have been making an organizational pivot, turning our focus to our Urban Sustainability Programs in Philadelphia.  We saw the Shmita year as an opportunity to complete this shift, and do so in a way that would create a strong foundation for this next phase of our work. We would not look to grow our programs or our budget, and would instead dedicate time […]

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