I always thought the Sabbatical year the most unrealistic of mitzvot and practices. According to the Torah, every seven years we are required to let all agricultural activity cease in the land of Israel. In Biblical times, that meant an almost total closure of an economy which was land-based. The Bible promises abundance in the year leading up to the Sabbatical so that there will be enough for everyone to eat. Yet I’ve always wondered about that and wondered if people ever followed such a law.
And then Covid hit. And we have undergone a kind of Sabbatical. Huge swaths of our economy have been turned off; those of us still working are mostly working from home. I got some Indian takeout the other night; El Camino had a fraction of the usual 6pm traffic. We have ceased in a way I never thought we could out of a passion to save lives.
Yet there are spiritual opportunities here. First, this is a moment to feel a connection to every person on the planet. We are all sharing a fear and an experience as never before in human history. Such connection ought to awaken our compassion. This is why we are raising money for LifeMoves; this is why we are inviting people to make food and blankets for distribution. I encourage you to find an act of compassion that will help those most in need.
Second, we are forced to be closer to home. I have noticed my neighbors more (we are even grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor) and appreciate people who have found ways to reach out. A home down the street puts up a joke of the day. I love that effort to be in touch even as we are distanced. So a second spiritual opportunity is to treasure the connection to home and neighborhood.
Finally, the world is quieter than it was 2 months ago. I hear airplanes and cars less; the impact of human civilization is smaller than it has been in decades. Watching the cleanness of the air and the return of wildlife can be inspiring. Maybe there is a way to balance human economy and care for the planet. Perhaps this can inspire better stewardship of the world’s resources.
And in that quiet, in that time freed from commutes and overscheduling, can we allow something of our heart-self to emerge? I suggest embracing the quiet rather than rushing to fill it with more noise or Netflix. This can be a time of prayer and meditation on what matters most to you so that as the noises of the world return you can be more in touch with who you want to be as you emerge.
I would not have chosen this Sabbatical. The pain and loss is deep, wrenching, and worldwide. And yet, there is in it a spiritual possibility. We can give some meaning to the loss if it can help us grow and acquire wisdom and compassion. We can redeem the pain if it helps us become more connected and thoughtful in how we interact with others and this beautiful world that God creates.
May God bring healing and wisdom and renewed growth; and help us uncover a heart of wisdom to live more joyous meaningful lives whenever we do emerge.
Rabbi David Booth