By MARGARET DORE
BEACH HEBREW INSTITUTE
2022, is it? Or is it 2020 Two, as in 2020 – The Sequel? Does it feel to you like a new year? I need a NEW year.
When I last wrote for Beach Metro Community News in spring 2020, the first wave of COVID-19 was descending on us like a tsunami.
As that year dragged towards its conclusion, the possibility of a vaccine provided a glimmer of real hope for 2021. Since then, there’s been a lot of “two steps forward, one step back” to sap our optimism and challenge our resilience.
Enter New Year 2022, and I have very few good answers to the age-old question “what’s new?”
So maybe we could wonder aloud about what the COVID experience teaches us about ourselves, as individuals and as a community. For those so inclined, one starting point for that discussion could be the prayer that asks for the wisdom to number our days (Psalm 90:12) .
Conscious of the importance of our being aware of time passing, the Bible sets four different days for counting off the years. In addition to the main event, Rosh HaShannah, three more annual anniversaries were established to highlight new years: one for tithing/taxing livestock and one for vegetables, and one for the first blossoming of fruit trees.
With our transition from an agrarian society these three practices fell out of use, although they remained on the Jewish calendar as reminders of the larger rhythms of which we are a part.
Interestingly, the “New Year for Trees” (Jan. 16-17, 2022) is experiencing a popular revival as an expression of ecological concern and celebration. Indeed, the problem that defines our time during this perfect storm of pandemic and climate change is how to get what we need from field to table, fairly and sustainably.
Every successful human society has been founded on the availability and distribution of adequate food, or “food security” as now call it.
As in ages past, it is clear that only planning, commitment and discipline will ensure our survival and that of the land/planet on which we depend.
In ancient Israel, just as every seventh day was set aside from work for people and animals, so too were established cycles of rest for the land.
To let a field lie quiet allowed essential nutrients to be replenished. So every seventh year was free from planting, tending and harvesting the fields. It was called a year of Release/ Shemitah.
We are currently in the midst of just such a year; in fact, this is a very special year of Shemitah.
Every 50 years, as calculated by seven cycles of seven years (7×7=49) plus one, is designated a year of Jubilee.
In a year of Shemitah, landowners were reminded that while they might own the means to make a harvest, the land itself really belonged only to its Creator.
Similarly, in a year of Jubilee, slaveholders were reminded that to own someone’s labour was not the same as to own a person. Anyone sold into slavery to pay off a debt was freed and provided with a fresh start.
During this time of COVID, some of us have experienced overwork and others, unwanted idleness. Many have been forced to make do with less.
As a community, we could use this “down-time” to think about what’s most important and to reinvigorate our commitment to one another.
Then, as the days grow longer again in the northern hemisphere, we might find the wisdom to number them, and to use them well.
2022: A fresh start. Jubilation! Happy New Year!