If We Do (or Don't) Allow the Earth to Rest --

[Originally posted Jan 2, 2005; revised May 18, 2014]

If we do not follow the pattern of seventh-year and fiftieth-year rest for the land and suspension of social hierarchies that is commanded in Leviticus 25, the Earth will rest anyway — on our heads!  It will rest through famine, drought, exile.

The Torah follows up on the commands in Leviticus 25 with warnings in Lev 26: 33-35 and 43-44, in the Torah portion called "B'Chukkotai" : For as many restful Shabbat Shabbaton years that human exploitation denied the earth, so many years will the earth "rest" through disaster.

 And at the very end of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures ) II Chronicles 36: 20-21 claims that this is exactly what happened — that the people lived in the Babylonian Exile as many years as they had prevented the land from making Shabbat:

"The remnant {who survived] the sword he [the king of the Chaldeans] exiled to Babylon, and they became his and his sons’ servants [or slaves] till the Persian kingdom was crowned with kingship. In order to fulfill the word of YHWH through the mouth of Jeremiah, the land was paid back her Shabbats . All the days of its desolation were its Shabbats, till seventy years were fulfilled."

To me this sounds like an ecologist's warning: Poison the earth, and it will poison you and create cancers etc; Overwork it by pouring too much CO2 into the air, and it will overheat and create global scorching.This assessment of abundance and disaste fits totally with the traditional second paragraph of the Sh'ma (taken from Deut. 11: 13-21), which far too many of our synagogues simply skip or mumble.

In the halakhic tradition, the laws of Shmitah and Yovel  applied only in the Land of Israel. Suspending these laws in the Diaspora made sense, of course, because how could we have the power and responsibility to shape such an economic system where we did not rule and indeed were kept at arm's length from power and citizenship?

BUT THAT IS NOT OUR SITUATION ANY MORE. These restrictions of the  traditional Halakha no longer address either the planetary crisis we live in or the transformed circumstances of the Jewish people.If we believe that there is deep wisdom in these teachings, then we can reexamine how to apply their wisdom in our own societies and our own day. We  might focus on an aggadic Shmita and Yovel, and on turning such a broader vision of their meaning into new practice -- within our own communities and in public policy toward the Earth.

We — we Jews, a minority outside Israel — cannot and do not have to impose these rules on anyone; AND we can work WITH those of other traditions, including some that have absorbed some aspects of this Torah, to see how to apply these teachings in a very different society from EITHER the one in which they were written OR the ones in which the Rabbis said they were irrelevant.

'Indeed, the Jewish people might at this moment in human and planetary history bring a unique perspective: out of our biblical history as an indigenous people with a land-rooted spirituality. That outlook is still encoded -- though weakened -- into our festivals and into kashrut, the practice of sacred foods. Yet we are a world people with world-wide influence. A world people that preserves our indigenous roots -- what a unique contribution we could make!

In **Godwrestling — Round 2** and in many articles, I have explored precisely this question: how could we, in a very different society, join with other communities to apply the basic wisdom of these teachings, which I believe would help to heal both the terrible gaps and illnesses of our human society, and to help heal our crisis with the planet.

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