Even Dirt Gets to Rest
This week’s parsha, Behar, recounts how G!D spoke to Moshe/Moses on Mt. Sinai and told the Israelites that when they arrived in the Land of Israel after wandering in the desert, they must allow the land to rest once every seven years.
Now this is a strange idea! The Land of Israel gets to have a Shabbat just like the People of Israel are commanded to have a Shabbat. (Perhaps the connective point is that we are both holy to G!D.)
And it must have seemed completely crazy to the ancient farmers who heard this. They probably thought: How can we just let the land remain uncultivated? What will we have to eat?
And those are valid questions, though lacking in the trust that G!D would somehow provide.
But I’d like to turn to look at the idea behind this command—that the Land needs to rest. And if Land needs to rest, all the more so do we need to rest!
We officially live in an era and a culture where we all try to impress each other with how busy we are at every moment, how much we accomplish and how hard we work. And due to smart phones, we are available 24/7 and we can be in touch with the world 24/7 too.
The problem is human beings were not designed for this level of activity. The levels of stress, anxiety and suicides in this country are rising every year. Biologically, these are cries of distress from our deepest selves.
Lo and behold, our tradition has an answer—Shabbat! One day a week to recharge, to rest, to reconnect with oneself, family and friends.
Now if you haven’t ever observed Shabbat and don’t do so now, the idea of a 24 hour Shabbat might sound seriously extreme. So take it slowly.
Give yourself a one hour Shabbat at first. Every Friday night or Saturday, find one hour and do something restorative--- that does not emit blue light! Meaning it doesn’t involve technology. And something that you find restful, not a chore, and not a “responsibility.” Then after you get used to an hour, try for two.
But note, you must guard this time and make it holy for yourself (and for G!D). Your yetzer hara/ baser instincts/id/ monkey mind will find a million reasons why you can’t do it and shouldn’t do it and even make you feel guilty for not checking things off your to-do list during that time.
I know because I fight it to this day.
When I got shingles at the age of fifty, I was in shock. “I thought that was for older people?” I told the doctor. “Are you under a lot of stress?” he asked. If I weren’t in enormous pain, I would have laughed out loud. “Stress—Thou Art My Middle Name!” I wanted to reply.
“Go home and do nothing for a week” he told me. And I literally and immediately felt… total panic. Because I didn’t know how. Do nothing. How do I do that?
But since then, I’ve learned. I have a great teacher in my Shabbat-loving husband. And I’ve had great teachers through IJS, the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, where I learned mindfulness meditation.
Some of you know that I’ve been going on silent retreats for a week at a time in order to be certified as a Jewish meditation and mindfulness teacher.
When I first began meditating, the idea of a week-long totally silent retreat (the teachers can talk but students can’t, though we can sing and pray at the appropriate times) sounded completely impossible. But I did it. Over and over. And after a while, like most things one practices, it became less difficult and more enjoyable.
This past retreat was like a warm, fuzzy blanket that I wrapped myself inside. So relaxing. Such a wonderful gift—nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be. Just me and my breathing.
If meditation or mindfulness isn’t your thing, no worries. But it does provide, at the most stressful points in your day, a moment for you to have a bit of Shabbat.
And even if you do meditate or are practicing mindfulness, extending that time to many more hours or an entire day (a day sanctioned/ sanctified for it) would bring even more benefits.
Remember: Even Dirt Gets to Rest… so why can’t you?