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Spiritual Release


Every seven years Judaism calls followers to a year-long act of economic, social, and spiritual revolution called Shmita, releasing. This year, 5782 in the Jewish calendar {which began on the evening of September 6, 2021}, is one of those years. Three actions lie at the heart of Shmita: letting go, letting be, and creating a Sabbath for YHVH. The first two come from Exodus 23:10-11, the third from Leviticus 25:3-7.


The difference between letting go and letting be is this: you let something go by not allowing it to control you; you let something be by not seeking to control it. To get a glimpse of how you might engage with letting go and letting be this year, ask and answer these questions:


1. What ideas, goals, assumptions, beliefs, stories, and people do I need to let go of this year?


2. What would my life be like if I were free from them?


3. What ideas, goals, assumptions, beliefs, stories, and people do I need to let be this year?


4. What would my life be like if all of these were free from me?


5. How might I accomplish some aspect of letting go and letting be this year?


The third action of Shmita is Shabbat la YHVH {Leviticus 25:4}. YHVH, the ineffable name of God in Judaism, comes from the Hebrew verb to be: God is a verb, a process, the happening of all happening. Shabbat la YHVH is a year devoted to process rather than results, and being rather than having. The psychologist Erich Fromm tells us that having and being are two modes of existence, two ways of orienting yourself toward yourself and the world:


In the having mode of existence my relation to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property. In the being mode of existence [I focus on] aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world … the true nature, the true reality, of a person or a thing in contrast to deceptive appearances…. (Erich Fromm To Have or To Be, p. 24)


In the having mode, you are separate from and even alien to the world around you, and your very survival depends on dominating that world and bending it to your will. In the being mode, you realise there is no separation between you and the world, and your survival {as well as your happiness} depends on working with the world rather than against it. Working with the world is like swimming with the current rather than against it or cutting wood with the grain rather than across it. This is what the Chinese Taoists call wei wu wei: non-coercive action. Wei wu wei arises naturally when you are aware of the way things are at any given moment, and act harmoniously with them. Shmita as Shabbat la YHVH is a year of practicing wei wu wei and in this way cultivating being rather than having. While there is much more that can be said about Shmita especially in the context of environmental justice and climate change, it is my hope that you do what you can over the next twelve months to release and let go and in this way learn to flow with, rather than fight, the life unfolding in you, with you, around you, and as you.

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