Shavuot Learning from Sinai to Heal Earth

Dear friends,

Let me begin with the point of this letter – then the explanation. I am writing to invite you to take part in two conversation about applying the year of Shmita --  the biblical seventh year, when Earth should be released from overwork – to our own generation’s urgent need to heal Earth from the climate crisis.  Details below, after background.

There are three weeks and a couple of days from Earth Day to Shavuot. Is there any connection between the 3,000-year=old festival and the 51-year-old one? Yes, two connections in fact – and we can do something about them 

When Jews today think about Shavuot, they think Sinai. And that means that they think either the Ten Utterances or the entire body of Torah being revealed to the whole Jewish people, present throughout time.

Aside from the Ten Utterances, there is a passage of Torah which says explicitly that it came from Mount Sinai. It is chapter 25 and 26 of Leviticus. Chapter 25 begins “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai” and chapter 26 ends “These are the instructions that YHWH,  the Breath of Life,  gave between Godself and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.”

 And what is contained in these two chapters? In the first, Torah explains that every seventh year must be Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, in which Earth is allowed to rest. Then chapter 26 asks, what happens if you will not allow Earth to rest in that seventh year?  It answers, Earth rests anyway – – on your head. It rests through plague, famine, fire, exile.

So Shavuot, if we pay attention, is a time to remember the ancient wisdom of healing the relationship between Earth and Human earthlings by pausing to release Earth from organized agriculture.  The word “Release” – in Hebrew, Shmita – became the name of that seventh year.

According to the ancient count, Shmita begins this very fall. What better time to pay attention, as the US government gears up at long last, 40 years late, to address the climate crisis?

I wrote about Shmita and Jubilee in the original Godwrestling published in 1978 when no one paid attention, I write about it again in the book I’ve just published, Dancing in God's Earthquake  : The Coming Transformation of Religion and now people are paying attention.

In many synagogues and havurot, there is a tradition that on the first night of Shavuot (the night that begins the evening of Sunday, May 16), there is a gathering to study Torah. This year that probably means by Zoom. What I have ibn=n mind and plan is both exploring the ancient text for its obvious and hidden meanings, and exploring with you how we might apply this in a very different planetary arena.

One more thing.  In Christian tradition, a Shavuot gathering of followers of Jesus morphed into what became Pentecost, this year May 23. If you want to explore these ideas for Pentecost Sunday, sign up!

 There are two goals I have in mind: The first is simply exploring these ideas for you to apply in your own life. The second is preparing you,  if you wish,  to lead an hour-long discussion during the Shavuot Night of Learning and discussion.

If the second appeals to you, we suggest you ask whoever is organizing your Shavuot Night of Learning to assign you an hour to lead with this topic. Or if you are not in touch with any organized Shavuot plan, invite some of your friends for a pleasant evening of talk and song about this on May 16.

I look forward to meeting with you on May 5 and 12. If you can’t make one or both of those dates, register anyway and we will record the sessions.

The recipe for healing: Mix justice with joy.  Shalom, Arthur 


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