Today is #GivingTuesday – a global day dedicated to giving back. Yeah, pretty much right up Repair the World’s alley, right? That’s why we teamed up with eJewishPhilanthropy on this essay that adds a Jewish dimension (specifically the wisdom of the shmita year) to the annual observance. Check out an excerpt below, then read the whole piece over at eJewishPhilanthropy’s website.
#GivingTuesday and the Shmita Year
By: David Eisner, President and CEO of Repair the World
We have reached an exciting time of the year. The air has turned crisp and the leaves vibrant shades of red and yellow. The holiday season, with its family gatherings and festive mood, is just around the corner. For many, the old song’s adage rings true: “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
But in today’s busy world, with its onslaught of advertisements blaring messages of consumption from all corners, it can be all too easy to lose touch with the season’s deeper meanings. It is all too easy to forget to stop, truly give thanks and, most importantly, to give back.
At Repair the World, we work to make giving back a defining part of American Jewish life. We aim to inspire people in the Jewish community and beyond to make service to others a priority in their lives. Our Fellowship program is an example. Throughout the 11-month program, Repair the World empowers young Jews living and volunteering in 5 cities across the United States (Pittsburgh, New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore), to address social issues and build relationships in their communities through service. Meanwhile, we also seek out connections back to Jewish tradition, which is filled with wisdom about the importance of generosity and seeking out justice. When I first heard about #GivingTuesday – a global day dedicated to giving back – I immediately thought about service, and how giving one’s time to a cause you care about is a way to live out the values of Giving Tuesday, as well as the Jewish value of incorporating service and tikkun olam into daily life. I also began to think about another Jewish concept, shmita.
It just so happens that the Jewish calendar is also in the middle of an exciting moment. Once every seven years in the land of Israel, the shmita year arrives. According to biblical tradition, shmita, which literally means “release,” halts business as usual. Jewish text says, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh year, you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave, let the wild beasts eat of it.” (Exodus, 23:10-11).
When we let those words settle for a moment, their radical nature comes clear. For an entire calendar year – this past Rosh Hashanah to the next – everything changes. Nothing is planted or harvested from the land. It is allowed to lie fallow and rest. Meanwhile, provisions are made for people of less means to find sustenance.
Another radical aspect of the shmita year is that all debts between people are forgiven and the slates are wiped clean. The text proclaims, “Every seventh year you shall practice release of debts … every creditor shall release his authority over what he claims from his neighbor. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Imagine living in a society that had good will and second chances built into its very fabric!