The Need for Rest: What We Can Learn From the Land

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m so busy! I can’t take a break or else I’ll never catch up.”

It’s a universal concern – we’ve all felt that way at one time or another. This week’s parashah addresses this issue – only it’s not talking (directly) about people, but rather about land.

“Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest.

Leviticus 25:3-4

The Torah is describing a practice called Sabbatical (Hebrew Shabbaton), in which the land was required to lie fallow every seven years. Imagine – one seventh of the time you weren’t allow to grow food! How could anyone survive that way, we might ask.

But before we dismiss the Shabbaton for its strangeness, consider that the practice of resting on Shabbat also requires that one seventh of our time be unproductive. And while we may or may not be strictly Shabbat observant in the traditional sense, few of us are questioning the wisdom of resting every seven days.

We need rest – not only because it helps us to feel refreshed, but also because it ultimately helps us to be more productive. Like the land, whose fallow year helps it replenish much needed nutrients and health, we can only be at our best if we give our bodies and our minds opportunities for rest and replenishment.

Shabbat Shalom!

The practice of Shabbat – that ancient dictate to stop working every few days – turns out to be beneficial on a number of levels. It slows us down, reminds us that we are more than our work. It helps us to be in the moment, to build gratitude for the blessings of here and now. And it gives us a chance to rest and refresh, so that we can face our work with renewed vigour, excitement, and creativity.

The commentator Sforno comments that the Sabbatical year exists “so that instead of ‘serving’ the soil, the farmer can turn his efforts to serving God directly instead.” In other words, when you stop working (and managing, and planning, and toiling, and controlling), then you can turn your efforts to appreciating, celebrating, and feeling grateful. Those kinds of positive emotions may be just what we need when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Shabbat Shalom – May it be a Shabbat of peace and joy and true rest.

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