Tu B’Shevat (February 10th) and the Importance of Sabbatical

Dear Congregation, Can you believe we are already 3 weeks into Rabbi’s sabbatical? We have two months to go, and she will be back with us. As she meditates and hikes and studies and engages in serious renewal, we, the Clergy Renewal Team, want to challenge you to consider thinking about renewal for yourself.

As you open up this Menorah, we are in the Hebrew month of Shevat, the 11th Hebrew month counting from Nissan. Shevat is originally from an Akkadian term that means heavy rains. The month of Shevat is the core of the rainy season in Israel. Israel is a country very much dependent on seasonal rains. When the rains are lighter, drought is a real possibility. With drought comes famine, with famine comes starvation, death, war, and the origins of the Book of Lamentations. When the rains are heavy and robust, there is abundance. There is water in the streams, in the water table, in the cisterns, and in the wells. With full wells, there is green grass, vegetables, full mikvahs, and abundance. With abundance comes feasting, ease, joy, song, and restoration.

As individual humans, we are also dependent on water. Without physical water, we die in just several days. However, the Torah is full of references to another kind of water. You can think of it as a life-giving force, as spiritual energy, as a kind of living water that connects us with the Divine. Psalm 36 talks about it as a “fountain of life.” The Prophet Isaiah talks with joy about drawing “water from the wells of salvation.”

As you go into this month and start preparing for Tu B’Shavat, the birthday of the trees, think about whether you are getting enough water. As you are intentionally drinking your 8 glasses of water today and blessing your kidneys, consider thinking about what are the things that you’re doing to replenish your spiritual wells. It is impossible to draw water out of an empty cistern. Many of us can accidentally run our spiritual wells dry as we work and travel and over-commit and run ourselves ragged. We can dip into our inner resources so much that there seems like nothing is left. What are you doing to rest, to renew, to nurture yourself? What would a day of Shabbat look like where at the end of it you felt as if you could say “my cup runneth over?”

What you do for rest & renewal is likely very unique. You may discover, over time, that some things that filled your cup ten years ago no longer work – and while others that felt painfully boring now feel soothing. We as a clergy renewal team all have different practices that help us renew. Some of our favorites:

  • Geri: Communing with water, like soaking in a hot bath, swimming at the JCC, watching the rainfall, and combining the water experience with singing and humming.
  • Tikkun: Early morning coffee in a quiet house, steam room relaxation.
  • JoAnne: Traveling, lunch with friends, walking the neighborhood trails, and being in our beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.
  • Channah: Walking up to Sunset Rd, meditating, singing, baking, shabbat services, and having tea with friends.
  • Seth: I find that a clean-living environment is very soothing. When appropriate moments avail themselves, I like to turn on some Crosby Stills and Nash and Swiffer away my daily stress. When the task is complete, I feel relaxed, reinvigorated and often times achieve a sense of clarity.