Rabbi Valerie’s Sabbatical Part 2

Immediately After Simchat Torah, Oct 8-Dec 7, 2023

The concept of a Sabbatical year, or shmittah in Hebrew, is introduced in three different places in the Torah. All refer to giving the land a rest every seventh year. The Exodus Sabbatical explains that when we refrain from working the land, what grows naturally shall go to the poor and the animals. In Leviticus, a religious concept is added as it is called a “Sabbath for the Eternal”, as well as a time for the land to renew itself, “a Sabbath for the land.” Lastly, in Deuteronomy, the concept of debt forgiveness is added to the Sabbatical year.

How did the Biblical Sabbatical year become the basis for clergy, academics, and other professionals taking time every seven (or so) years for renewal? When the Israelites were commanded to let the land lie fallow, they no longer had to work the land. As an agricultural society, working the land encompassed most of their work. Just as the land rested and was renewed, so were they.

I have long said that every human being deserves a Sabbatical: a time for physical and spiritual renewal; a time to focus on personal growth; and a time free from burdens to allow for reflection and gratitude.

I understand how blessed I am to benefit from this privilege, and how blessed our congregation is to benefit from a rabbi who can learn and grow and return with new energy and creativity.

In January and February of 2020, I took the first part of my Sabbatical. I don’t have to detail what came next. That year – and following – was the best example of how a Sabbatical can benefit both the rabbi and the congregation. I was well-prepared physically, emotionally, and spiritually to work with our lay leaders and help our congregation navigate this new landscape.

Now the congregation is finally at a place where I can take part 2 of my Sabbatical. My Sabbatical begins immediately after Simchat Torah (Oct 8th), and I will return to my responsibilities at Temple two months later, just in time for Chanukah.

So many exciting and meaningful programs are already planned during the next two months. Just a few examples:
• Most of our Shabbat services will be special themed services, led by various interest groups and committees.
• We have a Lifelong Learning series on the Holocaust, led by Jessa Sinnott.
• Our Affinity Groups continue to be active, planning many gatherings.
• Dr. Betsy Stone will be a Shabbat scholar-in-residence in early December. She is one of the preeminent psychologists studying how the pandemic has affected the Jewish community. She will speak at Shabbat Services and to our Religious School parents and adult caregivers, then conclude with a board leadership session.
• And then immediately after I return, we will celebrate Chanukah together with a fun, interactive and unique program for all ages.

Luckily, we have many congregants who are excited to take leadership roles in guiding the spiritual and educational programs of our congregation. We are especially blessed in the musical leadership of Gitit Shoval, our Cantorial Soloist. Additionally, I am working with some local(ish) rabbis to lead Torah Study and be on call for funerals.

I am looking forward to catching my breath, grounding myself and experiencing some spiritual growth over this two month period. I imagine it will pass surprisingly quickly for all of us.