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But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord Vayikra- Leviticus, 25, 4

Shy Ashkenazi on Saturday, September 18, 2021

The year is 2021, or 5782 on the Jewish calendar. That means that the first children of the new millennia, those born in the year 2000, are legally all grown up. It means that the year 2015, that showed “the future” in the movie “Back to the Future 2” is already in the past.  

Time flies. But the question is – How do we measure time? How do we measure a year? In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? Well, in Judaism “sunsets” play a big role, but in a very different way. They impact our Jewish calendar and are marked according to the agricultural year. So many of our special days have to do with agriculture, and that impacts the way we measure time. For example, how do we make sure that all of the holidays arrive (almost) at the same month every year? And why so? 

For example – Sukkot, the holiday we are celebrating this week. In Hebrew it is also called “Chag Ha’Aseef” – the holiday of collecting. It is the time of year in which all fruit and wheat that are left are collected from the fields and orchards. It marks the end of a growing cycle, right before the rains begin. Passover is in the spring, when everything starts to grow, and on Shavuot we start the harvest. So how is it that the holidays are always around the same time? It has to do with a leap year. A Jewish leap year, just like any other leap year, is intended to keep the days of the year synchronized with the seasons. However, unlike the secular leap year in which we add a day every four years to a specific month, the Jewish leap year adds a whole Jewish month every several years (we have Adar Alef and Adar Bet). So… get ready, we have 13 months this year! (don’t worry, you’re not going to feel it). 

Another Jewish way of measuring a year has to do with agriculture – Shmitah, which literally means, to drop. The commandment says, “But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord..” This commandment is one related to the land of Israel only. Just like the Jewish people rest every seven days, the land must rest every seven years. No planting, plowing, harvesting… NOTHING! And guess what? This year is a Shmitah year! So right about now, with the Aseef and the new year, and the end of the agricultural cycle – the land of Israel goes into agricultural rest.  

When I look at these two terms – Aseef and Shmitah, they resonate with me in two other ways. Aseef means to collect, and Shmitah means to drop. During this time of the year, from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, we are busy with Cheshbon Nefesh - a reflection of our soul. What did we do right this year? What did we do wrong? Who did we hurt? How did we hurt ourselves? Who should we forgive and who should we ask to forgive us? How can we be better? What should we do the same, and what should we not do ever again, or in other words – what should collect and save, and what should we drop? 

Yom Kippur is a day of self – Self-reflection, personal prayers and being written in the books. Kapara (penance), T’shuva (return), T’filah (prayer) – all take place between an individual and G-D and between two people. And then comes Sukkot. This holiday is also about hosting family and friends to share a meal in your sukkah or joining others in their sukkah. It is a Mitzvah to have Ushpizin (guests). So right after we are done with Yom Kippur, in which we choose what to collect and keep and what to drop as individuals, we get right back to celebrating togetherness, to implement the results of our soul search. Immediately after we focus on the self, we focus on the collective, on others around us, on growing as a people, as a society, and together we celebrate with love.  

I think this is the best way to measure a year.  



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