These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Breathing Space of a Personal Shemitah

Posted on April 27, 2017 by Rachel Dingman

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Life can only be perfected through the affording of a breathing space from the bustle of everyday life. The individual shakes himself free from ordinary weekday life at short and regular intervals – on every Sabbath… What the Sabbath achieves regarding the individual, the Shemitah achieves with regard to the nation as a whole.

– Rav Kook, Introduction to “The Sabbath of the Land”

When I interviewed for Pardes they asked me how I felt about taking a year off. I quickly responded that this wasn’t a year off, but a year of. A year of taking time to myself to figure it all out.  Yes, I did feel that this year was a kind of personal Shemitah or sabbatical (and luckily I was here for an actual Shemitah year), but what a sabbatical really meant, how much faith and strength it would take, surprised me.

Vayikra Rabbah quotes from Psalms: “The mighty in strength that fulfill His word” (103:20). It then goes on to say that this line refers to those who are willing to observe the sabbatical year. A mighty man sees his field ownerless, his produce consumed by others, and while it does take strength to follow a commandment for a day, it takes greater strength to do this for a whole year.

I left all of my fields behind. I watched from thousands of miles away as my produce was consumed by others. But I found strength in this Beit Midrash. We often feel that studying at Pardes is a year off: a year off from our jobs, our families, our pets, our friends. But I want to remind us that this is also a year of: a year of strength, growth, learning, and unashamed selfishness.

So as we sit here with a month left, I hope that we can all walk out after whatever this Shemitah year has meant to us personally and know that being here took strength and faith. I hope that we all know this was a year of many things, and also I hope that we continue working on perfecting through affording breathing space.