An Introduction to Sabbath Agriculture:
Note From the Authors
How might the spirit of Shabbat shape us as cultivators in sacred relationship with the ecology of life?
How might our spirited periods of rest – through the cycles of Shabbat – guide the work of our hands through the workdays, in holy service?
How might the beauty of Shabbat adorn the landscape just as it does our home and table?
These are some of the questions that frame our Introduction to Sabbath Agriculture.
IN JEWISH MYSTICISM, our cycles of life orbit around a sacred center. Shabbat is this center. Shabbat precedes creation (as we sing in Lecha Dodi, upon the weekly arrival of Shabbat) and Shabbat is also a taste of Olam Haba, The World That Is Coming. The root of the word Shabbat is Shuv, to return. Shabbat is both destination and source, it is something we are always turning and re-turning to. It is our cosmic root, our anchor, and our North Star through this creation, this beautiful, challenging, ecstatic, and grief-filled creation.
IT SEEMS WE ARE LIVING on the edge of a blade in these times of ecological and cultural struggle. May we re-member the vision of Shabbat as a covenant of creation. To feed life we must honor Shabbat in all her forms and within this gift we might find the wisdom and service of sacred inhabitation, of building covenantal relationship with Makom/Home for all life, nourishing the roots of sacred resilience for these times and beyond, flowering and fruiting with vitality through the generations. Through all the uncertainties and unknowns of this creation, Shabbat holds the center. The root of the word Shabbat is also Shav/Dwell; it is our ultimate dwelling space and the portal through which we can truly be home in this world – in our bodies, souls, and landscape – in health and harmony with all life.
WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN SHABBAT of weeks, of years, and even of millennia. The concept of Shabbat is something that has permeated our fabric of time, both within the Jewish world and beyond, and is something that has been felt and experienced in the depths of our physical and spiritual embodiment as a nourishing force. This is especially true of the Shabbat of weeks. Yet the Shabbat of Years — called Shabbat Ha’Aretz / The Sabbath of the Land; Shmita / the year of Release — is something that has remained more elusive. Amazingly, we have kept alive the cyclical count of the Shabbat of Years since biblical times and through the thousands of years of diaspora movement. This year on the Hebrew calendar — 5782 — is such a year. Beyond a mark on our calendars, this is a living seed we carry with us, of memory and of aspiration, of longing and belonging — albeit as something more of a riddle than as a kept tradition. Only recently has this Shabbat begun to emerge from a shroud of amnesia, reclaimed and renewed through curiosity and necessity as a holy, ancient, divine challenge full with profound healing and timeless wisdom worth embracing however we can. Sadly, the count of the Yovel / Jubilee — the culmination of the Shabbat of Years cycle — has been lost, or is only known in hidden dormancy for future resprouting. In that case, we must feed this memory for that resprouting, and to welcome this time into our own. To fully embrace the Shabbat matrix in her fullness (shleimut) is to remember and be guided by these unique layers of Shabbat in all their glory (kavod). As we are guided by the Holy One, Keep My Shabbats (Shemot 31.13; Vayikra 26.2). We cannot fully know and understand one Shabbat without the other. These Shabbats together offer us a system of a celebration and flourishing resiliency in relation with all life that is so deeply needed in our time.
WE ARE EXCITED TO SHARE WITH YOU our Introduction to Sabbath Agriculture as an approach to this sacred agreement of Shabbat, and please G-d, a healing for our times. We offer this narrative of Sabbath Agriculture as a prayer, as a hopeful direction (kivun) for us to lovingly look towards, guided by the intentions (kavanot) embedded within the heart of Shabbat. As you will see, we believe that the way to truly tell the story of Shabbat and enter into her blessings is to do so in unison with the days of the week (Yemei Chol), the days of cultivation. The Shabbat we are sharing with you is not a passive day of rest; rather, it is an active re-membering and re-turning, in dance with the weekdays surrounding her. Just as the Sabbath brings us into a sacred relationship with time, the Sabbath brings us into sacred relationship with space, embodied within the living landscape of creation. Whether you are a farmer or not, this narrative of Sabbath Agriculture is something we hope you will find accessible. Let us remember that our English word ‘Culture’ comes from the Latin Cultura, which means ‘Cultivation.’ How we approach the earth and the soil with our hands and heart — in sowing seeds and tending the landscape for the blessings of the harvest — becomes the framework for our collective culture, our interwoven stories and relationships with place, with time, with Spirit and with all beings in our midst in this living sanctuary of creation. The relationship of Shabbat and Cultivation — and the harmonic balance between them — is intended to frame a sacred culture and landscape rooted in abundance, faith, justice, beauty, and health, flowering and fruiting with vitality through the generations. While the specific ritual laws of Shabbat Ha’Aretz and the Yovel may have birthed forth specifically in relationship with the land of Israel, this is a sacred agreement and timeless wisdom we can all learn from, no matter where we may call home. The Place (Makom) of home, wherever it may be for you, is connected to the fabric of creation, and the values, prayers and deep yearning of Shabbat are ones that can be a teaching guide of holy Teshuva for us wherever we are, so that we may fully enter into the sacred cycles of life around us. These Shabbats together offer us a system of a celebration and flourishing resiliency in relation with all life, a glimpse of Gan Eden Mi’Kedem, and a taste of Olam Haba.
MAY THIS INTRODUCTION TO SABBATH AGRICULTURE be an evocation and invitation to approach Shabbat through time and space in new ways, in your own home, with your community, and with the landscape around you. We are taught that if the Jewish nation is to all keep Shabbat together in unison we will be able to bring the world to awaken the prophetic Messianic dimension of redemption, opening a gate to reveal a world that has been awaiting us and with us continually from the birth of time, a world that is entirely and fully infused with the delight of Shabbat, both through our work and our rest. May we reveal and recognize this world together, in our time, for a time beyond our own. May we lend our hands and hearts towards uplifting this Shabbat, and offer our spirited voices in singing the Song of Shabbat in unison with the Song of the Land. May it be so. This is the prayer we offer in our Introduction to Sabbath Agriculture.