Let’s be honest here: I am burning myself out. I didn’t realize how much my consistent productivity each week was based on, well, not socializing. Or not doing much of anything else besides childcare and working on this project. The lingering sleep debt of time I did spend socializing three weeks ago combined with a seemingly insatiable desire to organize my weekly waterfall of words into ever-more elaborate essays means that I am giving this project more time than I have, or more time than I have if I want to stay mentally sound. When I pulled the colors for this week, I found myself begging the cards: please, something simple.
Maybe I got it in Green Red. Green is love, family, leaves, and nature. Red is body, survival, life, and blood. Green Red is my fourth Green in a row, the longest streak of any so far this year. Of course if I were doing the pieces in order from 1-49, I would always be engaged in some sort of streak of seven: e.g. Green Red would be followed by Green Orange which would be followed by Green Yellow and onward to Green Black White before a new cycle started with Blue Red. But because Year 5 is an emergent order, streaks are notable, magic even. If Green is Love, its repetition here is perhaps reminding me to have a bit more love or at least kindness for myself. The Red in there is a grounding force, a reminder to be in my body and basically calm the fuck down.
Yes, this project here is based on cycles of sevens. This reminds me just how accidentally Jewish it is: the Jewish calendar itself is built on so many cycles of seven. Everything is organized around the fact that the week culminates in Shabbat, the day or rest and reverence whose name actually comes from the Hebrew word for “seven.” But the years go in cycles too. The year that just started with this past New Moon, 5782, is a seventh year, or what is called a Shmita year. Shmita means “release.” Described as Shabbat Shabbaton (or Shabbat Squared, if you will), you can think of this whole year as a giant Shabbat. It is a year where the Torah commands its readers to let their fields go fallow, refraining from plowing, planting, or pruning. Anything that grows from the earth of its own accord is deemed ownerless and cannot be sold, and is left to be harvested by anyone who needs it. All debts are cancelled, building in a disruption to an otherwise potentially endless cycle of poverty or an endless accumulation of wealth. Historians say that it is doubtful that Shmita has ever been practiced widely to its full potential, and of course there are many loopholes. But as a concept, the promise of Shmita is profound.
Shmita also teaches us not to take abundance for granted. It’s made me look differently at the apple tree growing in our shared yard. I mean, I regarded it with reverence anyway. It’s an apple tree! A full grown apple tree! That never won’t feel magical to me. While none of the plants or trees in the yard belong to us, our neighbor and landlord lets us harvest to our hearts’ content. We harvested two full bags of apples to bring over to our friends’ new cider press, and with every apple I picked I was convinced I would be stripping the tree bare. But there are still so many more apples. Apple trees are the picture of abundance from the earth, fat fruits bursting off the end of each branch in plump clusters. Apples themselves are Green Red, each fruit starting out green and slowly filling with red. The whole tree is Green Red too, with each brilliant red apple in high contrast against the green background of the leaves.
I’m trying to take a cue from this amazing Apple to enjoy the abundance, reap and share what’s already on the land, and chill. Not only have I been running myself ragged with this project, but the Jewish holidays themselves have taken a toll. (I think?) they are mostly supposed to be a joy, but this year, as in most years since parenthood, the Jewish holidays feel like running a gauntlet. Tishrei is the Hebrew month that falls around September/October, and it starts with the new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah on the 1st, extending onto ten Days of Awe culminating in the fasting day of Yom Kippur on the 10th, then onto the weeklong harvest festival of Sukkot on the 15th, culminating with Simchat Torah on the 22nd. It is a lot.
It is hard for me not to think of the month of Tishrei as some sort of test for providing my family with a full Jewish experience that I am somehow failing. When I was just accounting for my own spiritual life as a single person it was already a lot to coordinate. Now being in charge of my family’s cultural education and still trying to keep my own spiritual shit together, by the time Sukkot rolls around and I somehow needed to remember to figure out how to build a temporary hut in our backyard before figuring out what to do with the kids while I am pulling them out of school and trying not to eat all day just four days before, forget it. We’re in a pandemic, we moved twice in the last year, and somehow after thirteen years of living in the Bay Area I still haven’t committed to any one congregation as a spiritual home. For Sukkot this year we gathered some branches and picked a lemon from another amazing fruit tree and called that a lulav and etrog. Then we hung a few paper chains on an old deck umbrella and called it a sukkah. That’ll do.
The thing is that Jewish holidays and rituals are designed to be done in community. The fact that pulling them off alone is a pain in the ass is kind of the point. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that Judaism itself is designed to be done in community, which is why these elaborate holiday celebrations and rituals exist. Living around other people who are doing the same wacky shit you’re trying to do makes it a lot easier to explain. I think this probably carries over to many ethnic and cultural groups, but Judaism certainly has turned it into an art. If everyone is celebrating Shabbat, it makes it easier to close all the stores or even turn off your phone. If everyone doesn’t eat pork, you’re never faced with awkward dietary choices. And if everyone is praying together, it makes it easier to take care of all the kids together and even feed everyone (problematic gender roles factor in here big time, but that’s another piece of writing). Community makes it possible to pull off so many things that can’t be done alone. Like the work of a harvest, and the work of taking care of each other.
Shmita is another practice that can only be pulled off collectively. It only really works if everyone agrees to do it. It was always designed as only an in-group kind of thing, with the Torah stipulating that it is specifically land in the Land of Israel to be left fallow, and debts among fellow Jews to be cancelled. Maybe that’s because those are the only places and people the Torah could really set rules for: it wouldn’t be right for a Jew to demand their own debt held by a non-Jew be released every seventh year. But given that Shmita may never have been perfectly practiced among Jews in the first place, it is interesting to wonder what it would like on a wider scale.
What if every seven years everywhere we let fields go fallow, declared their yields ownerless, and allowed anyone to eat from them? What if every seventh year we cancelled all debts so that no one consolidated too much debt, or consolidated too much power? But alas, who is that “we” here? And what about not only every seventh year, but every year, every day in a system where people go hungry because they are forced into debt and then punished for being poor?
Green can also be money, and Red can be livelihood through its connection to life and survival. Green Red can be the very stuff of subsistence and economic interdependence. Freeing the land and the people from constant service to the few. Breaking the chains of economic oppression and redistributing the wealth. Sharing your harvest, sharing your abundance, sharing your apples: they were never yours to keep anyway.