Are There Special Foods to Welcome Shmita?

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin has suggested that for the Erev Rosh Hashanah meal which this year, on Wednesday evening September 24, begins the Shmita Year of Shabbat Shabbaton, we have a seder plate, with seven items (marking the seven-ness of Shmita).

What might these seven be?

Already nominated: bread (like challah for Shabbat, should this be a “woven” bread? round, for the cycles, as is a traditional Rosh Hashanah challah? how about woven into seven spirals?), an apple, honey, wine, pomegranates.

What might the others be, and why?

I would add to this Shmita Seder plate charoset, on the grounds (as I have previously suggested) that it is the embodiment of Shir HaShirim which bears the recipe for charoset — nuts, apples, wine, apricots, spices.

I suggest that the whirling spirals of Shabbat => Seventh moonth/Tishrei => Shabbat shabbaton (Shmita) => Yovel, each one a whirl in the spiral of healing, are all aiming toward Shir HaShirim and its embodiment, charoset.

That, I suggest, is the fruitful fulfillment of all history, Gan Eden for grown-ups and a grown-up human race. No “mashiach” needed for these messianic days because we all, adam and adamah, women and men, anoint each other.

Shabbat first comes into human practice with manna. Why? I think, because the misdeed of Eden was about eating — gobbling up the Earth’s abundance without any self-restraint. (“From one tree you shall not eat….”) . This misdeed brings about the end of the abundance: “Every day of your life you shall toil with the sweat pouring down your face to barely eat, because the Earth will bring forth thorns and thistles. And women will be subordinated to men.”)

Shabbat comes with Manna precisely to begin the first stages of the reversal of the post-Edenic disaster. This food comes freely from YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreath of Life. It can only come after Pharaoh has been overthrown and slavery — the worst version of endless toil — has been dissolved.

And this manna comes with an intrinsic limit on over-eating — if you gather too much, the extra rots — and it comes with a built-in “operant conditioning” that you can’t work for it on Shabbat and don’t need to, because extra comes on the sixth day, it does not rot, and none comes on Shabbat. Abundance flowers again, and this time self-restraint is built in. The first step in reversing the post-Eden disaster.

The second step is the seventh moonth, in which we celebrate four festivals, one at each phase of the moon. The third and fourth steps are Shmita and Yovel. And then we glimpse Pardes, the free and joyful Garden of Shir HaShirim, in which we are playfully loving with and in the Earth, in which a woman leads the story and is not subordinate to men, and in which the Erotic — sexuality — is not shameful as in the adolescent Eden, but playful and joyful.

In Eden for grown-ups, the Parental God of Eden does not need to appear because we have grown up to spiritual maturity. Even “YHWH,” the Breath of Life, does not need to be specifically named, because the whole Song is the Name of God.

So this whole spiral of Shabbat => Tishrei => Shmita => Yovel aims toward => the Pardes of Yom sheh-Kulo Shabbat (the day that is fully Shabbat) == Shir HaShirim.

Charoset makes six on the Shmita Seder plate. We might say it is really the seventh, but if so it leaves open the question — What, dear chevra, might be the sixth?

This year, this summer, we are in the “sixth year” of the cycle, “Friday afternoon” of the week, yearning toward Shabbat. Perhaps we are experiencing the torments of that time, the frantic rush that so many of us experience as we try to be ready for Shabbat. For Shabbat shabbaton.

Shabbat shabbaton shalom,

Member since 2010
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (1983) and directs The Shalom Center https://theshalomcenter.org In 2014 he was honored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights with their first Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Human Rights Hero.” In 2015 he was named by The Forward one of the “most inspiring” American rabbis. Beginning in 1969 with writing the original Freedom Seder and continuing with his seminal work as editor of New Menorah magazine and author of Godwrestling (1978) and Seasons of Our Joy (1982), he has been a leader of the movement for Jewish political and spiritual renewal. Waskow pioneered in the development of Eco-Judaism in theology, liturgy, daily practice, and activism -- • through his books Seasons of Our Joy; Godwrestling – Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology; and Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought; • as author of a pioneering essay on “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Elliot N. Dorff and Jonathan K. Crane, eds.; Oxford University Press, 2013); • through the Green Menorah organizing project of The Shalom Center; • through the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth and a number of climate-focused public actions drawing on and transforming traditional liturgies for Tu B’Shvat, Passover/ Palm Sunday, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot, and Hanukkah; • as a candidate for the World Zionist Congress on the Green Zionist Alliance slate; • as a participant and speaker in the World Interfaith Summit on the Climate Crisis called by the Archbishop of Sweden in Uppsala in 2008; • as a founding member (2010-2013) of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra (a network of Jewish environmental organizations); • as a member of the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; • and as a practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience who has been arrested in climate protests in the US Capitol, at the White House, and has undertaken civil disobedience at Philadelphia conclaves of fracking corporate leaders.
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