A Year of Release, Resilience and Rebalancing

Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit

"For us as people of faith and justice, and as expressions of this precious planet's life force, there may be no more important issue to engage in and face than the issue of global sustainability and climate change in our lifetime. We join all our partners in Philadelphia, across the country and the globe, to take an active and unceasing stand for a spiritually, economically, socially, politically and ecologically sustainable world for all life." 

 from the Philadelphia Climate Change Organizers Statement


Shalom and welcome back all into our Jewish season of individual return and communal consciousness-raising! When we gathered under unprecedented circumstances and through new on-line “rooms” last year at this time, I don’t imagine any of us could have conceived we would be navigating even more complex challenges and innovations in Jewish communal life.

As we gather in person and on-line we will enter the New Jewish Year together. This year 5782 is a Shmita year. Every seven years Shmita invites us to examine what in our lives needs to be reassessed and released. The Shmita year also brings us into a deep connection with earth. It is a call to ecological, spiritual, social and economic justice. 

Who have we become during these pandemic times? Each of us have had discoveries and losses, breakthroughs and dissolutions, moments of isolation and meaningful connections. Like many of you, we continue to ride uncertainty in our national and global political, environmental and health circumstances. As the recently released United Nations environmental report indicated, the ecological shofar calls have largely not been heeded and the future is now here. As in the title of the book by Rabbi Alan Lew (of blessed memory) on the Days of Awe, “This is For Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”. Yet, we do have ancient and contemporary ways of meeting the challenges of the times we were made for- and we have done this again and again over the millennia of our people’s evolving religious civilization. Sounding the shofar we will return to each other and begin again to meet the challenges and opportunities of our times together, whether on-line or in-person and sometimes both!

This year we have the opportunity to link up with the larger Jewish world through a year of SHMITA consciousness and action in a way that has never happened across the global Jewish spectrum before. Since biblical times, we as a people have taken every seventh year in the land of Israel as a “Sabbatical” for the land and for forgiving debts. Moving beyond the biblical constructs and embracing the contemporary progressive and ecologically focused Jewish approach with organizations and communities around the world, we will have the opportunity to explore this theme, and call-to-action, together and see how we can realize our collective communal potential...linking together our individual journeys, the outcome of this coming year’s strategic conversations about our collective communal future and the SHMITA year themes. 

It was seven years ago when I proposed we link our cycle of self-assessment and strategic planning to the Shmita cycle and our leadership at the time enthusiastically embraced the alignment- one of the many values I so treasure about the Mishkan Shalom community. 

You can already see that “release, renewal and rebalancing” are not seen as passive processes in our spiritual and cultural legacies. We were not dormant or withdrawn as a community during a full year plus of COVID-impacted local, national and global life. We initiated, forwarded and in some cases concluded a variety of projects and processes.

This overall theme of the Shmita year supports and enhances our ongoing work; it does not replace or negate our current activities. The confluence of this earth-based justice cycle of Jewish life and the heartbreak and breakthroughs of our times, does not pave over depression and isolation, celebration and reconnection- all of which I have personally experienced this year. “Shmita-year consciousness” can provide a broader container within which to continue to adapt, and find resilience and meaning amid so much uncertainty. 

I invite all of you, during these Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, to review your own personal, professional, and communal lives in the light of these SHMITA year principles:

• How do you want to live in the world with a deeper connection to conscious Jewish values-based living?

• How can you renew, reconnect and relate to your spiritual life?

• How can you release and re-evaluate your consumption of resources and ownership of ‘stuff’?

• How can you rethink, with discipline and forgiveness, habitual physical, emotional and thought patterns? What of these “debts” need to be forgiven so you can move out of past-based determined living and what debts need to be repaid so we can all be free of individual and collective injustice that is continuing it’s systemic grip on us and oppressing others?

• How can we revisit together our local and broader communities’ role and work in climate, racial and economic justice?

Each of us can find our own way/s to participate. I look forward to seeing you all in various combinations of in-person and on-line programs and services in the weeks and months ahead.

May 5782 truly be a year

Where we align the way we live 

In harmony, in peace and in sustainable alignment

With each other and all beings

And with the Earth that Breathes us into Life


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