As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables with loved ones and favorite dishes, our thoughts turn to many things for which we are grateful. Despite recent outbursts of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments, we are thankful that America remains a safe haven for Jews. Despite an unsteady economy and a widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots, we acknowledge that we have a roof over our heads and enough to eat. Although friends and family may be scattered all over the globe, we appreciate that we have the means and desire to come together as a community.
Thanksgiving 5775 is a “Shmita” year, the sabbatical year of a seven-year cycle mandated by the Torah, and we should also take a moment to be thankful for it.
Shmita (literally “release”) is the mitzvah that commands us to let the land rest and to forgive all debts to fellow Jews every seven years. Any fruit which grows of its own accord is deemed ownerless and may be picked by anyone. After six years of farming, our ancestors were called upon to release control over all they owned and owed.
In essence, Shmita teaches us about social justice and sustainability, about how we can help maintain economic, environmental and social balance in the world. It is a commandment of action and commitment. Our gratitude to God expresses itself in deeds. We feed others, whether they are family members or strangers. We revere the land, granting it a year of rest and replenishment. We acknowledge that God sustains living creatures with lovingkindness by extending the same to the earth that sustains us.
Shmita is also a commandment that we slow down, that we stop and rest and examine our own behaviors and beliefs to see what we want to change. Shmita implies that our thankfulness to God should not remain in the realm of emotions, thoughts or even speech, but should also move us to action. It reminds us of our connectedness to God, to each other and to the land.
And so, this year when we say our brachot giving thanks to God before enjoying our holiday meal, let us recognize that Thanksgiving 5775 is special by including an additional prayer for the gift of Shmita.
This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on November 20, 2014.