The New Year we are preparing to enter in the Jewish calendar is bound to be momentous. This year, 5775, according to Jewish mythic time (JMT), marks two special milestones that we will be weaving into our reflections, practice, and joy these High Holy Days.
(1) In the life of the DJC, this is our CHAI year. Believe it or not, this creative, inclusive community is marking its eighteenth birthday. Whether you are one of the visionary founders, a regular participant, or are new in our midst, you are part of celebrating the life and exciting growth of the Danforth Jewish Circle. Like celebrating the birthday of an eighteen year old young adult, this is a moment to treasure our past, our experimental youth, and let the accomplishments of what members have built fill us with pride, appreciation, and delight! And this is a time to look toward our growing maturity. Who do we want to become in the years ahead? In what ways does the communal identity of our early years remain relevant, inspiring, and continue to meet the needs of many individuals and families who turn to us as their joyous, supportive, and welcoming Jewish home? And in what ways are we maturing into a new version of ourselves, no longer the edgy new kid on the Jewish communal block, no longer the rebellious teen, defining ourselves against the mainstream by who we are not or what we don’t believe, but as an established progressive, diverse community affirming principles and values we stand behind, committed to exploring and learning in new ways, and primed to take on new challenges?
Because the Hebrew letters correspond with numbers, the number eighteen spells out CHAI, meaning alive or living. Chayyim, Life, is also a central theme of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We will delve into examining what it means to be truly and wholly alive, to embrace and honour life, and to seal into the habits of our hearts and minds a commitment to a life of integrity, moral courage, and joyous gratitude.
(2) In the wider Jewish world, this year is a shmitah year. The Torah marks every seven years as a year of agricultural rest, a Shabbat for the land, in which nothing can be newly planted and the land lies fallow. In the narrative of the Torah, life in the land of Israel was radically different than the forty years of wandering in the desert. In the desert, the Israelites were fed miraculous manna every day, directly experiencing the gift of being nourished and sustained the way a baby is nourished at its mother’s breast. There is no question that the Israelites are not responsible for generating the manna. The potential to experience wonder, humility, and gratitude every time one eats was available every time an Israelite stepped out of her/his tent in the morning to discover, yet again, that food was provided. However, when they enter the Land of Israel, they are required to become farmers. Their own efforts will produce their food and they will have a direct role in planting and harvesting. This is a valuable a moment of maturity for the people, but it comes with a warning. It is too easy for the ego to mistake a partnership with nature and with the Source of Life for full ownership and control over the forces of life and growth. So they are commanded, every seven years, to let the land rest and replenish itself. Every seven years, the Israelites need to reign in their power, to recognize the force of Life that encompasses them along with the whole of the natural world, and to trust they will be provided for.
For us today, the images and opportunities of shmita offer contemporary applications that can keep our greed, our consumption, and our distorted sense of self-sufficiency and control in check.
The Jewish environmental organization, Hazon, gives the following seven suggestions for a contemporary observance of shmita:
❖ Reflecting on the last 7 years / envisioning 2022! What have you grown? What needs to lie fallow?
❖ Visiting Israel!
❖ Letting go … digitally, or at least reigning in our digital compulsiveness!
❖ Eating more perennials and fewer annuals!
❖ Creating a shmita seder plate this Rosh Hashanah!
❖ Giving away things you have not used in the last 6 years!
❖ Traveling less, reflecting more
Let’s bring all these intentions and questions into our gathering together this year.