Yom Kippur – G’mar chatima tova

Rabbi Mendy Singer stands, smiling, in a grey suit, pink striped tie, and black hat, in front of a green bush.
Today’s guest blog is from Rabbi Mendy Singer, Director of Chabad of Bristol, Rabbi to the Park Row Synagogue, and Jewish Chaplain to Universities, Prisons & Hospitals
across Bristol & the South West.

Shalom Friends, we are now in the days between the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Although these are Jewish high holidays, this year, they carry a universal message that is timely and relevant on a universal scale. Here’s why.

Once we thought we could make firm plans, now everything is far more tentative. Covid has introduced massive uncertainties on a global scale together with unrest and many protests worldwide and here at home in Bristol too.

This year is a Sabbatical (Shemitah) year based on an ancient count from biblical times until today. The Sabbatical is the seventh year in the agricultural cycle when farmers in Israel allow their land to lie fallow. Beyond the soil, there are many important lessons for the soul.

In addition to the agricultural value of letting the soil rest, The Shemitah is a lesson in humility. A farmer toiling over their crops or any breadwinner working hard naturally feels proud of their accomplishments. The sabbatical year reminds us that the Creator gives us our land and our seed; he makes the rain fall, the sun shine and our crops grow.

For farmers to rest for the whole year goes against their natural instincts and concerns about providing for their families. This kind of behaviour would generally be a formula for disaster, and farmers who follow this work ethic could prepare for bankruptcy! Yet, in the holy land, it produces tremendous results, material and spiritual. This reinforces our faith that the land belongs to God, that our success flows directly from His blessing, and that we must be grateful to Him for everything we have.

It is easy to share with others when we can afford to share, have a steady income, and know how we will pay for tomorrow’s expenses. It is much more difficult to be charitable when we are unsure of what tomorrow holds. Agricultural farmers have no income during Shemitah, yet they abandon all crops that grow spontaneously during the year, leaving them available to the public. In this way, Shemitah strengthens faith in God’s blessings and enhances unity.

On a global scale, this element of Shemitah is expressed in giving Charity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the more we give, the less we have. From God’s perspective, however, the more we offer, the more He blesses us. This is especially true when we give more than we think we can afford to. Charity thus also strengthens our faith and sense of community.

The belief that the world belongs to God and that our success depends on Him is a liberating notion. It enables us to release the burdens that we carry. We still toil, but we breathe easier. We still labour, but we sleep easier. We know that God guides our footsteps and that everything happens for a good reason. We learn to see God’s hand in everything we do and His presence in everything we see.

These lessons of the Sabbatical Year can guide us all through the uncertainties thrown our way into a calmer and more liberating year ahead. We hope and pray that the coming year of rest will usher in a much better future with peace and harmony across the world.

With best wishes for a safe and healthy year ahead, filled with meaning, growth, joy and much happiness.