This week’s Torah portion, Parshat B’har, talks about the commandment to give the land a Sabbatical. “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…” (Lev 25:3-4). We know from modern studies in farming, that this is a wise way to farm. The fallow year allows the land to recover its nutrient base, and it will produce stronger, better produce for having had that year off.
People are the same way. When we work too long and hard in any one particular way, the creative wells begin to run dry. This is why taking breaks, attending conferences, and going on vacation are all crucial ways to help us remain creative and fruitful in our professional lives. Some careers allow for an actual sabbatical, but others do not. So, how can we reap the benefits of a sabbatical without actually going on one?
On farms where they cannot afford to have the ground lie fallow for a year, many farmers practice crop rotation. The fields that used to grow one thing now grow another. It’s not a complete rest for the land, but it does change the way the soil is being used. This type of change can work for us as well. Sometimes just rearranging the furniture will help offer a new perspective on a problem. When I got stuck writing my master’s thesis, I went to a coffee shop and found that in that environment of relaxed people and white noise (not to mention the constant supply of coffee and sugar), I was able to accomplish a great deal.
The Torah teaches us that the weekly cycles of work and rest given us through the gift of Shabbat help us to focus on the creative work that we do. The Torah also teaches us about the vital importance of taking a vacation – some real time off, changing perspective, opening the mind to let it be blank for a little while so new ideas can grow, or at the very least changing our perspective and rearranging our environment to help renew the creative flow. In our hyper-productive world, we often feel like we have to be busy all the time. The Torah teaches us that letting the mind lie fallow, finding new perspectives and resting from the old, will lead to a more fruitful life.
Cantor Sally Neff