We are coming to the end of a shmita year– and I have paid attention.  I went to several of the many shiurim that flooded the internet last fall, have been reminded by my family (while in Israel) to throw away our peels carefully, and have picked produce whenever I pass a vine with low hanging grapes.    

But, I do not work the land.  I have no slaves and do not own any ancestral land.  And I generally do not lend out money.  What does shmita –and yovel– mean to me? 

Shmita and yovel carry with them the message to pause, and even to stop.  

Life goes by very quickly, and before we know it we have moved even further down the road.  The rhythm of our life is almost automatic, and how much do we really pay attention to the time that goes by?  When do we pause to ask ourselves questions? By instituting the laws of shmita, the Torah reminds us every seven years to do this. We must take the time to realize that stopping the cycle, pausing from our regular routine, is itself important.  We stop doing what is natural, and we rethink, refocus and restart. 

If the shmita year tells us to slow down and pause the routine, the yovel year tells us to stop and reset.  Land that changed possession automatically goes back to the original owners.  All indentured servants are set ‘free’.  Every fifty years there is a full factory reset, a recognition that what man does is not permanent; permanence is only from God. As Jews, we refocus on who we are in the scheme of the world and what choices we are free to make.   

As children we were given the gift of having the summer “off”.  We recharged and grew in different ways than we did in the classroom.  This facilitates growth.  But as adults, we sometimes just keep going, years blend into each other.  When we pause, or when we stop, we can grow.  We can hear our own voices, both the questions and sometimes the answers, in the quiet of the pause.  So maybe there is a need to pause to reflect; how has life changed, how have we grown, what do we want next? My guess is that these are good questions to ask ourselves, at a minimum, every seven years.  But I have just completed my first 50 years of life. It’s my personal yovel year, and I know that these are important questions for me now.  

In a lot of ways, at this stage of my life I have more freedom than I’ve ever had before. This begs the question; who am I in the scheme of the world and what choices do I want to make? Who am I as a Jew and how do I want to engage in the Jewish world? 

In part to explore these kinds of questions, this year we have created Naharei Eden, a chaburah program for women around their personal yovel stage, who are looking at their own identity and engagement and saying– what is next for me? 

The Eden Center focuses on enabling all women to have a personally meaningful and welcoming mikveh experience, while also using the mikveh as a platform to explore the physical, spiritual, emotional and sexual health of women and couples. Hence, it was a natural place for us to explore together what is our next stage and places we would like to refocus. 

We called it “Naharei Eden” because we learn that there was one river flowing out of Gan Eden which branched into four rivers. Each river took the beauty of the garden to nourish other places. Despite originating from the same source, each had its unique character and contributions to the world, infusing their surroundings with different strengths. 

Our first cohort at Naharei Eden consists of ten women, each a “river” whose personal story was enhanced by various backgrounds, communities and families.  We have come together to learn, share thoughts, inspire each other to think and to consider new angles of topics that have caught our unique attention and our passion.   

Each participant has or will lead one session on a topic of her own interest – preparing sources to learn with the group and then leading a discussion.  The topics so far have included BRCA, menopause, fertility, mikveh for disencfranchised community members, and a deeper look at shmita and yovel.  Each presenter has found her own unique style and ways to engage the group.  

It is fitting that we initiated the Naharei Eden Chaburah program in a shmita year. It was a good time to pause, look at where we each are, and to ask ourselves “what is next for me, how can I engage with others and in what ways can I facilitate growth in our community?” 

I can’t help but wonder what this program will look like in seven years!