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Shemita

This Rosh Hashanah 5782, we began a shemita year, the seventh in an agricultural cycle in which the Torah commands us to let the land lie fallow and release debts that are owed to us—as a way to recognize that God is the true owner of the earth and all material goods. During the shemita year we withdraw from our daily routines of production and consumption and observe a yearlong Shabbat.

Shemita is an ancient agricultural practice, but its underlying values of release, equity, and community have never been more relevant. This year we will dive into an exploration of Shemita with a focus on five topics, engaging in acts of creative moral imagination as we consider the world in which we currently live in, and envision the world that could be:

Climate Change and the Environment | The Land of Israel | Shabbat and Restoration | Social and Racial Equity | Community and Covenant

We hope you will find personal meaning and transformation in this yearlong journey, and a deeper connection to our community, to humanity, to the earth, and to the divine.

The literal and metaphoric plagues of the past two years—a pandemic, social upheaval, environmental disasters, and more—have posed deep existential questions to humanity about how we ever arrived at this moment, and what kind of a future we are willing to create.

Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In our Jewish calendar, we are at an ideal moment to reflect on these questions. This Rosh Hashanah 5782, we began a shemita year, the seventh in an agricultural cycle in which the Torah commands us to let the land lie fallow and release debts that are owed to us, to withdraw from our daily routines of production and consumption and observe a yearlong Shabbat.

While these biblical laws were meant for an ancient agricultural society, the underlying values they express have never been more relevant. The shemita year demands that we pause, let go, and recalibrate our worldview.  It challenges us to rethink our relationship to the earth, to consumption, to community, and to God. shemita holds up a mirror to our society so that we may see its imperfections and inequities, the consequences of human hubris. Simultaneously, it lifts up an aspirational vision of transformation, a glimpse of the world as it should be.

Don’t you see that we are stuck in a worldview that is eating us and destroying us?

—Rabbi Irwin Kula

Shemita is BJ’s overarching theme for the year 5782. Throughout the year, we will engage in acts of creative moral imagination as we consider the world in which we currently live and envision the world that could be. Lectures and Jewish learning will provide opportunities to explore the topics of climate change and the spiritual work of environmental stewardship; racial inequity in the criminal justice system, health care and education; economic equity and our relationship to money; the radical role of Shabbat in countering a culture of consumerism and non-stop work; gender equity in Jewish communal and ritual life; and the historical and contemporary observance of shemita in the land of Israel.

Small group conversations and creative arts workshops will ask us to envision the community we want to be and engage us in questions about what it means to be a global community; what work we need to do to ensure that BJ is a place of belonging and equity for all, staff and community members alike; and how we can better align our individual and collective choices with our stated values. This work will result in the creation of a BJ community covenant that articulates our vision, values, and commitments to one another and to the larger world.

What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the shemita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole.

—Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Shemita is much more than an agricultural practice. It is a mindset, the cultivation of a worldview that centers community, interdependence, human creativity, and equity. We hope you will find personal meaning and transformation in this yearlong journey, and a deeper connection to our community, to humanity, to the earth, and to the divine.

COVID-19 and Racial Disparities

Various dates throughout December 2021 | Zoom
BJ members are invited to join small groups to engage in learning and reflection with this incredible new resource, “What has COVID-19 Revealed About Racial Disparities? Resources for Communal Reflection,” created by members of the BJ community Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee.