Radical Sabbatical by Ruchi Koval
I have a great idea! How about this year, we all take off from work and just focus on our true life goals?? You know, sort of like a sabbatical. Take time off for introspection, set our priorities, get back to our real selves. We could accomplish some things on our bucket list, like see the beautiful sights of the country, practice meditation, spend more time on faith, family and community.
What’s that? Work? How will you make money, you mean? Oh, that. Like issues of food, clothing and shelter? Right. Good question. So, I have a really good answer.
G-d will provide!
Are you in?
In case you think this is some of kind of “imagine if” metaphor, you are wrong. This is a true story that is practiced every seven years (sabbatical, get it?) in the land of Israel by Jewish farmers across the land. Why do they do this? Because it is a mitzvah, one of the 613, commanded in this week’s Torah portion. These brave men and women of faith literally step away from their sources of livelihood, let their farms go slack, and leave it all up to G-d.
“And if you should say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?’… Know then, that I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years” (Leviticus 25:20-21).
Whoa! A guarantee! G-d is promising that those who keep this mitzvah will not lose out thereby, but conversely will enjoy added blessing to his farm. Not too shabby.
One of the most annoying personality types is that one known as “control freak.” I should know because I am one. I love to be in charge of things, and to be utterly blunt, I’m usually pretty good at it. And, I think G-d designed my life to disabuse me of the notion that I can control people, places and things. For example, when my firstborn child did not turn out to be EXACTLY LIKE ME (including liking the same music, foods, leisure activities and schools), I just figured I would wait a little longer and then, when she grew up, she would become like me.
My daughter is very different from me. And, my second daughter is so much like me that sometimes, when I joke about cloning myself, it’s not even that funny. Because I did, and she’s my daughter. So, these two lovely young ladies are three years apart, they were raised by the same parents in the same home in the same era. We had the same energy levels when we raised them, in the same parenting philosophies. (Let’s not talk about the youngest because she’s being raised by a whole ‘nother mother.) Yet, they are so, so different.
Which just reminds me that not only don’t I control the universe, I don’t even control the human beings that I’m supposedly in charge of.
Stepping back from your livelihood once every seven years is a sure-fire way to remind yourself that you are not in charge. And, in another, parallel way, stepping back from managing our mini-universes every seven DAYS, is a precious and holy opportunity to remind ourselves that we’re not really in charge of anything.
Phones can ring, weeds can grow… we’re enjoying a Sabbatical with our Creator. We’re pushing all the noise, and all the smoke and mirrors out of the way and remembering that we were never in charge. Not in year one, two or three, and certainly not in year seven. Not on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, and certainly not in the sabbatical year, known as Shmittah.
And, if you will ask, how will I make this work? I have obligations, responsibilities, commitments. I have sports, dance and shows. How can it happen? G-d will provide the blessing. And, He give you a guarantee. You will not lose out. You can only gain. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing something, if you’re just stuck on the treadmill doing it over and over and over again, it can really start to lose meaning.
Taking a sabbatical infuses meaning back into the humdrum. It’s the stepping away from everything, the release of control – scary, exhilarating – the seeing the forest instead of bumping into the trees. Welcoming the respite. Welcoming the pause. Living in the moment instead of planning ahead all the time. That’s a blessing.
Ruchi Koval is a JWRP Trip Leader and City Leader. She's also a musician, blogger, author, parenting coach, and lecturer. She loves to organize closets, eat doughnuts, and inspire others to live their best lives with Torah values. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, and has seven children, and a 60 lb. golden doodle.