Thursday, September 08, 2011

Behar 5771: Sabbaticals and Art

This week we read about the sabbatical system,
2 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. 5 That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.[Leviticus 25]

Before the nightmare of January and my mother's death I left off this column essentially in a mid-life crisis. I've been asking myself a question: What am I going to do with myself? The death of my mom puts this even more into perspective, as I now fear for my current job is not as permanent as I once thought it was.

It is interesting that the Sabbatical is a rest for the land, but not a rest for a lot of other things. It does not say to rest one's plow for example, though that would seem to be an obvious extension. One cannot plow the field but one can get the plow to work better in a year. The ox that runs the plow isn't mentioned either, but might well gain from a little rest to make more oxen.

The tools of creating the harvest for seven years are renewed and maintained in this process. Drainage ditches, fences, and other infrastructure projects are far from forbidden. The sabbatical or shmita year requires trust in God in the way we will feed our selves, but also gives us the opportunity to get done all that stuff we need to improve and have another good six years.

In modernity we are not all land farmers. Indeed, what the shmita year does not seem to think about is craftsmen, fishermen and shepherds even in its own day. These get no sabbatical year. Even farmers have found a way around the sabbatical year, and "sell" their land to non-Jews for the year. There is that poetic idea of stopping for a year, and improving our farm that seems to get lost in such cases.

But I like that idea of a human sabbatical, one I wish I really could do: Get my "farm" ready for the next six years. Take a full year off to intensely improve myself and get myself the skills I need for whatever my current or next career requires. Like many, I've tried to work on the infrastructure of my life while still doing my regular work. I got two Master's degrees because of that, but it was an exhausting process. I'm doing it again, thought the fate of my program is in doubt, and I need to decide if I will be the last to graduate in my program, or change paths. On top of all that I have been taking non-credit classes non-stop.

I am a little discouraged that neither the masters in education or the masters in Jewish studies bore financial fruit. I am not paid to be either an educator or a Jewish scholar. I am not paid to be an artist either, or at least yet. My current career path however is pointing in that direction. I remember after taking four years of Hebrew deciding to start doing it for credit, and I ended up with a master's degree. After years of non-credit courses in art, I'm wondering if this will be the pattern again. Deciding if I want to be want to be an artist, animator or video game designer is still up in the air, but it is the direction I am headed. But this time, I am running up against the problem that courses are during the work day. How nice it would be to think of nothing but school for a whole year, and really re-design myself to be the best re-designed person I can be. It would be nice to have a sabbatical where I did nothing but learn for a year. But of course our economy is not set up that way.

It may not take one sabbatical to re-design a whole farm: it may take many. I'm scared my current career track in art and graphic design, wont work like the last two attempts. But then, it may be that I needed all three to do something spectacular. Sabbaticals require faith that there will be fruit and grain for the year, we leave it up to God to do the farming. I have to leave it up to God to see what happens, and If I am destined to become an professional artist.

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