When The Land is Fallow- Rabbi Jordana Chernow-Reader of Fairmount Temple


This post on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is excerpted from the remarks of Rabbi Jordana Chernow-Reader at Shabbat Evening Worship on Friday, May 27, 2016. We encourage you to share this link on social media, post below, and send by email to friends and continue the discussion engendered in Rabbi Chernow-Reader’s D’var Torah.

Do any of you ever have a hard time just sitting still? Not rushing around from place to place.  Not having your mind racing in one million directions – just sitting, just being, just resting. Maybe its just me…

But I can tell you, this is really hard for me. I am a person with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.  I dedicate myself whole-heartedly to whatever I am doing – charging full steam ahead.  It can be exhilarating and sometimes exhausting for me and the people around me.  It is part of the reason why running has always been a good sport for me.  It gives me a way to use these my need for motion in productive ways.  The time for me just to slow down and rest are few and far between. It is something I have to force myself to do.  Something I need to work on and give myself permission to do.

As a society I think, we have trouble doing. With the 24 news cycles, constant updates on Facebook, cell phones, unending access to the Internet – stopping – finding time to just be is becoming harder and harder.

With all of these factors working against our ability to rest, all the more we need the laws outlined the parashot of this week and last. In Emor, last week’s parasha we are reminded of the important of observing Shabbat- six days work shall be done and the Shabbat is a day of complete rest because it is sacred.  In B’har this week’s parasha we are commanded to give a Shabbat to the land.

The text reads: “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall obverse a Sabbath of Adonai. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather its yield.  But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest.  It shall be a of complete rest for the land.”

Today we have know about all of the benefits to the environment of leaving the land fallow. We know that giving land a time to breath helps with the long-term productivity.  This allows the soil to rejuvenate and to replenish the mineral that it used during the growing season.  Additionally, this practice breeds a deep respect and appreciation of the land and its long-term health.  I marvel at the wisdom of our ancient texts commanding us to treat the land well, to give it a time to rest.

So too it is for us.

This is especially true when we need to take a rest when things are not right. When there is something in our lives that is broken or not whole.  When even if we wanted things to grow we are unable to make them do so.

Rabbi Billy Dreskin, a former rabbi of this congregation and a teacher of mine from the youth movement wrote beautifully about a fallow time in his life. He wrote: “For a while, nothing was planted and nothing grew. We woke up each day, dressed ourselves and fed ourselves, but did little more. We met the day, but produced nothing. We lived off what was already there. We had to survive this vast emptiness that had been cast across the landscape of our hearts, and we could only try to accept on faith that a day would arrive when we would be able to resume our plantings, enabling new crops, new projects, and new love to once again begin to grow.”

As Rabbi Dreskin states he was in a fallow place even if they wanted things to grow it was not possible at that time. Over the years I have had numerous people speak to me about being in those fallow places when something was not right in their lives when they were experiencing unexpected challenges for any number of reasons, a time where the only new growth that was not possible.  And getting through the day took tremendous strength, conviction and courage.

I have been in that fallow place too. A few years ago, while we were living in California my husband, Luke was offered a job here in Cleveland. When Luke moved here Eleanor was four month old and Julian was 3 years old.  Although I encouraged him to take the job and was proud of him for getting this change began a fallow period for me.  I suddenly found myself a single mother of two young children while being a full time working rabbi.   My goal during that year was simply getting myself and my young children through each day. I did not have the energy for creativity or innovation.  I could not push myself to try new things or make new friends.  I burrowed in and relied on the people who closest to me.

With the support of family and friends and time, I was able to move out of this fallow period. I transitioned from my fallow place to one of new growth. It even indirectly and unexpectedly led to family move to Cleveland later.

Rabbi Dreskin found parallels with the commandment to leave the land fallow and in his need for fallowness, as he described his journey back to productivity. He wrote: “each of us must manage navigate the journey through back to wellness. Faith in the return of economic well-being, or faith in the return of optimism, hopefulness, and joy. It’s important to remember that while it may take some time, each of us can (and likely will) return home, and that the land will once again send forth its goodness.”

None of us want to be in that fallow place. None of us hope for or aspire to being in that place of fallowness

But if we can learn from this text about what to do if we find ourselves there. Perhaps one of the messages of the text is that there are cycles of life – many of which we have limited control over.  There are times of growth and periods of fallowness.  Times when all we can do is get through the day and others when what we can do is to help people we love, the people in our community get through their fallow days.

Additionally, this commandment is reminding us about there is holiness in giving ourselves the time, space and permission to be in the fallow places when needed. Instead of pushing so hard to make things grow- taking the breather, allowing ourselves to be okay with the fallowness can hopefully lead us to a place of growth in new ways when we are ready.

In respecting the Sabbatical year, giving necessary time for rejuvenation – hopefully each of us in our own way will be able to move out of the fallow times into a period of new growth. And the words of Psalms 125:6 will ring true  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joy”