Rabbi Andrea Zanardo suggests that in the Rabbinic interpretation, the destruction of the Temple, the end of the most intimate relation between God and the human beings, happened twice as a punishment for not keeping the Sabbatical Year. During the Sabbatical Year agricultural lands are to lie fallow. The commandment is a powerful exhortation against over-exploitation of natural resources, and it reminds us that human beings, and especially Jews, are keepers of nature, not its masters, neither unconditional owners of the Earth’s bounties.
Talmud Bavli, Arakhin 11b
When the Temple was destroyed for the first time, that day was the Ninth of Av, (…) and it was the year after a Sabbatical Year; (…) and the priests and Levites were standing on their platform and singing a song. And what song were they singing? They were singing the verse: “And He brought upon them their own iniquity, and He will cut them off in their own evil” (Psalms 94:23). (…) And likewise, the same happened when the Second Temple was destroyed.
(tr. Davidson, Sefaria.org)
As we move through the month of Elul we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, in the hope that we might begin a new year ready to make changes and to be the person we feel we could be. At Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of the world, and as we begin 5780 we know that our actions are increasingly not only impacting on our ‘environment’ (as if we ourselves were somehow detached from it) but changing and endangering our futures in the world.
This Elul, therefore, Reform Judaism is focussing on what wisdom and reflection Judaism can offer us, and encourage us in the changes necessary to make a difference in the upcoming year. Though we begin with ourselves, we do not end with ourselves. The changes we make, in our attitudes, understanding and behaviour affect all around us – our families, communities, our work place, the organisations we belong to, the government and the world itself. It begins with us.
The texts and reflections for this series have been drawn together by Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, together with members of the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors who are credited individually when appropriate. Reflecting together and learning in partnership has made this a much more meaningful process for us, and if you have the time and someone willing, we hope these texts might also provide a wonderful opportunity for learning with a partner (or chavruta). As Pirkei Avot 1:6 says “make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend”.