A Sabbatical Thanksgiving: Remarks from the 2014 Saratoga Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

Rabbi Pressman

A Sabbatical Thanksgiving

שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת לְדָוִד הִנֵּה מַה־טּוֹב וּמַה־נָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּם־יָחַד׃

A song of ascents Of David. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to be united.

What a blessing it is to be together again this year. Since joining the Saratoga community, I have come to cherish this sacred convocation as a highlight of my year. It provides an opportunity for us to come together in fellowship and offer thanksgiving for the myriad blessings in our lives. For me, this service is sacred time, as I know it is for so many here today. Sacred time is such an important part of our lives. In my faith tradition, sanctity is defined by that which is separate or set aside. Today, we set aside this time for a holy purpose. The Torah, also known as the five books of Moses includes within it two notions of sacred time. The first is established in the creation narrative. God toiled through speech, creating the universe in six days. Then, God created a day of rest calling it the Sabbath, setting it apart in sanctity each week, and coupling it with a collection of other holidays for a similar purpose. But the Torah also defines another kind of sacred time also within a cycle of seven. It is the Sabbatical year.

Leviticus chapter 25 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Lord. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather in its crop. But on the seventh year, there shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord. Your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.

And Deuteronomy, chapter 15 teaches:

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.  This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his fellow; he shall not dun his fellow or kinsman, for the remission proclaimed is of the Lord.….If there is a needy person among you, one of your brothers in any of your cities, in the land that the Lord gives you, you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your needy brother. Rather, you shall open your hand to him, you shall lend him sufficiently for whatever he needs.

From these two passages, Judaism derived a set of laws creating a year to live in harmony with the earth as it rests, a reminder that we don’t own the natural world. It was given to humanity as a whole to guard and tend. It is a year when debts were traditionally forgiven in the hope that remission would bring equity for all, when property boundaries were suspended and all were free to benefit from the bounty of our world. In short, the Sabbatical is a year of recalibrating and realigning our assumptions about property, natural resources, economic justice and social equality.

It just so happens that after hundreds of Sabbatical cycles throughout history, this year is a Sabbatical year. And while the requirements of the Sabbatical year are only legally binding for those living in the land of Israel, there is much wisdom to be gained for us all in adopting some Sabbatical practices.

Lead by one of our congregants, Rabbi Allan Berkowitz, Congregation Beth David has made a commitment to adapting the practices of the Biblical Sabbatical year to a modern/Silicon Valley context. A number of our congregants have made a commitment to tend to our earth in a more mindful way by seeking out local produce and produce that is in season. Others have designated a symbolic section of their home garden to remain unplanted this year. And some have pledged to donate some or all of produce they grow this year to a food assistance program to provide for those in need. Many congregants are seeking to reduce their consumption of natural resources by taking a no-gifts pledge for birthdays, anniversaries, and even Chanukkah and instead, are requesting that friends and family make a donation to a worthy charity that works to care for the environment or the disadvantaged in our community. As a community, we are committing to repurpose items we don’t use or don’t need by donating them to Goodwill or Career Closet.

I make mention of this today because I believe the Sabbatical year and our Thanksgiving holiday share a similar purpose. In fact, my colleague, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin wrote a beautiful intentional blessing for the Sabbatical year that feels so appropriate for Thanksgiving that I adapted it for this holy gathering. I offer it to each of you as a blessing and in the hope that you might be moved to embrace some small aspect Sabbatical year in ways that are in keeping with the beliefs and practices of your own faith tradition. I have brought some Sabbatical pledge forms with me if you are curious or interested in participating in your own way. In humility, gratitude, and respect I offer each of you blessings for this thanksgiving Day and for the Sabbatical year.

May we be blessed with Sova (satiety) the feeling of fullness without wanting anything more; of maximum satisfaction with minimum consumption. On this Thanksgiving day and throughout the Sabbatical year may none of us know hunger, either spiritual or physical and may we be readily sated by the delights of life.

May we be blessed with Hodayah (Gratitude) the feeling of deep satisfaction, of blessing, and the ability to reach a place of peace with that which we have received. On this sabbatical Thanksgiving, may we know no disappointment.r May we find contentment, pride and comfort, and may gratitude fill our souls.

May we be blessed with Revaya (Abundance) the awareness of the vast resources of a healthy world, nature’s capacity for self-renewal, and our call to keep our natural resources safe and our ecology healthy. On this Sabbatical Thanksgiving may we recognize abundance and know no waste. May we celebrate the vast goodness that lies within even the most modest cache of life.

May we be blessed with Hesed – (generosity) by responding to our gratitude for the abundance of this world by sharing what we have with others. On this Sabbatical Thanksgiving may we know no greed. May we reverently receive life’s blessings and give of them generously in return.

May we be blessed with Puriyut – Creativity. Puriyut is the creativity, the dynamism, the fecundity that characterizes the majesty of nature. It inspires the human gifts of imagination, discovery, and awe. On this sabbatical Thanksgiving, may we know no barrenness, no emptiness. May material plenty bring forth overflowing acts of discovery, delight, and spiritual bounty.

May we be blessed with Otzar – The Commons. Otzar is earth’s shared resources, owned by none and gifted to all. It is the storehouse of the ages, the fundamentals of life upon which we all depend. It is the stuff of earth and society that we share now in our lifetimes and then leave behind for our children and grandchildren. Our stories, our knowledge, our goods, our homes, our earth. On this sabbatical Thanksgiving , may we know no isolation, no loneliness, no selfishness. May we be joined to one another through faith, friendship, and citizenship.

Dear friends, let us pray: On this Thanksgiving of the Sabbatical year, let us transition from perceived scarcity to revealed abundance, from isolated selves to activated communal networks of family, friends, and community. May we upend fear and move towards a paradigm of trust. May we reclaim our collective gifts, our humble place within the ecology of all living things. May we come to assess our own needs in concert with the needs of others. May we heighten our own sense of vulnerability, intuition, and humility that we may reach a better understanding of our own unique gifts and voice. May we cultivate a heart overflowing with faith and trust in God and in each other.

On this Thanksgiving , as we contemplate how the sabbatical year might manifest in our own lives, may we be empowered by the Divine Presence to face our own shadows and heal that which is crying out for healing in our own community and throughout our nation. May this Thanksgiving re-awaken in us all a deep concern for our natural resources, a commitment to care for our land, soil, and water. May the lessons of our shared past and the wisdom of our ancestors guide us as we walk into the future together as fellow citizens, and Saratogans of faith, united in deep commitment to environmental stewardship, justice, equity, and peace. And let us all say: Amen.