The Web

From the Rabbi, The Scroll, June 2013 

Before becoming a rabbi, my work in Jewish environmental education often involved a group exercise: stand in a circle with a ball of string, and name something in nature. Holding the string, throw the ball to someone across the circle who names another bit of flora or fauna that’s somehow related (as predator or prey, habitat, etc.). Repeat this many times, until a web of string fills the circle. Then, when one person tugs at the string, the entire circle feels it—a physical reminder that we’re all in this together, interdependent, connected via a “web of creation.”

A spider’s intricate web naturally became the metaphor for the complex set of relationships among various beings, one touching another, some far removed yet still indirectly connected. Nowadays, “web of creation” gets just 15,000 Google hits; “spider web” gets some 4 million. But clearly “the web” means something else today: “world wide web” garners over 67 million entries (“www,” a staggering 25 billion). The same analogy that unites all species applies to all information, to everything.

Our small community is a one of many growing nodes on this web. Surf through our revamped website, with its many resources (soon we’ll have login info and full access); such as our budding Facebook presence at “Adat Shalom Synagogue MD DC VA”. Tug at one piece of it, and see how it’s all linked.

In The Talmud and the Internet, Jonathan Rosen nicely lays out how the web is “rabbinic”: one thing leads to another. There’s an exciting and almost threatening vastness to the enterprise. An underlying unity becomes clear as one realizes that all is indeed interconnected.

Also, in Judaism as with the web, one small detail can make a wide world of difference. Variant English spellings for the Hebrew year of release, also known as shabbaton or sabbatical, are associated with different numbers of web-pages (in thousands): shemita (25), shemitta (8), shemitah (15), shemittah (27), shmita (55), shmitah (6), shmitta (28), shmittah (14). Different spellings, different perspectives. In any transliteration, the seventh year is fast upon us, starting just  fifteen months from now; and it brings us back to the “web of creation.”

The SHMEE-tah, described recently in Lev. 25 and amplified in Deut. 15, is when the social, spiritual, and environmental realms unite—in this year of no formal agriculture, debts are released; people live off of nature’s bounty; and everyone from rich to poor to the land itself enjoys a year-long shabbat. Although the law technically applies only in Israel and only in Temple times, its values are manifold, and timely today. A few follow.

Resilient Micro-Community: Handling a year unlike other years, at the small local scale

Social Justice: Special concern for the most vulnerable; debt release; leveling the playing field

Food Justice: Eating locally, seasonally, healthily; ensuring no hunger and good nutrition for all

Sustainable Agriculture: Treating the land as a partner in creation; waste reduction; good stewardship

Ecological Sustainability: A larger ethic of relating to the land holistically; concern for animals, and Creation 

Spiritual Sustainability: Freed of workaday commitments, we focus on study, spirituality, and the interpersonal 

Redistributive Justice: All growing lands become community commons; wild and perennial produce is shared equally 

Thinking Long-Term: Living the six non-shmittah years with the awareness of “scarcity” ahead; keeping “growth” in check 

A whole Jewish movement, here and in Israel, is asking what modern shmita practices might look like—and at Adat Shalom, we will be part of that vital and timely conversation. We’re just one season away from Tishrei (September) 5774, which starts the sixth year of the shmita cycle. In this last growing year before the cessation of work, we focus in earnest on sustaining ourselves through the year-of-rest ahead. Our exploration of what this means has just begun. For us, however we spell it, shmita will soon be an English word. 

• Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Rabbi