“For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” — Leviticus 25:3–4
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Behar-Bechukotai from Leviticus 25:1–27:34. Behar means “on the mountain,” and Bechukotai means “my decrees.” The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14.
A few years ago I suffered from a very intense back spasm. My immediate reaction was to tense my entire body as I winced in pain. A few seconds later I remembered that only made the situation worse. The way to release a back spasm is to relax.
This is the power of letting go. Most people don’t associate power with letting go. We are more likely to think of power as holding on, persevering, and pressing on. Yet sometimes, the most effective thing that we can do to help our situation is to let go of it.
In this week’s Torah portion we come across the commandment of shmita, the directive to let the land of Israel lay fallow every seven years. On the seventh year, we are to let it go. As it happens, this year is one of those years. When the new year began on Rosh Hashanah in September, Israel began the shmita year.
Now, while the biblical directive for keeping the shmita year applies only in Israel, it’s important to understand two things. First, the laws concerning the land are a springboard for capturing the spirit of what this year is all about. Second, the spirit of shmita is something that we all can – and should – latch onto during this once-in-every-seven-years’ experience.
The word shmita literally means “release.” This is a year for letting go – not just of the land, but of so many other things in our lives that we seek to control for our own benefit. Just to clarify, most of the time we do work at things. As the Bible dictates, for six years we work, and only on one do we rest. However, there are times in life when we have to step back from our own efforts.
Sometimes this may mean taking a step back from controlling every aspect of our finances, both current and future. We need to let go and let things work themselves out. Other times, we may need to let go of working on our children. We are constantly pulling out their weeds, pruning them, and hoping to help them blossom. But sometimes, when it comes to our family members, we have to let them go. We have to let go for a bit so that they can grow on their own. Finally, sometimes we need to let ourselves go. We spend a lot of time trying to be the best that we can be – strong, faithful, hard-working. Yet, sometimes the best we can be is letting ourselves rest and giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect while relying on God.
This year, let’s make a practice of letting things go and letting God in.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President