Posts Tagged ‘sabbatical year’

Greetings from the Holy Land. My hiatus from this blog has seen me swept away with many demands on my time, many blessings. The broken keyboard was an invitation to step away from the weekly posts and give myself over to a few months of solid teaching.

And now here I sit, in Jerusalem. Got here Tuesday.

In honor of this place, I want to share with you a terrible secret.

Perhaps the most famous question in all of Torah commentary (posed a thousand years ago by Rashi, the most authoritative of all later interpreters) is “ma inyan shemita etzel Har Sinai?” What’s the idea of the Sabbatical Year together with Mount Sinai?

It’s a good question, considering that the only time the Bible ever tells us explicitly that God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai is in the section outlining the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. So what’s the connection? Why here, of all places?

Far beyond the realms of Torah scholarship, this question has become embedded in broader Jewish consciousness. Years ago a rabbi friend of mine was visiting Israel, and happened to watch an old rerun of Kojak. When one of the characters said, “what’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”, my friend laughed to see Rashi’s question, verbatim, flash across the bottom of the screen—“ma inyan shemita etzel Har Sinai?” What’s one thing got to do with the other?

As is so often the case, everything. The answer Rashi gives, in the case of the Sabbatical Year and Mount Sinai, is that the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years prove that the entire Torah in all its details was given directly by God to Moses during their meeting on the fiery hilltop. Oddly enough, especially for Torah discussions, where pretty much anything is open for debate, challenge, reevaluation and, especially, irresolution, this answer remains entirely uncontested.

What this means is, it’s a widely if not universally accepted premise within traditional Jewish circles that the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years prove the validity of the entire Torah. This is a serious load to carry. If you have a fraction of a appreciation of what the Torah means within Jewish tradition, you will recognize that to prove the validity of the Torah is to prove the validity of Judaism itself, to prove even the reality of existence and, reasoning back, possibly to prove even God. We say that the Torah preexisted creation, that God looked into it and created the world. According to tradition, the Torah is not a reflection of reality, rather its cause.

What’s interesting though is not Rashi’s uncontested “fact”, but its implications. The centuries of commentators move on from his bold assertion (which is based in very early sources), to question not whether the Sabbatical and Jubilee years prove the authenticity of the Torah, only how. Over the centuries, the discussion on this matter has been rich, layered and profound.

And with this we arrive at our terrible secret, which is really just my attempt at an answer to this thousand year-old question. I decided to write about it yesterday evening, as I was sitting beside David’s Tower within the walls of the old city, watching what I fully expected to be an exceedingly dull, drawn out sound-and-light show, but which turned out to be not half-bad and blessedly brief.

Sitting there, watching the play of colors on the ancient stone walls, I was thinking about triumphalism, and the propensity of some to flaunt possession of this land, this place.

Our tradition teaches us that after the sin of the Golden Calf, in order to renew the covenant (and live), the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years were established as the cornerstones of a system of reward and punishment. With the first covenant, the Torah was entirely free. The second came with responsibilities. The Sabbatical and Jubilee years became our part of the bargain. Keep them, and all would be well; fail, and the consequence is exile, perhaps the gravest of all possible punishments.

At the heart of these two multifaceted commandments is the principle of hefker, ownerlessness. God outlines these laws and says, ki li ha’aretz, “for the earth is mine.” The Sabbatical and Jubilee years are a manifest expression of this deeper spiritual truth. These mitzvot (commandments) call upon us to release indentured servants, allow the earth rest, share all food freely and nullify debts. The essence of everything we’re meant to do and not do during these years is letting go—spiritually and physically.

And this letting go is the terrible secret. We were given this land, this earth, as an inheritance, but to earn it, to merit living here we must let it go. We must give up our sense of unqualified possession and open to a deeper recognition of “ownership” beyond the narrow, human realm. We must awaken to a deeper sense that all that exists, all of creation, is part of something far greater than our specifically human drama.

Why is this so terrible? It speaks to the spiritual irony that the only way to gain what we most want is to relinquish our very grasping for it. What does it mean that to merit this land, this earth we’ve been dreaming of for millennia, we’ve got to let it go?

There is much discussion in the commentaries about the Sabbatical Year’s role as the condition for living in the land. The Torah itself makes this abundantly clear when it says the earth will ‘vomit’ us out for failure to keep the Sabbatical Year. The third to last sentence of the entire Tanach, the full body of our most sacred texts, reemphasizes this by stating that not keeping this commandment was the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the cause of our exile.

In the Torah, we’re promised that if we do let go, if we do share this world and keep the commandments of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, the earth will naturally provide all we need. We’re promised that we don’t actually have to work so hard, we can slow down, step back and let go, and all will be well.

No human could make this promise, and some interpreters take this to be the foundation of Rashi’s claim for proof of divine origin.

Through linking the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years so intimately with Sinai, the Torah is telling us something very significant about the nature of reality, of change, of peace, justice and freedom. Sinai is the paradigm of collective awakening. It is the moment of shift, when and how we come to God not only as individuals, but together, as humanity. To achieve this fulfillment of our collective potential, we must shift our relationship to the world and ground ourselves in the principle of hefker, letting go of any fixed sense we have of who we are and how the world works. We must relinquish our conception that how things are today—our governments, our economies, our societies and families—are how they are because we are somehow fixed in how we are. To open new doorways of possibility, we must release our narrow sense of who we are and what we are doing here.

Nothing is given. Everything can change in an instant. The Torah is offering us a terrifying glimpse of how that happens. To change the world and find ourselves again standing before Sinai, we must let go completely.

The Jubilee takes this to the ultimate extreme. It is, as I’ve called it, God’s holy reset button, a new beginning. We have the capacity to do just this. But to move from where we are today to where we have the potential to be involves this terrible, divine process of letting go. We cannot enter the Promised Land with our old ways intact. We must, as Joseph, Abel, Eve, Adam and so many of our spiritual masters have done before us, sacrifice our very selves to the service of truth.

It isn’t easy, but no one said it would be. From where we stand, God’s justice seems a terrible price to pay. From the other side, from that world where unity and sharing have replaced enmity and hoarding, it appears the most wonderful gift imaginable.

Peaceful Sabbath,


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I went to a festival the other day. It was ostensibly one of those crunchy-granola, blissed-out, We are One, Earth People, California peace and love fests. What struck me, however, was how much of the fair grounds were given over to commerce. About eighty-percent of the space, it seemed, was taken up by booths with people selling bells, crystals, candles, ways of life, musical instruments, plants, food, pipes of various kinds and an absolute tonnage of clothes. To navigate from stage to stage, one had to negotiate a world on sale.

I’ve been reading an interesting book recently—Salt: a world history. It’s reminding me, in great detail, of how much our world has been shaped by people striving to sell things. It’s such a central feature of our way of life I don’t know why it should seem strange to me, but it does. I’ve lived in and been the beneficiary of a capitalist society all my life, but I can’t help feeling that we’re off the mark somewhat. Not entirely, but somewhat.

It brings to mind the story of Kain and Abel. The Bible is pretty terse with the narrative of these two brothers, leaving out a whole lot of details. It mentions only that they both offered sacrifices, that God rejected Kain’s, and that Kain was pissed and killed his brother. But that’s just about it. The murder itself gets only one line: ‘And Kain spoke to his brother Abel when they were in the field, and Kain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.’ That’s it.

There’s an ancient midrash, oral account, that fleshes out this story, helping us to understand the nature of the world’s first murder by answering the question—what did they talk about? “‘Let us divide the world,’ they said. One took the land, the other all possessions. The first said, ‘the land you are standing on belongs to me.’ The other replied, ‘the clothes you are wearing are mine. Strip.’ The other countered, ‘fly’. After this, Kain rose up and killed his brother Abel.”

Our system for wealth generation may seem pretty sensible, but unchecked it has some deep flaws. Just consider some of the things we’re willing to sell to make money. One of the clearest cases of excess is what one New York Times journalist called, “perhaps…one of President Bush’s most lasting legacies.” He was referring to massive arms deals that were pushed through in the last years of the Bush presidency. In a three-year period, from 2005 to 2008, US government weapon sales abroad increased almost threefold, from $12 to $32 billion. Major beneficiaries of this trade were, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan. But the deals were far from limited to these two titans of stability. The windfall also piled great drifts of “tanks, helicopters and fighter jets [and] missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and even warships” on the shores of such secure, dependable, sure-to-never-let-things-get-into-the-wrong-hands countries as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Romania and Georgia.

When a man came to the Chofetz Chaim, the great ethicist, and asked how he could make amends for all of the bad things he had said about other people, the Chofetz Chaim cut open a pillow, went to the window and scattered the feathers on the wind. ‘When you’ve collected all the feathers and put them back in the pillow,’ he told the man, ‘you will have repaired all the damage.’

In selling weapons around the world, we’re scattering feathers that kill. To do so, we employ a bizarre logic that isn’t all that dissimilar from the logic we use to support our consumerist way of life. Our economic model is based on a premise of self-interested competition; in tandem with this, we act without considering all of the long-term consequences, the true costs. One senior Pentagon official justified the increase in arms sales simply by asking, “Would you rather they bought the weapons and aircraft from other countries?” No. But is that the only other option?

Pursuing self-interest, without considering the consequences over time, can be disastrous. It is the cause of our current economic meltdown.

Unchecked competition and consumption can act like a cancer, destroying its host organism and, ultimately, itself. This is at the root of Alan Greenspan’s revelation, after years of being one of its lead champions, that capitalism in its current incarnation may not function in a stable, healthy, rational manner. This is why, as he told Congress, he was in a “state of shocked disbelief” to discover “a flaw in the model that [he] perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.” That flaw, simply put, is that self-interest alone is not a sufficiently reliable governing principle to ensure the proper functioning of an economy, not a sound enough ideology on which to establish a society’s wellbeing.

One of the deepest insights of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) is that self-interest must be balanced not only against the interests of others, but also against something much greater. In biblical speak, this greater thing would be the divine. On our plane, the Torah proposes we accomplish this by balancing our competitive self-interest against time. With the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, the Torah encourages us to make episodic corrections that take the edge off ballooning inequities and allow our overall organism (the earth and all its creatures, including us) to recalibrate. Indeed, it could be argued that the market corrections we currently experience every seven years or eight years are a direct reflection of the Torah’s inherent wisdom in this regard. The corrections we face now, however, are involuntary. If we took it upon ourselves to correct the disparities in our system, by periodically adjusting for accumulated inequities and other harmful consequences, it’s entirely possible that we could avoid these financial hiccups and, more importantly, the economic tsunamis that occasionally follow in their wake.

Ultimately, though commerce carves and shapes our world, we are still only selling our own planet back to ourselves. One of the key underlying lessons of the story of Kain and Abel is about interdependence. Each brother could not thrive without the other; they both needed what the other produced. That’s how an organism works. When the accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself, unchecked, we divorce that growth from the bedrock reality of our world. Money becomes abstract. We can print more, but that doesn’t make the planet a bigger place. Our own accumulation also doesn’t ensure the wellbeing others. In fact, it often diminishes it. Living in a world where a tiny percentage of the people control the lion’s share of resources is simply evidence that we still don’t comprehend the true nature of life. It demonstrates that we’re not thinking like an organism.

So what’s the alternative? We learn to live with what we have, to slow down, take a step back and let go of our accumulation; we learn to share this planet more equitably. This probably sounds overly simplistic and idealistic, but it may just be the most difficult, rational thing we could ever do.

Peaceful Sabbath,


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[I apologize for the delay in getting this out. Friday I was in no condition to write anything.]

“Now here [the sages] have awakened us to a great secret of secrets from the Torah… Bend your ear to hear what I am permitted to make you hear from it, in language that you will hear. And if you merit, you will comprehend…”

You may not have the slightest interest in the Torah (Hebrew Bible), which is completely understandable. You may even think of it as a primitive text filled with unconscionable violence and an alarmingly arrogant, malevolent god. Still, I urge you to at least consider that there may be some good reasons why it has survived as a major religious guide for so long. The secret Nachmanides is pointing towards is certainly one of them. Its relevance penetrates beyond any national, religious or cultural boundaries.

It would be difficult to overstate the authority of Nachmanides as an interpreter of the Torah. Known in traditionalist circles as the Ramban (from the initials of Rabbi Moses ben Nachman), his commentary on the Torah has been a central text for nearly eight hundred years. Drawing from all possible sources to illuminate deeper meanings, it makes clear that he devoured the canon whole, and retained every morsel. His insights are challenging, and sparkle with fresh possibility even today.

Before looking at the relevance of his secret for our time however, we must acknowledge an innate difficulty. When the Ramban wrote that he would say what he was “permitted”, he did not have anyone sitting over his shoulder, staying his hand. In dealing with ancient Hebrew, we’re faced with a language that aimed to express the essence of a thing through the word used to describe it. This is why the word for “word” and the word for “thing” are one and that same: Davar means both “thing” and “word”—there is no separation. The situation at hand is a perfect illustration of this. In referring to something as a great secret, the Ramban is pointing towards what is in essence secret. As Akiva Tatz has put it, ‘it’s not secret because no one will tell you; it’s secret because no one can tell you.’ This is the Torah version of, ‘The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.’

Seen in this light, the Ramban’s call to bend our ears is not hyperbole, it’s literal. I won’t be able to tell you the secret. Still, we can dance around the periphery, hoping to fall in. As the Ramban indicated, if we merit, we will comprehend. In this instance, the word for “comprehend” can also be read as contemplate, examine or study. If you’re still reading, congratulations! Apparently you’ve got some merit under your belt.

In order to investigate the Ramban’s secret, we’ll work from the outside in. First off, if we take a giant step back and look at the Torah from a distance, perhaps the simplest and fairest way to characterize it is: It’s about service to something greater than ourselves. This should come as no surprise to those aware that the traditional tally of the number of commandments contained in the Torah comes to six hundred and thirteen.

If service is the essence of Torah, then we can reasonably deduce that the Ramban is pointing towards some kind of secret about the nature of service. Even further, we can surmise that he is alluding to the deepest nature of service, the service of service.

While we’re out here looking from a distance, we also need to identify the countervailing force to service. All things in form exist in contrast, duality, so service too must have its counterpart. In biblical terms, we would call this counterforce exile. Just as there are degrees of service, so too with exile. These two forces have a dynamic, inverse relationship. The degree to which we serve is the degree to which we are no longer in exile. Ultimate service, the service of service, is the final end to exile, and vice versa.

The Ramban’s comments relating to this great secret are in large part an elucidation of the deeper nature of this relationship and its consequences. His words serve as both a caution and an alert to opportunity. Throughout his long commentary on the Torah, the Ramban draws attention to the connection between our actions and the fate of the world, the interrelationship between the twin destinies of humanity and the earth. One way to look at it is, he was anticipating climate change by nearly a thousand years (of course he was taking his cue from the Torah, which alluded to this relationship millennia earlier). In conveying the secret at hand the Ramban was pointing towards the essential choice we face: that is, which direction do we take—service, or exile?

To understand the nature of this choice we need to come in for a closer look and examine the Ramban’s remarks in their specific context. In doing so, we find that they relate to two commandments in particular—the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year. Of all the commandments in the Torah, the argument has been made many times over hundreds of years that these two require the greatest degree of selflessness to fulfill. Putting them into practice requires that we look beyond our narrowly defined personal interests and subsume our individual wills to the greater good. Not easy.

The commandments relating to the Sabbatical and Jubilee years include radical prescriptions for economic freedom and ecological renewal. They require that we do more than hope that our individual actions will add up to a sustainable, healthy, peaceful, just, free world; they call on us to align our personal choices with a very clear endgame, a specific, shared vision. They call on us to give up liberty in favor of freedom.

But it goes much deeper than this, obviously, or it wouldn’t be such a great secret. The fulfillment of these commandments points to a mode or degree of selflessness that takes us far beyond any simple prescriptions for socialist economics. To realize the Jubilee, in particular, requires the attainment of selflessness in its ultimate form. And this is where words begin to fail, where we encounter the outer reaches of a new atmosphere and language starts to break apart upon entry.

There is a state—of mind, spirit, body—where all of this makes sense. Where the Ramban’s secret is perfectly clear, and the entire Torah comes into singular, crystal focus. This is also the state where fulfilling the Jubilee not only becomes possible, but natural. It is the end of all exile, the ultimate indwelling. In this state there is no true other. We see clearly that our own wellbeing and that of others, including the earth and all its creatures, are one and the same. This state of transcendent oneness cannot be conveyed in words, but it stands as the remedy to all exile, the ultimate form of service and the destiny of humankind, should we choose it.

I wish I could say more, and hopefully I will. But for now, if we contemplate these ideas, we may come to merit comprehending them…

Peaceful Sabbath,


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Welcome UrbanMan-ites. I just posted this site about a month ago. Being somewhat reclusive, and just a bit gun-shy, I’ve yet to do much publicizing. The Urban Man’s radio essay describing me as a bearded Jeremiah figure has certainly boosted traffic.

So what are you getting yourself into? Jeremiah? Maybe. The point is, yes, as the Urban Man reported we’ve got to slow down as a species. Our current lifestyles are unsustainable. Physically and spiritually. We can print more money and pump it into the system to boost the economy, but that’s not going to make the earth a bigger place. It’s not going to create more wood, steel, land and water. Our monetary fiction will just become increasingly dissociated from the world as it truly is.

Ultimately though, this outer disconnect is a reflection of something deeper, something we all carry around with us. We’re not truly living to our potential as a species. And that potential, that gap between where we are now and where we could be, can best be described as a spiritual, rather than a technical gap. We have everything we need to create the world that deep down most of us truly yearn for—a world without hunger, violence and ecological destruction. We have all the information and know-how. What we need is the desire, the will, the vision.

I am not, as the Urban Man suggested, aiming to have everyone keep the Sabbath as it has traditionally been kept, with a day off every week from driving, money, work…But I am hoping that we can begin to live by some of its deeper principles, principles that encourage us to slow down, stop and reflect. And, once we’ve taken a deep breath and had a clearer look around, to share the gifts of this planet more fairly, to recognize that we all came into this world naked and crying and that ultimately, this gift is here for all of us.

This, this sense that the earth is here for all of us to enjoy, and that to truly enjoy it we’ve got to slow our consumption and cultivate a little contentment with what we’ve already got, is the essence of the Sabbath. This site, globalsabbath, is dedicated to exploring how we might integrate these principles into our lives and world. We’ve got some big plans for globalsabbath. I hope that you urbanites will find some resonance here, maybe subscribe, and come along for the ride.

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The Sabbath is a powerful metaphor for how we can heal this planet and build a better future for ourselves as a species. The chronicler of the book of Genesis, far from simply reducing the origins of this world to a manageable sequence of events, was tapping into a truth that resides deep within the human subconscious. Part of the reason the biblical creation story is so memorable is not just thousands of years of effective marketing, but because it speaks to a core dimension of who we are and what we’re doing here on earth.

This is why the Sabbath is at once breathtakingly simple, so straightforward even a child can understand, yet at the same time vastly multi-dimensional, so much so it can take a lifetime to fully comprehend its depths and meaning.

This forum, this space on the web, is devoted to bringing to light some of those deeper dimensions. Regrettably, most of us seem to have settled with the six-year-old version of the Sabbath and dismissed it as mythological fantasy. This is deeply unfortunate. Perhaps the clearest way to see why is to step back and take wide-angle view of our world, to look at ourselves not as nations and economic unions, but as a species. In doing so, we can begin to see that the solution to all of the great challenges we face as a species—climate change and environmental destruction, war and other forms of violence, poverty and hunger—can best be understood not by what we need to do, but by what we need to stop doing.

In the case of climate change and environmental destruction this is self-evident. We need to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, stop tearing down forests, polluting rivers and pumping harmful chemicals into our soil. Sure, we need to do some other things to offset the costs of stopping these activities, but evidence indicates that even with alternatives, such as new forms of energy, we’ll still need to reduce our activities, our human industry, to a significant degree. In other words, either way we’ve got to slow down, and in many instances eventually stop altogether.

When it comes to war and violence, the principle of stopping is similarly straightforward. We’ve got to stop killing one another. Certainly we need to address the underlying sources of conflict, but these too can best be addressed not by doing, but by undoing, as we shall explore.

In the case of poverty and hunger, it may be less clear-cut to see how not doing is any solution, but it is no less true. Roughly 80 percent of the people who suffer from chronic hunger in our world live in rural areas where agriculture is the main occupation. In other words, they live around food. The problem is, the poor have been pushed off productive land and into the margins. They have, by and large, been cast aside by wealthy landowners. People who suffer from hunger are not lazy. They are more than prepared to feed themselves. In order to end the lion’s share of hunger in our world, we need to stop preventing them from doing so. Again, we will obviously have to do something to offset some of the costs of shifting from our current inequitable system, but the underlying objective remains to stop denying the poor access to productive resources.

Okay, so there’s a lot we need to stop doing. But how can a paradigm that’s thousands of years old possibly help us to achieve this? So “God stopped”, what’s that got to do with us?

[For more, please see: The Revolution will be Spiritual—[basic overview, part two]]

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[Note: I’ve used the G-word in this post. This is simply to explore the meaning of the first Sabbath and its relevance for today. No belief in God is necessary or encouraged.]

According to tradition, the Sabbath is the culmination of creation, the destination. Like any good designer the divine began with the end in mind. In other words the Sabbath, far from being an afterthought, can be seen as the very purpose for the world’s existence. The way I like to put it is, “God wasn’t pooped.” Like any good parent, the divine was modeling behavior. Just as parents who want their children to grow up looking both ways before crossing the street will do so themselves, so too the divine was showing us that it is essential for us to stop one day, that stopping is part of the makeup of the universe.

But what does this mean? How does the Sabbath work in a deeper sense? What would it look like in practice and how is it relevant today?

These are some of the central questions that I hope to address in this forum. For now, let’s take a quick look at what “God” actually did on that first Sabbath. Not surprisingly, “Shabbat” (the Hebrew origin of Sabbath) is the word used to describe the divine’s activity or condition on that day. Shabbat has three primary connotations: to sit, to dwell, and to return. Okay, so God sat and dwelled. But returned? Where was there for God to return to after only six days of creation?

As I said in my first post on this site, the Sabbath unfolds in three primary layers—the daylong weekly Sabbath, the yearlong Sabbath, and the Jubilee—that express the underlying principles of the Sabbath to increasingly intensified degrees. There are two primary dimensions to fulfilling these ideals: The actual practice of them, and; the spiritual state necessary to do so. The Sabbaths, slowing down and eventually stopping our harmful impact on this world and one another, will ultimately entail an incredible degree of selflessness on the part of each of us. These visionary standards cannot be actualized by rote. The only way to attain them is to undertake the spiritual transformation necessary for their fulfillment.

Further, for those of you who may worry at this point that I could be steering towards some kind of proselytism, the benefits of these principles are not limited to any particular set of beliefs or customs. It is we, us humans, who are the common root to all of the crises we see in the world. To transform our world and realize our true potential as a species, we must transform ourselves, all of us. What was God “returning” to after only six days? In creating the world of form, God was creating the possibility of mistaken identity. With form came the risk of thinking that this is it, that there is no more going on in the world than meets the eye. God was returning from multiplicity to a state of transcendent oneness, returning from the dangers of the illusion of separateness. Whatever name you wish to apply to the oneness, it is the central delusion of our separateness that keeps us locked in a world where some live in wealth that surpasses that of some nations, while others have so little they die daily by the thousands from simply not having enough food to eat.

Ultimately, healing our world will require healing the spiritual misapprehensions we all share. The central message, vision and method of the Sabbath are designed to bring about this very transformation. It may be difficult to imagine our world organized around Sabbath principles that aim to slow us down enough to achieve true selflessness. As members of consumer society, it’s probably not even the world we’d choose. But it may just be the world we need.

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I live at a hermitage on the coast of California. The wood paneled walls of my old silver trailer frame bay windows looking onto a forest of redwood, eucalyptus and oak. I can hear the ocean almost a mile away, straight down.

Why am I telling you this? I’ve got to start somewhere, and everywhere else seems more complicated. At least if I just tell the truth, anything you don’t like will be your problem, not mine.

I spend a fair amount of time in silence, certainly a lot more than the average person does in this mad world we’ve created. And that’s what this is really about: This mad world, and what it’s going to take to heal it. I roam the hills and beaches—praying, singing, meditating—far away from everything, though underneath it all thinking about nothing but, nothing but absolutely everything.

What follows here, globalsabbath.com and everything I hope it becomes, is built more or less on a single premise: That all (or at least most) of us seem to share a sense that we can do much better as a species, categorically so; that despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, we still believe that us humans have the capacity to live in a world characterized by true justice, real freedom, and peace.

What’s this got to do with “Global Sabbath”?

I spent more than ten years of my life trying to figure out how to end hunger. I worked with grassroots organizations, studied at some of the world’s best universities and attended years of sessions at the UN. At one point, about five years ago, something shifted. I was sitting in the great meeting hall of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. The room was filled with diplomats representing all the governments of our planet. We had been negotiating on and off for two years, aiming to hammer out the details of what our rights are—that’s your rights and mine—when it comes to food. As I watched our appointed delegates conspire to avoid any real responsibility to ensure we all have enough to eat, I realized that nothing was going to change, that we would never truly solve the crime of hunger in our world, until we radically reconceived who we are, what we are doing here, and how we relate to one another and the planet.

This—this website and these ideas (and when it comes down to it, this unusual life I’m now leading)—is the emerging fruit of where that shift has led me.

As you may have guessed from the name of this website, I’m Jewish. My deep-seated mystical impulses find their expression in the world largely in Torah-based terminology. What is Torah? Torah is the traditional name for the first five books of the Hebrew bible. Certainly one of the most influential texts in all human history (think Eden, the Ten Commandments, etc.), it is also, in my hopefully humble opinion, one of the most profoundly misunderstood. One way to think of the Torah is as the central nervous system of the Jewish religion. I’ve spent a fair amount of time digging into it, and it’s pretty clear to me that whoever wrote the Torah had an experience of utmost cosmic transcendence. Whether or not you believe in God, which doesn’t matter to me in the slightest, and whatever your views are on the authorship of the bible, there’s some pretty amazing stuff hidden within this text. It contains secrets that may have great relevance for our world today. None of these secrets require any particular beliefs. So not to worry, nothing you find here will in any way encourage adherence to a set of dogmas.

But this site won’t really be about Torah anyways. It will be about this mad world and how we can heal it. If you’re interested, I’m launching another blog alongside this one—inyanofshemita.wordpress.com. That’s where I get to let my hair down and geek out on Torah. Here, this is for everyone. Everyone, that is, who shares the sense that we can do better as a species.

But I still haven’t answered the question, why “Global Sabbath”? To the degree that I can, I’ll express this in terms accessible to anyone. Despite the fact that this site is not about Torah, it is inspired by it. Most everyone is familiar with the story of the first Sabbath. You know, “God” created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Well that story, that seemingly straightforward child’s tale, has hidden within it mystical truths and divine lessons of incalculable significance for our species today. But again, you don’t have to be Jewish, believe in God, know the bible or even care about religion to appreciate them. I’ll do what I can here to strip these lessons to their barest essentials. If you want to geek out with me on the details, by all means visit my other site.

In a nutshell, we need to slow down.

Actually, we need to slow down, step back and let go. Slow down in the sense that we need to cultivate greater peace, tranquility, stillness and contentment in our lives. Step back, insofar as we need to pull back from our excessive impact on this planet, which of course goes hand in hand with slowing down. We’ve got to curb our massive consumption and give this earth, and ourselves, a rest. And finally, we’ve got to let go. This is perhaps the hardest. To understand why, consider that the most active expression of letting go is giving away. In letting go, we’ve got to cultivate within ourselves the realization that we do not own this planet. It is not ours to do with as we please. Coming fully to terms with this involves two interpenetrating processes—inner and outer. The outer is more straightforward. It concerns letting go of, as I’ve said, the false sense that we actually own this planet and the things on it. The inner is a far more subtle process, involving the gradual relinquishing of our misapprehension that we somehow “own” our own selves; that is, letting go of the mistaken sense that we are in some real way separate, autonomous individuals. I can understand that for some of you I may be getting into territory here that sounds a bit weird, or even California woo woo. I hope that for the time being you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt. For now let’s just say there’s more to us than meets the naked eye.

These processes—slowing down, stepping back and letting go externally and internally—are all mutually reinforcing. And they are all central to the idea of the Sabbath, which unfolds in three primary layers—the weekly daylong Sabbath, the yearlong and the Jubilee—that express these processes to increasing levels of intensity. I won’t burden you with all the details right now.

And why Global? Because I think that all of us have something to learn from these principles. That they have something very real to teach us about how we can move forward as a species, how we can come to actually live in that world of peace, freedom and justice that we sense is possible.

Ultimately, it is my hope that this website will act as a kind of portal, a support for people hoping to experiment with slowing down, stepping back and letting go. I hope that it will offer ideas that people can learn from, practices they can cultivate and tailor to suit their own lives and contexts, and that it link people together to help minimize the costs of doing so. Our mad world is largely organized around money. And money has proven itself to have a skewed value system, or none at all. For many of us, who need to pay the bills and put food on the table, slowing down, stepping back and letting go may seem like a great idea in theory, but not have all that much connection to reality when it comes down to it. I recognize that. But my hope is that we can learn to support one another, to do it together. If I fix your car or your roof or your toilet, maybe you’ll babysit my kids or offer me some food from your garden. Who knows? The point is, together we can do anything. We created this world, we can recreate it.

And this is the reason for the tagline—“Ask not if a thing is possible, ask only if it is necessary.” It comes from an old Jewish mystic, the Alter of Kelm. Is it possible for our mad species to slow down, step back and let go to the degree necessary to transform our world? Can we actually live in that world of peace, justice and freedom we sense within us? Who knows? Is it necessary? I certainly think so. I’m game to try. You?

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