Sustaining the World Entire

Yesterday we had a 45-minute addition to our already busy schedule: a walk and talk through Kayam Farm.

Kayam Farm goat enclosureIt’s small — a few acres of vegetables and fruit and an acre of pasture for goats and chickens. Jakir (“Yakir”), the founder/director, talked us quickly through some of the educational programs and exercises they use to illustrate 4 Jewish agricultural mitzvotLeketMa’aserPe’ah, and Shich’cha. While these are not legally binding (for Jews who accept the binding nature of Jewish law in the first place) outside the land of Israel (which could mean ancient Canaan, modern-day Palestine and Israel, and/or a bit farther), he framed these mitzvot as challenges/opportunities to consider what Jewish wisdom might have to say about our responsibilities to the ecosystem, wherever  in the world we are.

In that vein, here’s info about the upcoming Shmittah conference.  (Next Shmittah year begins 5774/Fall 2014.  Click for a definition of shmittah.)

Two Nigerian Dwarf goats grazing at Kayam FarmAnyway. Beginning with these mitzvot, he talked us through the need to protect the ecosystem as your source of sustenance and the obligation to support the poor of your community. For us, these may seem like separate areas of endeavor.  For a subsistence farmer, however, they are entirely wrapped up in each other.  When the land is depleted, the farmer has nothing to do צדקה/tsedakah with (not to mention no way to sustain the farming family).  Today, he said, we call this Sustainability: a viewpoint in which Ecology and Social Justice are inextricably tied to each other.

Here’s where I went with that:

Our prayers and teachings about Shabbat give two sources for Shabbat.  In Exodus 20:8-10 Shabbat is connected with the work of Creation: God took a rest after 6 days, and we are called to model that in our lives and the lives of those around us.  Deuteronomy 5:12-14, on the other hand, tells us that Shabbat is about going from slavery to freedom — a value which must be extended to all those whose working hours you control.  For years I have talked about these two aspects of Shabbat as dual.  Complementary, for sure, but not directly related.

You can find these two ideas in Kiddush, the prayer recited over a cup of “fruit of the vine” which welcomes Shabbat and acknowledges its holiness.  It describes Shabbat both as  זכרון מעשה בראשית/zikaron l’ma’asey v’reysheet — a souvenir, a tangible memento, reminding us of the work of creation — and זכר ליציאת מצרים/zecher liy’tsi’at Mitzrayim, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt.

You can also see this in the stained glass Shabbat window above our Ark.  Look below.  The first petal to the bottom left shows sun, light and stars, the 1st and 4th days of creation.  The second one depicts a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, the guideposts for the community’s wanderings during 40 years in the desert after being freed from slavery.

Ark and Shabbat Window

Then Yakir gave me an entirely new language and perspective on these two ideas:  Shabbat is intimately connected with Sustainability.

Shabbat is not “just” about recharging ourselves to bring Social Justice into the world, nor “just” about refreshing ourselves by appreciating the natural world.

No. Shabbat is an opportunity to reflect on and try out and model sustainability: a world in which both social ills and ecological needs are taken into account.  Where alleviating poverty and preventing soil erosion are intimately intertwined.  Where solutions to urban problems include food solutions.  Where access to the means of production recognizes garden plots and chicken coops as part of the means of production.

And my new friend and colleague Fred reminds me that this is what the יובל/Yovel (Jubilee year) is all about too, the year that begins after the end of the 49th year: Restoring equilibrium in the social, economic and environmental world, which is all one world.