[Dear friends, From Purim till Pesach this year, we are sending you a daily comment on the meaning of Pesach, especially in connection with concern for the Earth and the climate crisis — each day by a different writer. Enjoy! — David Eber & AW, eds.]
Restoring the Balance in our Broken World
Why is this Pesach different from all other Pesachs? Because it falls in a Shmita year—the seventh year of rest—at a time when the world is on the brink, giving us much to ponder.
Tsunamis of our own making are roiling our world—interpersonal ills like violence against women, heartless nationalism and militarism, genocidal hate, terrorism, homophobia and human trafficking. Our planet itself is roiled by our addiction to fossil fuels—leading oceans to rise, storms to gain strength and droughts to parch the earth.
We need to do all we can to bring about a radical re-set for humanity and for the world. We need to move from the negative to the positive, from slavery to liberation, from hate to love, and from exploiting the earth to renewing it.
We know in our bones that we must replace a cycle of self-destruction with a virtuous cycle of renewed growth. For us, this flows both from the central insight of Judaism that one creator shaped one unified world and from the Jewish value of tikkun olam, mending the brokenness of that world.
I feel this particularly strongly as I ponder the meaning of Pesach anew in this Shmita year. While the meaning of Pesach is well understood by many, the Shmita year is less well known, and thus its power is untapped. Given the terrific challenges we face, untapped power is welcome and needed. Let’s pause and understand Shmita in the context of a world on the brink.
As we teach new generations every year, Pesach is about the notion that the world can change radically for the good, moving from slavery to liberation. Shmita, which takes place on the Biblical seven-year cycle, reminds us of another kind of radical change for the good. It calls on us to let our fields go fallow, release people from their debt and free slaves from their labor. While this began in Biblical times in the Land of Israel, its impulse is relevant today for people of every background everywhere.
When pondering Pesach in this Shmita year, let’s tap our best impulses and our biggest selves. Let’s imagine that we were once slaves, and let’s work for a world without slaves of any kind.
Let’s understand that allowing our fields to lay fallow means using our ingenuity to let the earth rest and restore its balance. And we must recognize that the rights of humans are bound up with the earth. The plagues of the earth, remember, did not end until humans were set free.
And, yes, that’s why this Pesach is different from others in this Shmita year, while our earth is on the brink.